Stardust: Can Some Heatherwick Glamour Help Transform A Half-Demolished Nottingham Shopping Centre Site?
Thomas Heatherwick, the British designer who put a 2.4-acre park in New York’s Hudson River, has been chosen to rethink a derelict shopping centre and a 20-acre slice of central Nottingham.
The striking Little Island project, which opened this summer, sits on hundreds of mushroom-shaped columns off Pier 55, on the New York waterfront. Now civic leaders in the East Midlands city are hoping for some of the same magic.
The task is to decide what to do with the half-demolished remains of the city’s 450K SF Broadmarsh shopping centre and the wider 20-acre slice of city centre Nottingham that it dominates. Broadmarsh was in the early stages of a redevelopment when owner Intu collapsed, ending the project.
At the heart of the development will be another park where the Broadmarsh once stood. It will be funded by £20M from the UK government’s Transforming Cities fund. Work on-site began in August 2020.
The city’s local enterprise partnership, D2N2, has awarded £8M for the next phase of the Broadmarsh area’s rethink.
Heatherwick is expected to reveal his plans later this year but his fondness for urban parks — which includes not only Little Island, but London’s ill-fated Garden Bridge proposals — are likely to include greenery.
On his website, Heatherwick lambasts “conventional high street shopping” and “bland gentrification which has eliminated local character”.
Heatherwick continued: "Urban green public spaces can also play an important part, not only socially and experientially, but also by contributing something toward solving the climate crisis."
In an interview, Heatherwick said it felt like the property industry took rather than gave to towns, that too much developer leadership was undesirable, and that he didn’t know what the Broadmarsh Centre “was doing,” the Nottingham Post reported.
"It's kind of unfashionable to say you're designing a place for joy, but that is what we're going to be doing," Heatherwick was quoted as saying.
Heatherwick will work with developer Stories to create a new vision for the area. Stories was founded by London King’s Cross redevelopment veteran Richard Meier, with James Scott and Paul Clark.
Signing Heatherwick is a coup for a city which, apart from its Robin Hood links, has a limited international reputation.
“Appointing a company of such international standing and recognition clearly demonstrates the scale of our ambition for the Broad Marsh site,” Nottingham City Council leader David Mellen said. “The fact that Thomas Heatherwick wants to be involved in the project is testament to the once-in-a generation opportunity we have here in Nottingham.”
Whilst the local paper repeated Terence Conran’s comparison of Heatherwick to Leonardo da Vinci, not all observers are so overwhelmed. The London Garden Bridge project was abandoned in 2017 as costs rose to £200M and funding failed to materialise. The Vessel structure at New York’s Hudson Yards was not universally welcomed and the B of the Bang sculpture next to Manchester’s Commonwealth Games Stadium had to be dismantled amidst fears for the safety of pedestrians. The Thomas Heatherwick Studio agreed to pay Manchester City Council £1.7M as part of an out-of-court settlement. There are also some troublesome London buses, a pavement in Newcastle and an unfundable biomass power station on Heatherwick’s list of misses.
The failures are dismissed by his supporters because he is a “pied piper” who “has the very rich under his spell,” according to The Guardian. Heatherwick “suits best those global clients for whom money is little object and the statement is almost everything,” the Guardian concluded.
Whether Nottingham City Council falls into that category remains to be seen.