The Joseph Wright Cultural Quarter

Tommy Harrison, one of our passionate Architectural Technologists here at Morrison Design, was approached through the University of Derby by the Derby Civic Society, to volunteer to design and develop an urban regeneration scheme for the Becket Well site in Derby City Centre. With the intention of using this fantastic opportunity to not only portray architectural expertise, but to become the overarching master plan that could spring action to that part of Derby city and that could form part of a case study for his final research project, he agreed. Tommy is currently studying a Master of Science (MSc) degree in Sustainable Architecture at the University of Derby and is expecting to complete his studies in early 2019. Morrison Design, have worked on this project collaboratively along side the Derby Civic Society and the Derby Hippodrome Restoration Trust, who formulated a brief that Tommy has developed into a truly eye-opening scheme. The story below takes you through the journey of this project and illustrates the principles that have been used as well as the true potential and opportunity that an inspiring scheme like this would bring to the city of Derby.

Derek Latham wrote in the Derby Telegraph recently that,

“The vision is for a fully-recovered organ of the city, contributing in a wide variety of ways to its life’s blood. Not only are all the right components present, but also in the right form, with an understanding of urbanity that creates a public realm of outdoor ante-rooms providing access to a cosmopolitan range of activities. The brilliance of the concept is the way in which the public realm provides the arteries into this new organ so robustly that it can withstand change.”

All designs are the intellectual property of Tommy Harrison.


Urban Regeneration: Making the connection

Cultural Quarter Location Map

Cultural Quarter Location Map

The existing Becket Well site is situated in an important and sustainable location and can be well connected to the other key parts of Derby city centre. The site falls between the Cathedral Quarter and St Peter’s Quarter and has remained as the empty, missing link between the vibrant Friar Gate high street and the busy Intu Shopping centre. A stones throw away from the main walk up through the Corn Market, up to the Market Place, Derby Cathedral, Cathedral Green, Derby Silk Mill, the Derwent Valley World Heritage site and beyond. The site lends itself to the introduction of a much needed, vibrant and well connected cultural quarter, right in the heart of the city.

The un-broken surrounding building mass has made the Becket Well site closed-in and segregated. The uninviting nature of the site has contributed to it’s decline following the closure of Duckworth Square in the late 1990’s. The Derby Hippodrome currently stands alone on the junction of Green Lane and Macklin Street and the rest of the site currently accommodates poor functioning car parks and service yards, with the exception of the former Duckworth Square site, which has been left to ruin.

The site needed to be opened up, assembled and integrated with high quality outdoor spaces. Attention was paid to the geometries of the site, how the buildings turn corners, the key gateways and access points, permeability, new dynamics and experiences and how the vistas are terminated.


Key Access Points and Geometries

Cultural Quarter Urban Regeneration Step 1

The key access points cover all four corners of the site. The Hippodrome is currently divided by Macklin Street and some thought was needed to re-invite and re-introduce the landmark back into the site. The main approach should be from the Cornmarket junction of Victoria Street, to advertise the site to the busiest footfall area of the city. Macklin Street, Green Lane and Victoria Street form the main, permanent geometries of the site.


Urban Grain

Cultural Quarter Urban Regeneration Step 2

The existing urban grain was studied before plotting permeability and building mass. The most part of the site and it’s surroundings are very coarse urban grain with large building masses. The finer urban grain and street scene along the protected Green Lane area should be maintained when developing any new buildings. This can be achieved through stepped facades, materiality and fenestration studies.


Identifying Key Gateways, Links and Permeability

Cultural Quarter Urban Regeneration Step 3

“To open up or close in?” Was a key question we asked when looking at the key geometries and the existing mass of the site. The key gateway has been identified as the former ‘Debenhams’ site. This would provide the main access and a great vista opportunity into the site. The mass should be divided here to allow for important permeability and to introduce a new experience and dynamic, whilst healing and regenerating the closed-in and non permeable nature of the existing site. It will also help to provide a great connection to the rest of the city centre. A link from the Hippodrome back through the centre of the site will re-introduce the old theatre and help to “pull it” back into the site.


Public Realm, Views and Vistas

Cultural Quarter Urban Regeneration Step 4

Ideal locations for public realm spaces were plotted where the permeability paths intersect, forming natural meeting points. Key vistas were also plotted to link the public realm spaces together. The vistas will have to be orientated and terminated in a way that enhances the framing view and the overall sense of place.


Building Mass, Scale, Density, Use and Typologies

Cultural Quarter Urban Regeneration Step 5

The areas formed between the permeability routes and vistas, created suggestive areas of building mass. The permeability was finalised again in some areas to break the massing up, adjust the scale and density and add more avenues and character areas through the site. At this stage, we can really start to see how the site is being assembled into the public realm spaces and thus, proving their importance to the scheme. We can also start identifying where the “spaces for walking” and “places for staying” are, which will help with place making later on.


Creating and Visualising Character Areas

Cultural Quarter Urban Regeneration Step 6

The building mass was finalise, considering some further access and service details. Some building masses were brought together to form a closer connection. The avenues and vistas were finalised and spatial analysis took place to start creating and refining character areas. The place-making study then began to enhance the scheme by developing smaller social hot spots, addressing the areas of nothingness and adding suggestive landscaping, trees and lighting.


Proposed Site Analysis

Cultural Quarter Proposed Site Analysis

The ‘Cultural Quarter’ scheme regenerates the Becket Well area in Derby, bringing our culture back into the heart of the city. A new vista and key gateway access point off Victoria Street offer an inviting and immediate connection to the centre of the scheme. Active and vibrant public realm spaces have been brought together with a stepped green corridor, decorated with embedded lighting and trees forming the leading lines of a key vista between the Hippodrome and the Joseph Wright ‘amphitheatre-style’ Forum. Avenues and snickets add interest, open up the site and help improve permeability and the overall assembly of the spaces. The scheme encourages pedestrianisation and the concept of a ‘greener’ city, and has created an opportunity to broaden the experience and upgrade the surrounding pedestrian routes connecting this key cultural site to the rest of the city.


Cultural Quarter Reinvented

This urban regeneration scheme has been designed to reconnect Derby’s spectacular cultural offering with the rest of the city and reinvent the “Cultural Quarter”. The design sees the sustainable restoration of the famous Grade II listed Hippodrome theatre, the introduction of a new flat floored concert hall, a permanent Joseph Wright Art Exhibition, new restaurants, office space and high quality, active public realm. This cultural summoning, together with the assembly and integration of all the surrounding spaces and public routes, into a vibrant and well connected communal meeting space, gave birth to the name ‘The Joseph Wright Cultural Quarter‘.

The Joseph Wright Cultural Quarter

The Joseph Wright Cultural Quarter by Tommy Harrison

Public Realm, Joseph Wright Forum

Public Realm, Joseph Wright Forum

Public Realm, University Plaza

Public Realm, University Plaza

Public Realm, Theatre Square

Public Realm, Theatre Square


Masterplan Key

1: Gateway Building 1. Ground floor retail and food outlets or a creative centre for dance-focused arts, with prestige office above. The overall height of the building would remain the same as the building mass it replaces. The front elevation would be curved to follow the line of Victoria Street.

2: Gateway Building 2. Ground floor retail and food outlets with outdoor seating within the main gateway avenue. Upper floors to accommodate prestige office space.

3: Joseph Wright Forum. An amphitheatre-style public place forming the heart of the cultural quarter. Stepped seating and sit walls following the natural gradient of the site. The visual axis is turned towards an impressive view of the Derby Hippodrome. A key public realm space that is the focus of the whole site and provides a vibrant communal space which can accommodate outdoor performances, temporary stage structures, pop-up stalls and public art exhibitions etc.

4: Becket Well. The restoration of Becket Well, a well-known local feature with its octagonal stone cap. Said to date back to 1652, it will be resumed to it’s original position to serve as a monument to the site’s heritage.

5: University Plaza. A green space corridor with an avenue of trees and embedded lighting that forms the axis up to the Hippodrome at the top of the site. A stepped landscaped area leading up to the Theatre Square with an opportunity for restaurant seating to spill out onto it.

6: ‘Back-to-Front’ Food Outlets. The rear of the existing buildings will be refurbished and reconfigured to open up to the public from both the Plaza and Green Lane. An opportunity for high quality restaurants and cafes to spill out onto the University Plaza and Theatre Square but still maintain access from Green Lane.

7: Theatre Square. A key, pedestrianised public realm space created by demolishing existing small-scale retail buildings on the corner of Green Lane and Macklin Street and diverting the through-traffic by re-opening Crompton Street. The result is a thriving public gathering square and communal space, linking the Hippodrome with the new Concert hall.

8: Sustainable Restoration and Extension of the Derby Hippodrome. The famous Grade II-listed venue will be sensitively restored to its former glory with a new fly tower, two storey roof extension, new studio space, restaurant/cafe and potential roof terrace. There could be a great opportunity here to house part of the University of Derby’s Performing Arts Faculty, that could utilise the theatre.

9: New Concert Hall. New, modern flat floor concert hall that brings a new cultural offering to the site and would operate along side the Hippodrome with shared box office facilities. Two entrances from the Theatre Square and the Joseph Wright Forum open into a large double height signature lobby area. On the top floor, will be an art gallery specifically designed and devoted to the Joseph Wright of Derby collection, which will be open to the public seven days a week.

10: New Four-Star-Plus Hotel Site. An opportunity for a luxurious four star hotel located in a prominent position within the ‘Cultural Quarter’ master plan site. It has been situated close to the new Concert Hall and the Hippodrome to ensure there is a sustainable revenue stream throughout the year.

11: Multi-Storey Car Park Retained with Proposed Residential Development. An existing 226 space car park with office facilities retained and refurbishment. An opportunity for a new residential development in the footprint of the old Pennine Hotel. Reducing the amount of cars entering the city centre is an ongoing battle. Following a comprehensive feasibility study and technical note from Rodgers Leask Limited, it was determined that there is no need for additional on-site car parking. The site is in an excellent sustainable location for city centre multi-modal transport and pedestrian access.