Westlegate Quarter — Norwich

Client
FW Properties and Soho Estates

Collaborators
Rossi Long Consulting / B SD / Bremner Partnership / Davis Langdon and Lanpro

This project involved the redevelopment of the 11-storey Westlegate Tower, one of Norwich’s most high profile buildings, together with its immediate urban setting, blighted by the creation of the tower in the early 1960s.

The site spans from Westlegate to Timberhill, encompassing a diverse range of landscapes and buildings. It contains the tower itself, a listed 17th Century building (20 Westlegate) and a surface car park on Timberhill – all of which lie adjacent to the churchyard of the Grade I listed All Saints Church.

The tower’s original promoters described it as “a pencil of light”: an optimistic symbol of the city’s modernity. After some years in use as offices, the building fell into disuse during the construction of the adjacent Castle Mall. The building’s final tenant – a McDonalds restaurant – moved out in 2005. The vacant building caused much controversy within the city, and the city’s planning policy called for its demolition.

The mothballed Westlegate tower was purchased in a joint venture by Norwich-based FW Properties and Soho Estates. Our brief, having won the project through competitive interview, was to explore how the site might be creatively reimagined as a mixed use city block.

View from All Saints Street, illustrating the relationship of the tower to the adjacent church

RIBA judges' citation:

"The Westlegate Tower project has redeveloped one of Norwich’s most high profile, and most unpopular buildings. The site spans between two significant shopping streets with the city centre – Westlegate and Timberhill – which had been left unused since 2005, and the development comprises 17 residential apartments, including a courtyard house, two town houses and four commercial units.

The architects, 5th Studio, decided to question the City Council’s planning policy, which recommended demolition of the tower; they saw that retention and reuse were not only possible but could bring real positives in terms of sustainability and a new social cohesion for the area.

In order to improve the proportion of the tower, its height was increased by three storeys, producing a more appealing and slender silhouette. This, together with new cladding, means that the development now provides a landmark for the city rather than the eyesore that the unused tower became. The transformation of the tower was achieved by using standard curtain walling systems with a variety of finishes, cover strips, metal cladding and mesh; these allow the tower to change character with changes in levels and strength of light.

At ground level the development also repairs the urban grain in a most successful way. The new accommodation knits together a neglected area of the city’s urban fabric; a previously unloved car park in leftover space at the base of the tower. The development has helped to re-establish the historic grain of lanes, yards and passageways, rediscovering the lost Lion and Castle Yard as an enjoyable public thoroughfare, and enriching the pedestrian experience.

The popular new bakery that has recently moved in to one of the commercial units provides evidence that the ambition of both architect and developer has been successful in reinvigorating a previously underused area of Norwich, as well as providing the occupants of the tower and the casual passer-by with high quality baked goods."

Rather than demolish the tower, we proposed to make it more appropriate to its setting in Norwich – the ‘city of towers’ – and to deliver for the City planners the desired urban connectivity which the tower had obliterated. The project involved adding an additional 3 storeys – creating a new ‘crown’ for the building which increased the verticality of the previously squat tower. The new envelope deploys a series of patterns across its facades in order to provide an overall coherence and elegance to the tower - downplaying the incidental consequences of its occupation in favour of an order which responds to its role as a city-scale landmark. In turn, the new apartments each occupy a single floor plate and benefit from spectacular 360 degree views across the city.

The cladding envelope was designed within the tight budget constraints of standard curtain walling, but by using a variety of glass finishes, metal mesh, and cover strips, a skin was developed that changes radically with light conditions and the aspect from which the tower is viewed.

The re-making of the tower is supported by a renegotiation of the way that it meets the ground and the surrounding urban fabric, re-discovering the lost Lion & Castle Yard as a public thoroughfare between Westlegate & Timberhill.

A new external envelope deploys a series of patterns across the façades to generate an order which responds to its role as a city scale landmark

View from Castle Mound prior to redevelopment

Winner

RIBA East Award

Westlegate Quarter — Norwich

Shortlisted

Sunday Times British Homes Award

Westlegate Quarter — Norwich

Photography by Timothy Soar and Steve Wright

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