The relocation of Durham County Council’s headquarters from Aykley Heads to the city centre brought plentiful opportunities to influence the enhancement of the city’s notable landscape and network of civic spaces.
Blending architecture with natural elements in this multi-faceted project, drew upon the expertise and experience of the One Environments’ team to deliver a meaningful transformation, optimised for bio-diversity and practical use by a wide range of stakeholders.
With the development of a new business district at the former Aykley Heads site, the new build provided an exciting opportunity to transform a prime location in the heart the city into a thriving civic destination.
Positioned within the city conservation area to the edge of the UNESCO World Heritage Site peninsula, crowned by Durham Cathedral and Castle, the inspirational scene was set for the design and development of a modern yet sympathetic concept, befitting of this awe-inspiring vista.
Integrating the new development into a location with visible links to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, within a landscape that is more enclosed and the scale more intimate, weaving connections across and along the river and to the Sands open green space to the North; certainly posed a challenge to design and deliver a suitable solution for the new County Hall building.
Ensuring plans could co-exist with natural elements and preserved entities set the scene for One Environments team of technical experts.
Seamlessly blending heritage and innovation
Reimagining the public space for the new County Headquarters resulted in an inclusive and welcoming scene, which sympathetically blended the rich natural habitat of the river edge and the linking walks around the city with a modern structure that enhances rather than overpowers it’s setting.
At the centre of this regeneration project sat a new civic square, creating a pedestrian friendly environment to enhance existing, and establish new, routes along the river and into the city.
The core objective to strike a balance between the public and private domain is central to One Environments’ design approach. With this in mind, the team were focused on the creation of an uplifting and sustainable space to satisfy the needs of those using it.
Maximising space for a mindful experience
More than half of the site is dedicated open space, richly‑detailed with high-quality planting and the provision of space for relaxation and contemplation. The site boasts riverside gardens and woodland spaces which provide sanctuaries from the bustling city centre. Leveraging these mindful views, the building and public spaces were designed to deliberately interrelate and define one another – with designed spaces influencing both the built form and functioning as rooms without roofs.
Externally, the building responds to its siting adjacent to the river, an important ecological corridor, and existing active travel routes form an integral part of the development. Grounded on a well-defined plinth, the building emphasises engagement with public spaces with a large central glazed atrium opening promotes transparency and two-way visual communication. Within this, the creation of an active ground floor with a strong visual relationship to the civic square and views across the river.
South facing civic square and riverside viewing terraces near to the public café provide an accessible experience for stakeholders across the community, perfectly combining public and private consumption.
Ecological goals meet sustainable development
It’s southerly aspect and the intimate human scale of the new civic square, creates a sheltered habitat for wildlife in the new trees, gardens and ornamental planting beds; whilst equally providing useable spaces accessible across the four seasons for numerous events and activities.
Existing mature tree groups have been retained and enhanced to the North of the site, ensuring a sensitive transition to the green belt to the North. Further naturalistic-inspired planting designs are proposed, utilising a matrix of varying scales of densities alongside an evergreen structure, which graduates into a woodland transition zones – with a view to future enrichments on-site.
Designed to connect and inspire
Aligning local needs and aspirations saw the One Environments team explore new ideas to accommodate a wide range of activities to connect people to place. The civic square will become a well-loved destination and landmark on event routes such as the annual Durham Lumiere and other seasonal celebrations.
Similarly, privately organised events can spill out from the Chamber and Committee Rooms onto the civic balcony overlooking the river and garden spaces to maximise views and leverage the tranquillity of the carefully planned outdoor spaces.
facts & figures
client: Kier Construction on behalf of Durham County Council and Kier Developments
architect: Ryder Architecture
engineers: 3E (C&S) and Desco (M&E)