Heatherwick Studio’s stunning vision for Nottingham Broadmarsh area

There was a talk at Nottingham University last night with Heatherwick Studio presenting their vision for the redevelopment of the Broadmarsh area of Nottingham. The old shopping centre was mostly demolished and there was to be a new Intu shopping centre built along with the new car park and bus station. Gladly this didn’t happen as the pandemic accelerated the move away from high st shopping to ecommerce, and Intu went bust.

So the area has been a building site for the last couple of years, with the council consulting local groups in the Big Conversation. Notts Wildlife Trust, Nottingham Cohousing and various other groups and businesses formed the ‘Green quarter‘ coalition, working with architects to offer an eco friendly redevelopment.

Heatherwick Studio

What I didn’t realise was that before this, world famous architects/designers Heatherwick Studio were running a consultation with a huge number of local groups to prepare their vision for Broadmarsh. By listening to these groups and researching the history of the area, they came up with a stunning proposal for a green live/work/leisure space for the site. This detailed, rooted process was explained in detail by Lisa Finlay, Group Leader at Heatherwick Studio. Her excellent talk covered so much in the 45 minutes, detailing their previous work and approach to the Broadmarsh project. I saw many parallels to the design process I’ve developed over the years for Intention – listening to the client’s needs and wants, researching what’s already around and going through a cycle to produce a design that meets all the needs of the business and their customers.

Question time

There was time for questions after the talk, and Nottingham Green Party had some strong feedback, as well as Nottingham Cohousing and other interested parties. Some good points were also raised by a student about the use of concrete in some of Heatherwick Studio’s previous projects. This fairly confrontational Q&A was handled well, with the organisers reminding people that this is the vision and nothing is finalised yet. With Nottingham City Council losing nearly £40m bungling Robin Hood Energy plus the cutbacks from central government, I’ve a feeling much of the development is going to be commercially focused. While a green multi-use space to benefit the local population appeals deeply to me, I fear the reality is more likely to be a feeding frenzy for developers, with expensive flats and offices taking priority and maybe a small park in the centre as a token effort to be more environmentally friendly.

What do we need?

There is also the Island Quarter development starting across the city, with previous wasteland near the station and rubbish incinerator (they don’t mention that on the website…) being converted into a mixed use area of offices, flats and green space. While this is couched in terms of changes to our lifestyles after the pandemic, it just looks like more of the same. Expensive flats with corporate landlords, expensive restaurants and more offices to go with all the empty ones we’ve already got around the city centre.  There’s a desperate need for affordable freehold starter homes but with the council under so much financial strain, it seems the reality is high density leasehold housing and corporate interests.

The goal of Nottingham being carbon neutral by 2028 could hinge on what happens in Broadmarsh. It’s less than 10 mins walk from where I live, so I’ll be watching with interest as it’s redeveloped. If only part of the Heatherwick vision becomes reality it could transform the area and be an example to other cities.