The importance of local architecture | A look at Derby

I’m a life-long resident of Derby, although for most of my career as an architect I’ve worked in Nottingham, Manchester and London. In my experience people in the past have been quick to criticise Derby, but that view has changed in recent years. Derby appears to be standing out more and promoting a strong message. The external perception is very much that Derby is going places.

I’m in no doubt that buildings, and more specifically; quality architecture, define and characterise our cities. Derby has lacked high quality modern buildings for many years and therefore perhaps it’s lacked definition.

Whilst Pride Park brought many positives to Derby in the mid 1990’s, it also did some damage to the city centre and there isn’t much quality architecture to speak of. Likewise many have been critical of the Eagle Centre redevelopment and it’s impact on the retail centre, but ultimately I think it brings more positives to the city experience and economy than negatives. I’m still disappointed in the grey box planted on top of the centre which accommodates the Cinema. It’s very noticeable as you approach the city and it’s appearance lacks imaginative design.

In the last 5-10 years we’ve seen a number of good buildings emerge and this can only be a positive thing. These are the sorts of buildings which stand out and characterise the city.

The Jury’s Inn building may not be architecturally outstanding, but it offers an important and previously lacking hotel offer for business and tourism. It also has some decent height to it which I think is positive – although it’s positioning between St. Mary’s church and the Cathedral seems uncomfortable from some angles. The Riverlights/ Bus Station development again offers important modern functions for the city, but architecturally I think it’s a little disappointing.

velodrome3Images above/ below: The Velodrome/ Derby Arena.

The Derby Arena which is currently being built is a quality building. I recently had a private tour of the new Velodrome and it’s as impressive inside as its shiny metallic facade outside…

velodrome

Noteworthy buildings, which the city should encourage more of, are the likes of The Quad, Friar Gate square, Sadler Bridge Studios and of course the shiny new Velodrome. The latter being a strong destination building – and a memorable one at that. I also think the council have undertaken an impressive transformation of the Council Houses; providing a modern working environment, within a bold, historic and carefully restored building in the City.

Friar Gate SQImage above: One Friar Gate Square.

Cities need diversity to function properly. Encouraging City Living is important to this as the needs of people living in the centre are wide ranging and can expand upon a basic retail, food and drink offer. I think Derby should encourage more people to live in the centre.

Derby markets itself extremely well economically, better than any other East Midlands city in my view. The ‘Trains, Planes and Automobile’ story is compelling and positively encourages further inward investment which is critical to the City’s economy and diversity.

I think Derby has made great progress in respecting and promoting its cultural heritage, whilst focusing on the modern day needs and demands of the City in taking it forward. More quality high architecture will add to that story and further help in defining and characterising what is a great city – with outstanding connectivity.

 

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