Cultural Cities: green visitor attractions and culture on the High Street



'Skate the Strand’ with VANS (Strand Aldwych, Summer 2021 – courtesy North Bank BID) – looking east to St Mary le Strand


Future Cities Forum is holding its first ‘Cultural Cities’ event of 2022 at the end of January.


The forum will look at the growth of eco-tourism, investment in literary heritage to encourage tourism to regional towns and cities in the UK and boost activity on the high street, as well as the continued importance of developing public realm around cultural sites, not only for biodiversity and sustainability reasons but also to draw in a wider cross-section of the population to cultural attractions.


Architects Grimshaw and Scott Brownrigg will both be speaking on the important aspect of designing for culture and eco-tourism.


Grimshaw has written about the design for the Eden Project in Cornwall - a pioneer for eco-tourism in the UK - the second phase of which is called ‘the Biomes’ and which was completed in 2001:


'Designing the Biomes was an exercise in efficiency, both of space and material. Structurally, each dome is a hex-tri-hex space frame reliant on two layers. The efficiency of the frame relies on the components of the geometric shapes: steel tubes and joints that are light, relatively small and easily transportable. The cladding panels are triple-layered pillows of high performance ETFE foil and environmentally efficient, with maximum surface area and minimum perimeter detailing. The biomes received almost two million visitors in their first year of opening, and the project is now one of the top three charging attractions in the UK and the second most visited destination outside London.'


Culture and the High Street


Historic England is currently making a case for putting investment into culturally ‘forgotten towns’ as with its collaboration with Wigan council in the North-West of England for the King Street: High Street Heritage Action Zone (HAZ). King Street sits towards the southern part of the conservation area and is one of the main streets in Wigan town centre, close to the Market Place and between the rail stations and the civic hub. It’s traditionally been a focal point for entertainment and commercial uses rather than retail.


Historic England stated:


‘In recent times, its character has shifted to focus almost exclusively on late-night bars and nightclubs, and it’s now in a cycle of decline. There are very high vacancy rates, the quality of the streetscape is poor and fractured, and the historic fabric is under threat.


‘By reusing and reviving beautiful historic buildings such as the Grade II listed Royal Court Theatre, Wigan Council plan to work with partners like Arts in the Mill CIC to engage locals and visitors in a rich array of cultural activity and restore King Street to the heart of Wigan’s leisure economy.


Wigan Council added:


‘Our aim, using the £13m of government funding delivered through Historic England, is that by 2024, King Street will be celebrated as the go-to place for residents and visitors to engage in cultural and leisure activities. This aligns well with our Cultural Manifesto, The Fire Within (external which aims to tackle the town’s low cultural participation.


Museums and de-carbonisation


Science and Industry Museum Manchester is currently progressing a transition towards net zero – which the Science Museum Group aims to achieve by 2033.


The Museum writes:


‘We've been awarded £4.3 million by the Government’s Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme to transform our environmental sustainability and place zero carbon technology at the heart of our visitor experience.


‘In the 1800s, a well was built in the lower ground floor of the world’s first railway warehouse (the museum’s Grade I listed 1830 Warehouse), to harness the power of the ground water. This natural resource will now once again be utilised by the installation of a new water source heat pump network including bore holes along with the latest green technologies.


‘This is a visionary, sector-leading project where the original and modern combine for a sustainable museum of the future.

‘The Power Hall and Decarbonisation project is to be delivered as one project. However, the required Planning and Listed Building Consent applications must be split into several separate applications due to the different Listings of the buildings and the deadlines for the Government’s Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme, which needs to be completed in 2021.


‘Splitting the consent packages will also allow construction work to start on site earlier and ensure we can meet the Government deadlines.


Museums, communities and co-created cultural programmes


As work progresses to move the Museum of London to its new site in Smithfield Market, consultation is taking place to decide what should be put in place of its original home. Andrien Meyers, Chair of the City of London Property Investment Board and Wall West Project Sponsor has been talking about gathering views on how the old site should be developed:


‘Over the past six months, we have been working closely with world-renowned Diller Scofidio + Renfro as lead designers to explore what is possible with London Wall West….’


A community consultative document lays out some of the future objects of development, including delivering a range of high-quality offices, creating a cultural programme that is co-curated by local communities, celebrating the City of London’s heritage, improving the public realm, and contributing to the City Corporation sustainability targets.


As part of the cultural vision, the document states that there should be a celebration of a key part of the Roman London Wall gate on the site, which has been hidden from the public for a number of years. New artworks both permanent and curated, will encourage play and participation by all ages and cultures. Performance spaces are to be included which can be used day to night and improvements to the City Walkways and to the Barbican are to be made. Planting and trees to increase biodiversity and the promotion of active travel are also included in the plans.


Meanwhile in the centre of London, work is progressing in the Aldwych on the public realm and traffic removal improvements to encourage visitors and businesses back to this historic area of the Capital, which includes Somerset House (which hosts London Fashion Week), the Courtauld Institute, performance venues like the Lyceum and Aldwych Theatre, and the outstanding baroque churches of St Mary le Strand and St Clement Danes.



(Picture below) The Biomes, Eden Project Cornwall – architecture and engineering by Grimshaw



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