Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Community in a Cube, Middlehaven, by Fat Architects



Will Alsop’s psychedelic rethink of Middlesbrough’s docklands died away in the cold light of austerity, leaving Fat’s idiosyncratic new apartment building very much out on its own
“The most tragic thing, which often happens with masterplans in Britain, is that the vision disappears during delivery,” says Will Alsop, as he floats above a fairytale landscape of fantastical forms — a cinema like a Rubik’s cube, a primary school like a giant spelling block, an expanse of water dotted with wakeboarders. “Not here.”
This is the promotional animation for Middlehaven, a 100ha swathe of post-industrial dockland in Middlesbrough, as reimagined by Alsop into a psychedelic dreamscape. Unveiled in 2004, the £500 million development was slated to provide more than 2,400 homes, 75,000sq m of commercial space and a surfeit of hotels, bars and restaurants on the site of the former docks, which had closed in 1980 and lain derelict ever since.
Commissioned by a Blairish alliance of regeneration agencies, the strategic framework was launched in the wake of Alsop’s publicity-friendly plans to flood the centre of Bradford and bestow Barnsley with a halo, as well as similarly outlandish schemes for Halifax, Walsall and Stoke. Middlehaven was to be the apogee of his unique brand of toy-based urban planning, the denouement of a decade that had seen northern emperors queuing up to try on his new clothes.
The scheme followed the usual formula of novelty object-buildings strewn at random across the site, like the aftermath of an incident in the soft-play area. At one end a giant teddy bear sat next to an office block in the shape of Marge Simpson’s hair; at the other, a “Gucci glove” by Nigel Coates reached out to caress a hotel modelled on the marble game Kerplunk. A line of “sugar cube” housing blocks marched down the edge of the site, while mixed-use “Prada skirt” towers lined the dockfront, each with its own catchy nickname.
Read the full article here.
Originally published in BD, 25 April 2012