Gillespies: Built in 1779, the Grade I-listed Piece Hall is the sole survivor of the great 18th-century northern cloth halls. In the Georgian period, “pieces” of hand-loomed woollen cloth were traded there and exported widely. By 1815, the courtyard was being used as a venue for public spectacles and the Victorian era saw it become home to a thriving fruit and vegetable market, a horse fair and community ‘sings’. In the early part of the Millennium, Calderdale Council began planning the major regeneration of Halifax, with The Piece Hall at its heart.
The Piece Hall Transformation Project was made possible by funding from the Council, £7m from the Heritage Lottery Fund, thanks to National Lottery players, and support from the Garfield Weston and Wolfson Foundations. The Piece Hall Trust, an independent charity, runs The Piece Hall for public benefit and to ensure the sustainable future of the magnificent building.
The Council commissioned LDN Architects to sensitively conserve and restore the 238-year-old building into a world-class, multi-use commercial and cultural destination. Gillespies were appointed to reimagine the central courtyard and deliver a new public realm that offered a sensitive, appropriate and befitting architectural setting that enhanced and complemented the impressive Georgian architecture, as well as providing a flexible space for a year-round programme of events.
The attractive, open and accessible square provides a contemporary and flexible setting for events and socialising. Creatively working with the dramatic level changes across the courtyard, new granite steps, ramps and bespoke street furniture were introduced to overcome dramatic level changes, articulate and orientate movement across the square and shape and define the activity zones. The addition of two cascading water features and dramatic new lighting further animate the space. The new lighting scheme was a critical part of the vision for The Piece Hall and was integrated into the floor, facades and furniture to avoid the use of lighting columns, which would restrict how the space was used and would not be historically authentic. The selection of cool lighting within the courtyard and warm lighting for the buildings is architecturally contextual and reduces the scale of the main courtyard, making it more inviting to visitors.
To encourage increased footfall across the town and through The Piece Hall, the three existing gateways into the courtyard were updated with uplighters and natural stone paving and a new gateway was created through the east wing, linking the courtyard to the Council’s new Central Library and Archives and Calderdale Industrial Museum.
The public realm restoration and re-imagining was undertaken in consultation with Historic England and the Council’s conservation planners and required bespoke and creative solutions to integrate new pavement levels, materials, lighting and water features into the courtyard and building as a whole.
The uniqueness and age of the building created a number of challenges. A planned archaeological dig on the adjacent Square Chapel site discovered more burials than anticipated – over 200 – meaning excavation work was bigger than planned. Integrating slopes across the courtyard sensitively into the building colonnade whist creating a large, level central events space was a particular challenge.
The transformation of The Piece Hall is one of the UK’s most significant and high profile heritage projects. It is a striking example of historically sensitive landscape restoration and reinvention that has secured the future of a nationally significant building.
The reinvention of the building required sensitive, committed and imaginative landscape design and collaboration. By focussing restoration around the courtyard, The Piece Hall is once again at the heart of the town and has quickly become the focus for cultural, educational and civic events for the enjoyment of future generations.
Since the building re-opened on 1 August 2017 (Yorkshire Day) it has attracted footfall of over 3.7m, has acted as a catalyst for Halifax’s new Cultural Quarter and culture-led regeneration, is attracting significant inward investment and is strengthening the local and regional economy.
Landscape Architecture: Gillespies
Other designers involved in the design of landscape: LDN Architects (Architect and Lead Consultant), Gillespies (Landscape Architect), Campbell and Co. (Interpretation Designer), Turner & Townsend (Project Manager), Buro Happold (Structural Engineer, MEP Engineer), Pick Everard/Gleeds (Cost Consultant), Graham Construction (Main Contractors), The Fountain Company (Water Feature)
Client: Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council
Location: Halifax, UK
Design year: 2010-2014
Year Built: 2014- 2018
Images copyright: Bruce Fitzgerald, David Millington, Paul White, Gillespies