Architecture: meeting places for citizens (1)

(August 2011) In most cities pedestrianization projects culminate in the strategic placing of a few planters and benches in a public zone. Not so in the British city of Sheffield. The smart new design of its Tudor Square makes this a feel-good venue, where people like to gather.

The square is dominated by a series of green islands designed in natural stone with trees and grass surrounded by benches and protrusions where the weary can stop and rest. The design concept is the work of artist Stephen Broadbent.

Production of the islands, some of which measure up to 10 m in diameter, was no simple task. The building elements were raw blocks a mere 2 m in length which had to be brought into shape to form segments which, when assembled, created a balanced and stable eyot.

To round off the picture, the stone surfaces carry artistically structured, wavy surfaces lending a distinct lightness to the entire structure.

In cooperation with the Liverpool National Conservation Centre (NCC) the artist trod on new ground: Broadbent first formed plaster cast models of his islands on a 1:10 scale, which he scanned to produce 3-D pictures of the project. This not only kept costs to a minimum but also gave insight into potential weak spots, e.g. where seeping rain water could be expected to cause excess wear and tear.

Blowing the models up to life-size caused unexpected challenges as even the tiniest scratch suddenly appeared as a giant gouge. The problem was solved by smoothing the designed surfaces out digitally by means of special software.

The stone blocks were provided and worked by Johnsons Wellfiel Quarry using robot technology. A special graffiti-resistant coating was applied to the stone. In a final step, the hardwood benches were mounted.

The entire project, which began in 2008, cost £ 4.1 million to complete and was presented to the public in May 2010. The participants were full of praise particularly regarding the cooperation.


Myers Group Johnsons Wellfield Quarries

Oslo’s Annette Thommessens Plass (Anette-Thommessens-Square) seems to shout out its name: the square, which borders on a busy street and parallel railroad tracks, is flanked by a granite wall, in which 1-m-high bold letters are chiselled, forming the name of the Norwegian human rights activist who defended refugees’ rights to seek asylum. In her role as chairwoman of the Norwegian refugee organization NOAS she propagated the idea of a „Colourful“ multi-cultural life-style – a concept mirrored in the multi-coloured trim around the square.

In close proximity to the central station and bridging the city centre and the adjoining harbour area, the design was the work of landscape architects Bjørbekk & Lindheim Landskapskitekter. The main challenge facing the project was to give the square a unique and recognizable face in the midst of the hustle and bustle of daily life – a place where passers-by and those working in nearby offices might stop and rest.

As can be seen on the photos, the planners achieved their goal. The distinguishing element is the cobblestone design: each of the functional surfaces was given its own look, e.g. dark granite surfaces are reserved for cafés. For the pavement of the pedestrian crossing, which extends to the building fronts, the architects chose natural stone in a light shade. Chinese granite was used supplied by the Norwegian Jogra Company.

The green surface and rounded fringe invite passers-by to linger and rest, as do the wooden benches integrated into the granite wall. The contrasting angular surfaces are designed to guide pedestrians to the resting areas.

Bjørbekk & Lindheim Landskapsarkitekter

Jogra Steinindustri

Photos: Bjørbekk & Lindheim Landskapsarkitekter

Berlin’s newly refurbished Schinkelplatz is an homage to the Prussian architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781-1841). Optically the mosaic cobblestone design surrounding the fountain is very distinct but the highlight is clearly the richly decorated Red-Bohus-Granite bench, which originated in Sweden. The design, what with its fountain surrounded by ornamental flower beds, is a typical example of public squares as often seen throughout Berlin.

The granite bench, the plinths of the memorials and the water basin were fabricated by the German company Bamberger Natursteinwerk.