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Belfast architects to transform Ipswich square


An artist's impression of the winning town square design

An artist's impression of the winning town square design

An artist's impression of the winning town square design

Radical plans devised by a team of Belfast architects have clinched an international commission to transform a tired English square into a cutting-edge townscape.

A team from Hall McKnight is leading a project to revamp Ipswich's main square, Cornhill, alongside urban designers from The Paul Hogarth Company in a project estimated at £3.5m.

Engineers and quantity surveyors from Belfast's branches of Arup, Turner and Townsend, and Light Bureau will also make up the team, which won over the judging panel's hearts with their proposals, including a raised stone plateau, iconic tower and circle of fountains.

Yesterday, James Hennessey, associate director from Paul Hogarth in Belfast, said the team was delighted the judges were brave enough to opt for their "more radical" design compared to others short-listed in a strong field of competition.

Alistair Hall, of Hall McKnight architects, said the other entries were "perhaps a bit more predictable, or less radical". The judging panel was led by former Marks and Spencer boss, Sir Stuart Rose, who said the project had the ability to catalyse the regeneration of the heart of the large Suffolk town and put it on the map of European squares.

Collectively, the designers from the different fields have a wealth of experience behind them, with Hall McKnight behind a similar project in Copenhagen, again created after winning an international competition.

Closer to home, the city centre firm also designed the Mac – the Metropolitan Arts Centre – at St Anne's Square in Belfast. It is currently working on a project at King's College in London.

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The landscape architects from Paul Hogarth were behind the design of Custom House Square, much of the Cathedral Quarter and Titanic Belfast environs.

Mr Hall, a partner at Hall McKnight, said a great deal of work went into the collective bid, which will result in a finished product resembling a Chinese lantern at night.

"We spent about 250 to 300 man-hours on the bid and it's a high-risk, high-return strategy and it was very design focused.

"We took an approach to reform the way the levels work in the square, because it's on a slight slope.

"It seemed obvious to us, but we were the only ones to propose that, while the others were more about resurfacing the space."

Mr Hall said the new tower would be a "delicate steel and glass object", placed in front of the town hall.

"You'll see through it, so it doesn't stand in the way of seeing the buildings behind it. At night, it will transform into an almost Chinese lantern, something quite delicate and illuminating.

"This kind of competition gives us a chance to work on public buildings that are design-led, because we are really interested in architecture that is high quality and which can change the way people use the city."

David Ellesmere, leader of Ipswich Borough Council, said the new design would "transform the centre of Ipswich" and secure the future of its town centre market.

"The centre has not had any major investment for about 30 years," he said. "Town centres cannot stand still. We need to invest."