Friday, February 16, 2007

Bradford's lake evaporates...

Bradford, second city of West Yorkshire was certainly in need of its current city centre massive investment and facelift.

Thats it in the picture (left), looks nice doesn't it ?
Its deceiving is that photograph.
Even ardent Bradfordians admit that their city centre is shit.

100 years ago Bradford was an incredibly wealthy place to live and work, it was literally the centre of the worlds wool and worsted cloth trade and folk travelled from all over the civilised world to buy West Yorkshire cloth at the Bradford Wool Exchange.

Along with that entreprenuership and wealth creation came some fine Bradford buildings, some of which can be seen in that photo, and in the main those buildings were built using the local stone leaving a legacy of some of the finest Victorian buildings and mills spread right across the city.

And then came the 1960's.
And unfortunately the burghars of Bradford found access to ready cash for redevelopment.

Within a decade the complete centre of Bradford had been demolished and rebuilt in a brave new world of concrete and plastic facades, square blocks of shops and offices replaced the fine victorian stone architecture in a town planners vision of what the 20th century city centre should look like - it looked shit.

Within ten years it looked even shit-er and by the end of the 20th century no-one would ever dream of visiting Bradford city centre unless they really, really had to, it was perhaps the most depressing place in the world and its citizens were rightly ashamed of their legacy.

Fortunately the odd pockets of Victoriana survived where the town planners had run out of cash and such places as Little Germany - an area of tall mills and offices just 100 yards away from the most awful of the 1960's blocks - was given a complete renovation in the 1980's to provide 21st century working spaces with glorious stone architecture, tall rooms and windows and a view outside of those tall windows that didn't involve grey concrete - oh how Bradfordians regretted employing fekkwits as town planners in the 1960's when they saw Little Germany and what could have been done to the rest of their city centre.

Fortunately for those citizens the current crop of fine burghars have found some more potloads of money and they are in the process of a long phase of redevelopment of the worst of the 1960's architecture - at the moment everything that is to be demolished is laying on the ground now and the brave new bradford design is on public display all over the city.

One building which survived the 60's wrecking ball was the fine Victorian City Hall, although its bells in the bell tower were long ago replaced with a tape recorder that plays silly tunes in a bell tower stylee rather than just ringing a peal of bells, so that everyone now knows that its a tape recording.

The architects vision of the new Bradford city centre included a huge lake right in front of city hall covering nearly 100,000 sq feet which would offer a mirror reflection of the carved stonework in all its glory, especially when illuminated at night - it sounded lovely.

Except of course to the cynics amongst us who used a little imagination and looked a few years into the future to see a pond full of dirty black water, partly submerged upended shopping trolleys and the odd burnt out car waist deep in water, not to mention the odd hundred or so drunks dancing, urinating (and worse) in there every weekend.

Sanity has prevailed and the lake has been cut by a third to just 37,000 sq feet, still big in anyones books, nearly as big as the pond in my back garden which I have to drain in the next few weeks before we move house (anyone want to give a home to several big golden orfes until I can get a new pond built at the new house ? ), but there is talk from the architects of the ability to quickly drain the lake and use the space for open air concerts and recreation type stuff, I think not, not unless the concert organisers want to spend three days scrubbing the concrete base to remove all of the algae growth before allowing the punters in.

Still, we await with baited breath the removal of the screens and road diversions which now dominate the whole of the city centre, and will do for some time yet, before being pulled down with a theatrical flourish to reveal what, if anything, planners and architects have learned from what was the worst era in architectural design since time began - the 1960's.

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