A new gate opens in Leeds

ACME have drawn on Leeds’ rich architectural history to create a new 21st century interpretation to the city’s traditional retail arcades

by Nick Myall 02 November 2016
  • of

    The latest addition to the vibrant city centre of Leeds features the Victoria Gate arcades, a flagship John Lewis store and a new Multi Storey car park – developed by Hammerson and designed by ACME has opened to the public. 

    Inspired by the grand Victorian arcades that make up Leeds’ rich architectural heritage, including Victoria Quarter, Victoria Gate is a 21st century interpretation of shops and public spaces that will become a long-lasting piece of city life. Victoria Gate is defined by its bold contemporary exterior and a series of new streets and connections that will reconnect disparate parts of the city. 

    The John Lewis store anchors the development with a striking diagrid façade, which relates to a number of civic buildings on the Headrow, built from very sculptural stone. The new store elevations are ordered through a deep set of pilasters, starting vertically and leaning slowly as the columns rise to form a changing pattern of polished reconstituted stone. Windows have been set into the diagrid where daylight was desired internally, all other areas have been designed with bronze and ivory coloured terracotta infills. 

    The magnificent three-dimensional exterior has been designed as a new landmark for the city, relating to the scale and grandeur of the nearby Corn Exchange and the Town Hall’s civic architecture. With five trading floors and a rooftop restaurant, the new John Lewis store is the tallest post-war department store in the UK, and the largest John Lewis outside of London. At the eastern entrance to the development the store will help to rebalance the commercial centre of Leeds that had shifted to the west and away from Kirkgate Market over the last few years.

    The two new arcades were developed following a rigorous study of the key ingredients that make up the great 19th century European arcades, which have been often been lost in more recent shopping mall designs. While malls can be indistinguishable indoor worlds, arcades are covered external streets, with real façades and a great sense of order and rhythm, these principles have been followed through in Victoria Gate both internally and externally. 

    The roof of the new arcades creates three covered streets below, filled with natural daylight from above. Constructed using slender intersecting steel members, the roof rises and falls to form a gabled roof at the junction to the John Lewis store and a sweeping oculus in the north arcade where it transcends through a casino. At the junction where the north and south arcades meet the department store, a huge day lit public square has been created under a canopy of steel and glass 22 metres above the ground. 

    Elegant curved glass shop fronts line the arcades, echoing their Victorian predecessors, while the stone floor is made up of 15 shades of grey, arranged in a herringbone pattern and inspired by traditional cloth weaves. Windows, doorways and materials have all been designed with care to form an overall aesthetic vision which celebrates public space as a spectacle to be enjoyed by all. 

    The exterior of Victoria Gate is inspired by the Art Deco age Blomfield buildings of the Headrow and the Victorian terracotta buildings of Vicar Lane. Leeds was an affluent, mercantile city in the past, the buildings in the context of the site reflect this through elevations rich in texture and relief. A three-dimensional brick and terracotta façade is pleated to create a multitude of shadows and depth across the building, produced from detailed computer models locating each of the 460,000 bricks. Brass and rust coloured metals have been used at higher levels to create a family of complementary materials in the traditional Leeds terracotta colours. 

    Located on the prominent eastern corner facing Quarry Hill and the Northern Playhouse, the 800-space Multi-Storey Car Park (MSCP) represented an opportunity to create a sense of welcome and arrival in the city centre, encouraging future connectivity to Quarry Hill. ACME has woven the car park design into the architectural narrative of Victoria Gate so that it does not become a neglected afterthought. Taking references from the diagrid pattern on the department store, the façade is made up of hundreds of twisting aluminum fins. These fins are spaced to allow natural ventilation of the building and create an ever-shifting pattern of light, shadow and reflections evoking the appearance of a diagrid at various times of the day.  

    Friedrich Ludewig, Director, ACME, said: “Leeds is a city rich in architectural history, and ACME has greatly enjoyed working within the historic fabric and adding a new 21st century interpretation to the city’s traditional retail arcades, sculptural brick and ornamental terracotta. Together with Hammerson, and supported by Leeds City Council, we have worked hard to create buildings that are specific to their place and time, and unmistakably a part of Leeds, and we look forward to the public taking ownership of this new space.”

    David Atkins, CEO, Hammerson, commented: “Leeds is a fantastic city and we are pleased to have regenerated an underutilised urban space, into a unique destination which we are confident will form an iconic piece of Leeds’ retail heritage for many years to come.”

    Councillor Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council, said: “Victoria Gate is an imaginative and striking scheme and the architects have paid a lot of attention to reflecting the city of Leeds in their design.  This is a very important development, not only in economic and visual terms, but also in the impact it is having on our work to further regenerate this section of the city centre.  It is an eye-catching addition to our city skyline.”

    Nick Myall

    News editor

    Want to submit your project to World Architecture News?

    Contact The Team