Design character and style
The North Street redevelopment site offers an unparalleled opportunity to reintegrate a long hidden and isolated fragment of Lewes with the town and its surrounding landscape. The town and site is imbued with a vast and fascinating history: an extraordinary culture that is alive, vibrant and modern; and a population who are engaging and thoughtful.
People in Lewes have been consistently clear that the scheme design must be in keeping with the unique style of the town; not a pastiche, but a strong design that complements the town and connects well with the town. Our starting point has been one of research and understanding. We commissioned a team of experienced architects and designers who spent the first year with members of the public in Lewes, getting to know the town and understand how its history has influenced its character. To ensure the scheme’s different areas remain varied and distinct, we appointed three architects firms, one for each area of the site, but with one overall architect, RH Partnership, leading the team to bring the whole together.
Our design team carried out research on Lewes’ historical past; cultural present and future aspirations and combined this with local feedback to inform the design proposals. We studied both the existing built environment characteristics, as well as the social and cultural characteristics of the town. We considered the landscape as well as buildings, street hierarchies and layouts of the town. Street widths, heights, proportion and enclosure were also measured and recorded. We looked at the separate parts of buildings, taking measurements and scale drawings from different roofs, walls, parapets, gables and windows. We found an amazing variety of thresholds and doorways, from the affluent to the artisan. In parallel, we also looked at the social characteristics of Lewes, from Thomas Paine to the famous bonfire societies. The town’s residents are restless, determined, challenging and radical, so the design had to be bold, not bland.
Designing by local people
Plans have been refined as a result of feedback from a comprehensive set of public consultations managed independently by The Democratic Society, including three public exhibitions in the past three years, which were well publicised through leaflets delivered to every household in Lewes and were well attended by people in the town. We also held two Lewes Town X-Ray events, working with local community and conservation groups to work together on building a design framework for developing the site. We also held a ‘Children’s Takeover Day’ at Priory School and gathered lots of feedback and ideas from local children about how they would like to see the site improved. A detailed Statement of Community Involvement is included as part of the planning application.
Facilitated by the government agency responsible for large developments, the South Downs National Park Authority and Lewes District Council tasked the design team to form a Design Working Group, and develop a ‘Design Framework’. From these discussions the South Downs National Park Authority has developed a series of ‘Design Principles’ to be applied to the development and these will be the principles that the final development will be measured against. These are referred to in the planning application and Design Access statements.
Creating a New Neighbourhood in the Unique Setting of Lewes
Our design approach has been based on reintegrating the site into the town, by forming connections through and across the site to the surrounding footpaths and roads; as well as by allowing the site to blend in with the neighbouring landscapes.
The proposed street patterns and public spaces are informed by the history and character of Lewes. We then built up to and framed the streets and public spaces with buildings. As we did this we carefully tested, in three dimensions. This let us see how proposed new rooflines will form the new views, fit with existing views and how the height and scale fitted in with the townscape and the South Downs landscape, in the day and at night. We have sought to reflect and continue the street scape of the surrounding area, whilst making sure that both access and views to and from the countryside and the riverside have been improved.
The North Street Quarter – Three Environments Which Work Together
The area closest to the town will become The Yards, the most densely populated, urban area of the scheme. Strong and robust, this area will convey a sense of the North Street Quarter’s industrial past. In contrast, Pells Cut, to the north west, will be entirely residential. Calm and restful, this area will be surrounded on three sides by landscape and the river. At the centre, linking The Yards and Pells Cut, is Northgate, which will become the social hub of the North Street Quarter. Its eclectic design will provide public space for creative activities in its town square by the river.
All three areas will ‘borrow’ their distinct architectural characteristics from different parts of Lewes. The Yards take inspiration from the buildings on the curve of Eastgate Street, Friars Walk and Lansdowne Place. Northgate echoes the area around North Street and Lancaster Street, while Pells Cut references Pelham Terrace, St Johns Terrace, St Johns Hill and Western Cliffe. All three teams were given guiding principles with regard to scale, proportion, materials, streetscape, landscape and street lighting to help ensure smooth transitions of architecture across the whole site.
Blending the Indoors with the Outdoors
Outdoor and garden space in Lewes is often overlooked by passers by or shared by multiple residents. The constant blurring between private and public outdoor space is a fascinating aspect of social life in Lewes that we will harness within the development.
Outdoor space will include shared public spaces and a number of distinctive water pathways and avenues of trees which run through the site. These open water swales will not only help protect the area from flooding, they will also attract wildlife and boost the biodiversity of the site. You can read more about these spaces in our Working with the River leaflet. Details on flood defences and how they have been designed to create attractive public space, including a riverside promenade, are outlined in our Working with the River leaflet.