The most damaging aspect of the proposed development is the poor quality and unsympathetic nature of its design. There are several aspects to this including height and massing, architectural treatment, layout and overall concept.
The existing retail centre of the city enjoys great architectural variety, with buildings of two, three, and occasionally four stories, but the main proposed block, Block A, is seven stories high and as a result it will loom over and dominate its setting.
The 2003 Planning Brief clearly said that “building heights should vary across the site to respond and be sympathetic to adjacent development and the town centre as a whole”. It adds that “towards the Broadway, heights will be limited to three with occasional four storeys” and “if the multi storey car park is to be redeveloped, building heights … should be limited to four and occasionally five storeys, taking as a guide the height of Woolstaplers Hall”. Woolstaplers Hall will now be dwarfed by its upstart neighbours.
The impact of height is exacerbated by the proposed massing too, and instead of the small plot incremental development that reflects the historic evolution of the locality, the whole design is based upon a collection of immense and unrelenting homogeneous blocks. There is no sense of the charm and personality that makes the High Street feel like such a warm and welcoming place.
Adding to the effects of excessive height and monumentality within the traditional market town context, is the architectural treatment of the individual building facades which can only be described as overly simplistic, flat faced, uniform and dreary. Materials are expanded over large areas without relief or purpose, and even as an example of a modernist style they are hugely disappointing. There is none of the great variety or interest in architectural detailing and styles and periods which, collectively, make for the present joyful experience of walking through town.
What Winchester presently has is characterful and human. What is being proposed is stark and alien.
Even the layout of the scheme frustrates. It is claimed that it replicates the historic street layout, but the result is indifferent with tall all-new buildings lining narrow streets to create canyons where the occasional amenity areas feel miserly and anything but meaningful public realm that could have been created with more care and attention.
There is nothing about the architecture that inspires or creates any sense of place. Instead the senses are all dulled by the monotony of it all and by the sadness of such a wonderful opportunity so completely missed.
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