Gillespies transforms Halifax public realm with Piece Hall courtyard

A contemporary public courtyard designed by Gillespies to be a catalyst for future development in the centre of Halifax has opened to the public.

Gillespies' Piece Hall design at night. All images: © Paul White
Gillespies' Piece Hall design at night. All images: © Paul White

The public realm design completes a restoration of the Grade I listed Piece Hall in the West Yorkshire town, a multi-million-pound scheme supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and designed to create a new cultural quarter.

The project involved restoring the former major northern cloth hall, creating a new Central Library and conference centre and new theatre. The project has transformed the building into a new visitor destination that has multiple levels of colonnade walkaways, leading to new units that can accommodate shops, restaurants, bars, cafes and new start-up businesses, all overlooking the vibrant new courtyard.

Piece Hall is the only remaining example in the UK of the great 18th Century northern cloth halls that were built to support the trading of ‘pieces’ of woollen cloth and was the most ambitious and prestigious building of its type when it opened in 1779.

Gillespies landscape architects Jim Gibson, Warren Chapman and Jon Freeman worked closely with LDN Architects, Calderdale Council, HLF and Historic England on its design which had to be historically responsive but also modern and able to accommodate a year-round programme of events and festivals.

Using high-quality materials, a new lighting scheme and water features by The Fountain Company, Gillespies re-imagined the space into a new town square, built by Graham Construction. A new gateway was also created through the east wing of the Piece Hall, providing a pedestrian link between the town centre and the railway station, passing past the new Halifax Central Library. Natural stone paving, predominantly sandstone and granite, feature fountains, bespoke furniture and lighting were included.

A particular challenge for the project was to accommodate the 3.5 metre level change across the central courtyard, as well as ensuring that the new public space met modern accessibility standards.  So Gillespies designed steps and ramps and used these to mark out the space and suggest routes and spill out areas for restaurants, bars and cafés.

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