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Halifax Civic Trust Awards 2018
David Hanson

This has been an exceptional year for major developments affecting Halifax's wonderful built heritage and for the first time in many years Halifax Civic Trust has decided to make not one, but three awards. They are for the breathtaking transformation of the Piece Hall, the remarkable and beautiful extension to the Square Chapel Arts Centre and the astonishing conversion of the 19th-century Princess Buildings into modern offices for Calderdale Council.

 

The Piece Hall

When the rejuvenated Piece Hall reopened on August 1 2017 - Yorkshire Day - nearly 23,000 people came to look. Perhaps they came to see what they had got for the £19.2 million spent on our great Georgian market hall - said to be the most important building in Yorkshire after York Minster - but more likely they came to see what had happened to a building that was dear to them. After all, the Piece Hall has been around a long time, almost two and a half centuries.

The Piece Hall was built in 1779 as a market for 30-yard "pieces" of cloth, woven on hand looms in workers' homes. The hall was open only on Saturdays and for only two hours, between 10am and noon. But even as it was built, this extraordinary building, with its 315 traders' rooms on two and three floors, was heading for obsolescence. For with the new Industrial Revolution, yarn and cloth production moved from workers' cottages to the new textile mills that sprang up on both sides of the Pennines and with the mills the need for centralised markets declined.

The hall's vast courtyard came to be used for a wide range of events, from political rallies and election hustings to the town's first balloon ascent In 1824. In 1838 it was here that Queen Victoria's Coronation was celebrated and in 1863 around 16,000 people welcomed the Prince of Wales when he came to open Halifax's new town hall. In 1861 the French tightrope walker Charles Blondin crossed the courtyard on a line stretched from corner to corner. And from 1838 to 1890 regular 'sings' by massed choirs of Sunday school pupils drew thousands to the hall.

 

In 1868 the building was taken over by Halifax Corporation and it became a wholesale market for fish, fruit and vegetables in 1871 and so it remained, with its clutter of chalet-like sheds and lean-to buildings that lined the inner walls, until the 1970s, when it was realised that the Piece Hall had potential as a visitor attraction. The traders were moved to a new site in Victoria Road, Halifax, and the building's new owner, Calderdale Council, embarked on a major restoration that incorporated new shops, weekly markets, an art gallery, pre-industrial museum, with a link to the industrial museum on the east side, and a tourist information centre. As well as regular markets the courtyard was used for events and performances, even including Whit sings, but on a much smaller scale than a century before.

For some years the Piece Hall fared well, but  then the markets, some shops and the pre-industrial museum closed and the building itself began to look shabby. Essentially the place suffered from lack of footfall - people. After many years of discussion involving all kinds of interests in January 2014 the council embarked on the transformation of what has been called the most important building in Yorkshire after York Minster. The council's aim was to conserve and restore the unique grade 1 listed Piece Hall while installing modern infrastructure and services; regenerate the courtyard as a thriving town square and vibrant arena, drawing local people and visitors from outside the area; and position the Piece Hall as the cultural, creative and community focus for Halifax and Calderdale.

This has been an enormously complex project, embodying restoration of the historic fabric, upgrading the hall's services and facilities, creating a major space for performances and events, facilitating a range of attractions, from shops and restaurants to heritage interpretation. Just the heading for the planning application, published in 2012, gives a clue to the extent and complexity of the scheme: Alterations to the grade 1-listed Piece Hall and its courtyard; repair of the existing historic fabric; refurbishment of existing windows and external doors; upgrading of existing fabric including new waterproof tanking and new thermal and acoustic insulation; construction of new structural walls; new openings in existing external walls linking Piece Hall to a new extension, the proposed Square Chapel extension and the Orange Box; renewal of existing services; installation of four new lifts; improvement of public toilet facilities; repair and renewal of wall, floor and ceiling finishes; new architectural lighting; new interpretation spaces and installations; installation of new water features in the courtyard; partial demolition of ruined Square Congregational Church; construction of a new four-storey extension adjacent to the Piece Hall and new service road. The planning application was accompanied by more than 270 documents, which included a lengthy historic building survey, conservation management plan, condition report, extremely detailed design plans and special reports on the courtyard and the new extension.

Visually the biggest change has been to the courtyard - described as Yorkshire's Piazza San Marco - where the aim was to create  a "vibrant town square in keeping with the building's 18th-century Italian architecture... a world-class public square that will become an important civic place for Halifax and Calderdale". Gillespies, the London-based landscape architects and environmental planners were called on to design this crucial space as well as to upgrade the existing gateways, to provide a new gateway to the east and the creation of a destination central courtyard. The work was carried out by Hardscape working with main contractors Graham Construction. The natural slope of the ground, down from west to east - which is why the hall has two storeys on the west and three on the east - has been reconfigured to create a huge level area for events and performances with steps and ramps above and below and also incorporating cascading water features at the north-west and south east corners. And the sandstone setts and grassed areas have been replaced by wall-to-wall paving, a confection of sandstone paving and setts from the Forest of Dean, four pale grey Portuguese granites, Irish blue sandstone and granite and Yorkstone slabs and setts with subtle variations of shade and texture. There are also 12 solid granite benches and 40 timber-topped granite benches. The three existing gateways have been updated with high-quality natural stone paving and the new gateway, through the east wing, has created a link between the town centre, the railway station and the new central library, encouraging increased footfall through the Piece Hall.

The Piece Hall Transformed

The Piece Hall: high quality new paving steps, water features, granite benches

Much time and effort has gone into restoring the hall's fabric, which has suffered from the ravages of time and poor maintenance practices in earlier years. Part of the restorer's skill is in deciding how much to renew and wisely at the Piece Hall the policy has been "to do as much as necessary but as little as possible". To do more would be to undermine the story of the building's history. So visitors will find individual stones, carefully cut and skilfully inserted, for example, into a column in the Arcade while other stones and nearby columns will still exhibit the wear brought about by time but yet continue to function safely.

The new extension, over four floors, is located outside the eastern range of the Piece Hall, between the spire of Square Church and the Square Chapel Arts Centre extension and is not visible from within the Piece Hall. It is designed to house a restaurant, conference centre and service spaces and act as a revenue earner to enhance the Piece Hall's long-term financial viability.

Spaces on the hall's three floors, the Arcade, the Rustic and the Colonnade, are filling up with a variety of  shops, restaurants and creative businesses in addition to three heritage spaces. The Piece Hall Story, near the south-east corner is a series of exhibits about the Piece Hall and its history. The Map Room, located below the cupola over the Westgate entrance, has interactive maps about the hall and its place in Halifax and the world. The Trader's Room, in a room on the south side that has been restored to its original condition, shows what it would be like to be at the Piece Hall on a trading day in 1779.

The courtyard has been the scene of  an impressive series of events and entertainments since its reopening and as we write the town is looking forward to the Piece Hall as starting point for the final stage of cycling's Tour de Yorkshire on May 6. This in a year that has already seen a royal visit by Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and is to be the scene of the BBC's Antiques Roadshow in July.

Indeed the "new" Piece Hall has been making headlines ever since its reopening in August 2017 and has been shortlisted for a sackful of awards. In November Claire Slattery, Calderdale Council's arts and heritage manager, who played a major role in the transformation of the Piece Hall, was winner of the Historic England Angel Award for the category Best Rescue of a Historic Building. The Piece Hall was also the overall winner. The Piece Hall restoration is also among 13 buildings shortlisted by the Royal Institute of British Architects for its Yorkshire Regional Awards. The Piece Hall and the adjacent new Calderdale Central Library are also shortlisted by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors Yorkshire and Humber awards in two categories, building conservation and regeneration. The Piece Hall has also been nominated - by Halifax Civic Trust - for a Civic Voice Design Award and by the Local Authority Building Control's Building Excellence Awards. The Piece Hall has also been highly commended in the British Guild of Travel Writers Tourism Awards. Finally the Piece Hall has been shortlisted for an international lighting award in the International Lighting Design Awards in its Community and Public Realm Project of the Year.

The transformation of the Piece Hall has been a prodigiously complex affair and the scheme did suffer a number of delays which pushed back completion well over a year. But as Calderdale Council's leader, Coun Tim Swift, reasonably explained, for a building of this age there were no detailed historic drawings to help the designers and construction teams. Hundreds of bodies had to be removed from a graveyard on the site, weakened foundations had to be strengthened. Asbestos, discovered on the site, had to be removed. The delays were not an unreasonable price to pay for the magnificent building that greeted the 23,000 who turned up on August 1. For the "new" Piece Hall - described as "an architectural and cultural masterpiece" is a truly magnificent, spectacular building. The materials and workmanship are of the highest order - from the brushed steel and timber gates at the new east entrance to the intricate and so careful repairs to the hall's 239-year-old sandstone columns, from the quality of the courtyard stonework to the granite benches and steel handrails and the spectacular lighting system.

If you can recall the jaw-dropping moment when you first set eyes on the interior of the Piece Hall - perhaps in the 1970s after the hall had served for a hundred years as a wholesale fish, fruit and vegetable market - then you may have relived the experience in 2017. Let's hope that Britain's last surviving complete cloth hall is safe and sound for another 239 years.

The £19.2 million scheme has been funded by Calderdale Council with £7 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund and additional support from Garfield Weston Foundation and the Wolfson Foundation. The Piece Hall is owned by Calderdale Council and managed by the newly formed charity The Piece Hall Trust.

Architects: LDN Architects, Edinburgh. Main contractor: Graham Construction.

 

Square Chapel Arts Centre

In September 2017 Square Chapel Arts Centre reopened after a £6.6 million project to build a new extension with a second auditorium, cafe and bar, box office, terrace, new dressing rooms and direct access to the adjoining Piece Hall. It had been almost half a century since the former Congregational chapel and adjacent Square Church closed their doors in the face of a dwindling congregation. In the years between the fate of the 200-year-old chapel and its Victorian neighbour had become something of a cause celebre as conserva-tionists, in Halifax and nationally, fought to save these historic buildings.The red-brick Square Congregational Chapel had opened in 1772. It thrived, so much so that by the mid-19th century the church decided it needed more space and built Square Church, the Gothic-style building with a 235ft spire, which opened in 1857. The chapel became the Sunday school. But decline set in after the second world war and the church lost many of its members in what was then a rundown part of industrial Halifax. The church closed in 1969. In the absence of a buyer the church sought to have the buildings demolished but instead, following a public inquiry, the Government listed the 19th-century Square Church; the Georgian chapel had been listed in 1954. But then fate took a hand. In 1971 fire wrecked much of the church's roof and interior. A second inquiry was held and the Government agreed that the church could be demolished but the spire and Square Chapel had to be preserved. There followed a decade and a half in which attempts were made to find a new use for the chapel while others made renewed efforts to have the building pulled down.

 

Square Chapel: the new copper-clad auditorium and terrace on a stone plinth with the glazed wall of the foyer on the right

Meanwhile the neglected chapel's condition had gone from bad to worse; the listed chapel was facing demolition as, first, the church authorities, then new owner Calderdale Council tried to have the building pulled down. There followed almost two decades in which conservationists - Halifax Civic Trust prominent among them - fought to save this unusual square chapel, one of a rare handful of buildings in Halifax of handmade Georgian brick.

The turning point followed a third public inquiry in which the Georgian Group, the Victorian Society, the Ancient Monuments Society, the Save Britain's Heritage Group and Halifax Civic Trust combined to fight demolition. In May 1980 Environment Secretary Michael Heseltine ruled out demolition and also rapped the council for failing to spend a modest £700 to protect the building. Ideas for reusing the building started to flow: a study centre associated with the Piece Hall, a "public auditorium for community activities", offices, shops, restaurant, tourist visitor centre, job training centre, 30 flatlets, 18 flats, 40-bed home for elderly and disabled people, vintage car museum, a restaurant, exhibition and conference centre, a national museum of the non-conformist churches.

In April 1983 the Halifax and national civic trusts proposed turning the building into a  £650,000 youth arts centre. The scheme involved building a large glass extension to the rear as well as turning the chapel into an auditorium for 350 people, with a cinema, lecture room and workshops.

Then in 1988 a group of friends led by Heptonstall couple Robin and Jessica Sutcliffe, bought the chapel from the council for £25 with plans to form a trust to restore the old chapel and run it as an arts centre. The scheme would be done in phases, first rescuing the dilapidated chapel, then restoring the interior and adding rehearsal rooms, offices, a cafe, toilets and garden.

In September 1989 an invited audience gathered in the chapel auditorium, among rubble and scaffolding, to hear the one of the Britain's leading string quartets, the Lindsay, play Beethoven's Quartet No 1 in F major. In the years that followed Square Chapel established itself as a venue for the entire spectrum of the arts, from folk music to comedy, from Shakespeare to musical theatre, from film to art installations to events for children and for old people and to a wide range of community events.

And now, almost 50 years since Square Church and Sunday school closed and nearly 30 years since the Square Chapel Trust revealed its vision to turn the building over to the arts, Square Chapel has a second new lease of life - a striking new extension that houses a copper-clad, state-of-the-art auditorium, cafe, bar and box office. At the heart of the extension is the triangular-shaped foyer-cum cafe bar and ticket office.The form was dictated by the restricted space between the ancient street called Blackledge and the Piece Hall. The shape of this space suggested a building in the form of an isosceles triangle with its base attached to the west end of Square Chapel - now called the Red Brick Auditorium - and its apex - the "sharp end" - meeting the south wall of the Piece Hall at a point where the mid-line of the chapel extends westwards to meet the Piece Hall wall. At the east end the triangle meets the chapel just below the cornice and the new roof slopes down towards the exit. It really is a showstopper. From the entrance you have a long view towards the chapel under a rising canopy, a coffered ceiling of triangles in spring and autumn shades of green yellow, brown and cream, held together with white-painted steel beams, the whole supported by white, tree-like columns. There are more trees on the south-facing glass wall, which overlooks a new terrace; here artist Sarah Galloway has created a beautiful artwork, an abstract representation of trees and foliage spread over 29 panes of glass. Indeed the whole structure presents a palette of materials and colour, from the honey-coloured sandstone of the Piece Hall's outer wall to the red brick of the old chapel; from the etched glass of the south wall to the variously coloured panels of wall cladding, from the multi-coloured ceiling to the pale grey concrete of the floor and the wood-grained concrete on the stair well, a little bit of retro modernism set against the warm tones of the chapel's rear wall.

 

The terrace and the glass wall of the foyer café  bar, etched with trees by Sarah Galloway

And then, on the limited space between the triangular foyer and Blackledge is the Square Chapel's new Copper Auditorium, seating 110 - compared with the 230 in the Red Brick Auditorium - cosy, intimate, hi-tech, used for small-scale performances and film. It's a bold, copper-clad building, sitting on a deep stone plinth, that echoes the form of the old chapel on a smaller scale and without the pitched roof. The extension also boasts new meeting rooms, a space for Square Chapel's many volunteers, new toilets and, for the first time, a direct link from the foyer to the adjoining Piece Hall. In a reordering of part of the the chapel the old bar has been turned into offices and new dressing rooms provided. The new spaces mean that audiences will surely grow, from 12,000 to 14,000 a year to perhaps 24,000 a year for live performances to 25,000 or more for film shows.

In the early 1970s Square Chapel was described as "the most derelict building in Calderdale". Huge notices warned "Danger: Keep out" and there were those for whom demolition could not come quickly enough. Thanks to that theatre-loving gang of 1988 one of Halifax's most important Georgian buildings was saved and given a new life in the arts. Now, 30 years on, the Square Chapel Arts Centre has come of age. The decades of uncertainty are past. In beautiful buildings of both the 18th and the 21st centuries a much-loved institution in our town is here to stay.

Architects: Evans Vettori.  Main contractor: Wildgoose Construction.

Princess Buildings

Some time after Calderdale Council decided to leave its Northgate House premises and move to mid-Victorian Princess Buildings members of Halifax Civic Trust were invited to tour both buildings. Frankly we found it hard to understand why the council would want to abandon purpose-built offices opened in 1982 in favour of a listed former bank and adjoining shops built well over 100 years before the computer age. How would it be possible to convert Princess Buildings - actually three buildings with dozens of floor levels - into something like modern offices? Here was a warren of tiny rooms, narrow corridors, steep staircases and useless spaces unfit for the modern age. Circulation was hopeless; in places you could go up a flight of stairs just to come down another one. The buildings contained at least 40 different floor levels and there were seven sets of stairs within a 10 metre radius. It read like a construction nightmare. And yet... out of this complexity, modern, efficient, attractive offices have been created at Princess Buildings, thanks to the ingenuity of Leeds architects Bauman Lyons - and without damaging the character of the grade 2-listed buildings or the important high-Victorian townscape in which they lie.

But first some history. Princess Buildings - familiar to local people as the place where they paid their rates, housing or other council bill  - on the corner of Princess Street and Crossley Street, was originally the head office of the Halifax Joint Stock Bank, which moved here from an office in Waterhouse Street in 1858. The bank and the later blocks of high-class shops in Crossley Street and Northgate, were part of the redevelopment of this part of Halifax by John Crossley, one of the Dean Clough carpet making brothers, philanthropist and mayor of Halifax. He also provided the land for Halifax Town Hall, opened in 1863. Crossley's architects were the famous Bradford firm of Lockwood and Mawson, who also designed the White Swan Hotel, opposite Princess Buildings, and the Mechanics' Hall, now the Marlborough Hall, in Crossley Street. The style was classical Italian Renaissance in high-quality ashlar sandstone, with many embellishments, from rusticated stonework to string courses and huge cornices, from round-headed windows to flat-headed windows with arches above, pilasters, attached columns, pediments - the whole box of tricks.

In 1887 the bank was extended south along Princess Street, almost doubling its size. By the end of  the century the bank had 29 branches in the West Riding. Ultimately, following a series of mergers the bank became part of Lloyds. The building was sold to Halifax Borough Council for £9,500 in 1939; in the 1960s the council extended the bank further along Princess Street in a building typical of the age, a combination of stone, glass and plastic panels. The Crossley Street and Northgate shops were built somewhat later than the bank. On a 1894 plan they are shown including a jeweller's and others selling hats, linens and crockery. Today all three buildings are known by the Princess Buildings name.

 

Princess Buildings: the new extension, right on the site of the former 1960's building. The original 1858 Halifax Joint Stock Bank building is at the far end of Princess Street with the pedimented 1887 extension in the middle

The buildings are of three storeys, plus, variously, basements and attics. The bank contained a large banking hall on the ground floor, extended in 1887, with offices for the manager and directors. Much of the first floor contained the manager's living accommodation and the floor above included five bedrooms for guests. In Crossley Street and Northgate the shops had domestic accommodation above. Over the course of a century and more many alterations have taken place, rooms subdivided, stairs installed, connections made between the buildings, all leading to a jumble of spaces and levels. The architects' task was to turn it all into something like a homogeneous whole.

The key to the puzzle was hidden away in Star Yard. The backs of all the Princess Buildings  - in Crossley Street and Northgate as well as in Princess Street - faced this small area reached via a covered passage from Northgate. Here, in Star Yard, each of the three shops in Crossley Street had been given extensions - "protrusions" or, in common parlance, "outshots" - to provide extra accommodation and improve circulation. They were conveniently situated at the heart of the complex, within reach of all the buildings. The key decision was to demolish the extensions and replace them with a new atrium which would link all the floors in all the buildings with new stairs and lifts. The atrium, which came to be known as the "Link", at a stroke simplified this complex set of buildings, replaced dangerous and unusable stairs, eased circulation and helped users to orient themselves to the different parts of the complex. The four-storey Link reaches to the full height of the building and acts as a natural ventilator, drawing air through the building. It also contains toilets, thus concentrating the necessary plumbing in the new building.

Princess Buildings: The Link.  This new atrium at the heart of the complex connects the Princess Street, Crossley Street and Northgate buildings, making circulation possible with new stairs and lifts

The other major change to Princess Buildings was to demolish the 1960s extension to the bank on Princess Street, a three-storey building of no architectural merit and out of keeping with its high-Victorian neighbours on both sides of Princess Street. This structure been replaced with an entirely new three-storey building that, while simpler in design than the original bank buildings, is entirely in the right spirit, being constructed of matching high quality ashlar and reaching the full height of the adjoining building, with simple window mouldings and a pierced parapet at roof level.

Princess Buildings: computer-generated view of the complex by architects  Bauman Lyons. The Princess Street buildings are at the top left with CrossleyStreet at the top right and Northgate at bottom right

Inside the rejuvenated Princess Buildings the original banking hall has lost the long counter where the public used to pay their bills. Instead there is a large, open-plan space where meetings can take place and the public can talk with officers of the council. Elsewhere, unnecessary walls and staircases have been removed and Princess Buildings now boasts up to four floors of open plan office spaces, some larger than others, but all modern, appealing working spaces for the 450 council workers who moved in last October, representing departments ranging from children's service to public health, environmental protection to legal services, housing to corporate asset management. The working spaces are flexible, using hot desking to maximise the use of the spaces; there are seven desks for every 10 workers. Decoration is simple and refined, with pale grey walls and  doors, skirtings and architraves in darker grey.  But at the Link sandstone walling from adjoining buildings remains exposed. Signage follows the council's corporate style, with different colours for different function, for example blue for meeting rooms, green for breakout spaces, yellow for kitchens.

Despite the modernisation the designers have made it a priority to retain as many historic features as possible, ranging from ceiling roses, cornices and other plasterwork to original wooden architraves and ornate bannister rails. Two large original skylights have been restored and a panelled room that was once the bank manager's bedroom retained. The bank's original strong room with its safe has been kept as a feature, and so has an Otis lift, installed around the turn of the century but no longer working. One of the finest of the retained historic features is a fine wooden, probably oak, staircase that rises from the ground floor entrance to the 1887 extension with ornate plasterwork and lit by a skylight.

The transformation of Princess Buildings is a triumph, proof that solutions can be found to the most difficult and tortuous architectural problems. Bauman Lyons and Calderdale Council showed the doubters what could be done; they have safeguarded an important part of Halifax town centre's built heritage for several more generations at least and deserve our congratulations.

Architects: Bauman Lyons. Main constructor: ISG Construction.