The Piece Hall, Halifax by Paul White

The Grade I listed Piece Hall has been restored and its central courtyard reimagined as a new attraction and catalyst for future investment at the heart of a new cultural centre for Halifax. Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the multi-million-pound scheme includes the restoration of the Piece Hall, a new central Library and conference centre and new theatre. The project has transformed the former northern cloth halls into a new visitor destination that has multiple levels of colonnade walkways that lead to shops, restaurants, cafes and bars, all overlooking a vibrant new courtyard by Gillespies.

 

At its opening in 1779 The Piece Hall was the most ambitious and prestigious building of its type in northern England and is now the only remaining example in the UK of the great eighteenth Century northern cloth halls that were built to support the trading of ‘pieces’ of woollen cloth. Working closely with LDN Architects, Calderdale Council, Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and Historic England, Gillespies was commissioned to significantly update and improve the quality of the public realm experience, which has been achieved through the introduction of high quality materials, a new lighting scheme and water features. A new gateway has been 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. Gillespies also delivered the new public realm around the New Central Library, ensuring a coherent scheme along this new route.

The courtyard has been reimagined into an attractive, open and accessible ‘town square’ that offers a contemporary and flexible space for an established seasonal programme of events. 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. This has required the courtyard to accommodate steps and ramped access, and these have been sympathetically incorporated into the new public realm. The feature steps and ramps have also been used to help articulate the space and orientate routes and spill-out areas for restaurants, bars and cafés.

In addition to the high-quality natural stone paving (predominantly sandstone and granite), feature fountains, bespoke furniture and lighting have been used to provide a contemporary design language which is sensitive and appropriate to the impressive architecture of the Georgian facades.

To animate and to overcome the level changes across the central courtyard, cascading water features have been introduced. These fountains interpret the importance of water in the production of cloth, with cascades and rills hewn out of stone.

Particular consideration has been given to the night time economy, to ensure that the Piece Hall remains active, safe and attractive in the evening. The dramatic building facades have been up lit with ground lights and these are extended across the central courtyard to help define the public space. The expressive lighting design redefines the public space and announces it as one of the town’s most exciting night time destinations.

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