Forbury Square, Reading

This part of Reading is slightly off the beaten track, ideal for taking a quick break after being in town. Forbury Square is also a great example of modern architecture integrating with historic buildings.

Forbury gardens provides a great setting for the Forbury hotel (on the left), a c1910 building originally the Shire Hall for Berkshire. Forbury Square interacts with both the hotel and the gardens. The modern buildings sit well with the surroundings, with the new brick gable of 1 Forbury Square (on the right) complementing both the modern glass facade and the Forbury hotel opposite.

The materials used in the square are great, with nice detailing of the pedestrian footways.

Oddly, though, this square never seems to get busy. My guess is that this is because the square just is not an ‘active’ environment. Firstly, the large grass beds are raised, making it much more difficult to use the square as one space that actively dissuades skateboarders, or scooters, or rollerbladers from using the area. There are studs all over the edges of the stone slabs edging the raised beds to stop boarders ‘grinding’. Why? What better than to sit having a coffee being able to watch some skaters showing off?

The metal buttons aren’t comfortable when you sit on them, and haven’t stopped the edges of the slab being eroded by skaters anyway.

Unfortunately, one side of the square (the east) also seems to be inactive. Although this is a facade of the hotel without entrances, there is actually a gap in the railings with some steps down to a fantastic boutique restaurant.

There are some benches here, which would be ok to eat your  lunch, but not much to watch going on in the square.

It even seems that the cafe/restaurants are unwilling to spill out into the square too much.

This square had the potential to become an extension to Forbury Gardens. But sadly, there are bollards everywhere, with a carriageway designed for vehicles effectively separating the garden and square.

There’s a real opportunity missed here to create a much better pedestrian environment, get rid of all the bollards, extend the square out over the road, make the priority for pedestrians obvious, and integrate the square with the garden both physically and visually.

Forbury Square is a quality formal square, but missed a number of great opportunities to provide better public realm. As a consequence, the long-term values of the area (financial, social and environmental) are unlikely to reach their full potential. That said, this is great square with some excellent architecture.


Colchester urban village

Colchester urban village is a development of 2,500 homes or so (with employment and open spaces etc) in a slice of land to the south of Colchester town centre, based on the ‘urban village’ principles promoted by Prince Charles and the Urban Villages Forum since the 1990s.

These are some views of the area to the north of the development, just off Butt Road.

The entrance off Butt Road seems to be half-finished. There’s some interesting detail on the gable to the left of the entrance, but the rest lacks any fine articulation.

secondary entrance

This part of the development is pretty much based on Victorian architectural styles, with Poundbury-esque Victorian lamp posts (similar in many ways to the approach adopted in Fairford Leys). I wonder if these couldn’t have been low-level, particularly where there are no vehicles (and they are near to what look like bedroom windows on this photo). It’s a pity the opportunity was not taken to provide a more interesting facade to terminate this vista.

I like the use of the building line, with some dwellings straight off the footpath, others with small front gardens and a little planting, some with raised ground floors. Many Victorian streets have similar profiles, and suffer a similar problem – they were not designed for cars, or with bins and cycle storage. The problem of bin storage and collection is a long-standing one in many neighbourhoods.

At Colchester, cars are dealt with by providing rear courts. This provides the streets themselves with a much better environment, but as shown below, there are already yellow lines on the streets and people parking on the road in front of their houses.

Garland Road. The protruding gable detail at the end of the street terminates this vista. I like the gravel strip defining the edge-of-footpath on the left, incorporating steps up to front doors and gas meter access. Someone ought to design a gas meter cover that actually looks nice.

The use of decent materials, repeated porch and window details with well-proportioned openings creates a strong rhythm and feel of quality.

Part of the energy village. Good proportions, and facade, good use of materials.