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.
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.