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Published on June 6th, 2010 | by Yellow Magpie

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Kevin McCloud’s Big Town Plan: Castleford’s Potential Architectural Revolution

Castleford, Yorkshire, is a large English town. Run down and neglected, it was a victim of Margaret Thatcher’s radical 1980s reform when its mining operation was shut down. Now it sits, decaying, dilapidated, an austere eyesore.

Enter Kevin McCloud and Channel 4 with a highly ambitious plan for the town. With £100,000 worth of seed money for reinvigorating the almost-dead urban landscape, this programme has huge aspirational hopes.

Change: A Difficult Sell

Change can be a scary process for many people. Some see it as a threat to their very way of life. New technology is viewed upon with suspicion. This is perhaps truest it when it comes to buildings.

People often fail to see that what are now old, traditional structures were once new, cutting-edge-state-of-the-art exemplars of architecture. Instead some cling with anxious trepidation to old, decaying facades, knowing that something needs to be done but scared of the consequences of what this might entail.

In the interim, with all this undecided tooing and frooing, the once barely visible hairline cracks begin to widen and start to become chasms making change and motivation all the more difficult.

Armed with £100,000 and a belief that good architecture can transform the way people live and feel, a plan is set in motion to empower and regenerate Castleford. This renewal of a dying town could spark new life and bring about profound change. A change and desire that could be replicated anywhere, in any town, in any country.

The Championing Of The Community

Often the greatest stumbling block for any town is the local council. Full of self-important types with unflinching, misplaced faith in their own abilities, the opinions of the actual people who matter, the locals, are often ignored.

Kevin Mccloud’s Big Town Plan seeks to address this disparity by putting forth ‘Community Champions’ people from the heart of Castleford who have been emboldened with the responsibility of managing key projects.

The Jewell In The Crown

One of the great triumphs of the projects is the magnificent bridge designed by McDowell and Benedetti. A wonderful flowing structure full of curves, the bridge is the fulcrum of the town and represents the pinnacle of the regeneration project. A perfect marriage of steel and timber, the bridge has to be one of most beautiful footbridges in the world.


A Modern Architectural Sculpture

Making the best of a forced-upon situation where the structure was already built, architect Deborah Saunt’s cosmetic redesign of Tittle Cott Underpass is an unapologetically contemporary sculpture. Bold and vivid, its bright red colour certainly isn’t conducive to blending into the background. A highly provocative piece in a conservative neighbourhood, her design is both engaging and challenging. In terms of lending a space a particular identity, the underpass is a huge success.


Public Parks: The People’s Heartbeat

Of moderate success are the public parks. Two schemes deliver exactly what the locals want. One complete with resplendent playground, the other with a mix of attractions designed for children of all age groups.

However, one must wonder what will happen when these kids grow up. A gaping flaw in the two projects are the lack of suitable amenities for adult consumption. Surely the purpose of a public space should be all-encompassing with a place for people of all ages?

One of the most common forms of conflicts in any civic project is when officials reject the will of the people and steamroll a project through. Although architecture can be stunningly dazzling and mood-transforming, having something unexpected foistered upon the public is a recipe for malcontentedness. Drafting in internationally-renowned architect, Martha Schwartz, proved to be a disastrous decision by the authority. Not noted for her diplomatic skills, Schwartz’s dictatorial approach only achieved in creating local ill-will towards the project.

The focal point of the park, the stone cairn, seemed to especially distress the locals who viewed it as a provocative finger gesture! But perhaps what is fundamentally wrong is that it is contextually flawed. More akin to a city space, it looks decidedly out of place in one of the most rural parts of Castleford.

The Problem With Authority

One of the most revealing aspects of the entire project was the council’s interfering in the town centre. Despite the international calibre of some the architects brought aboard by the programme, the local council could not stop themselves from hijacking the projects.

What resulted was generic and anemic. A standard town centre that can be found in any town in any country. Ultimately, this was a lost opportunity which could so easily have been something memorable and transcendent. Unfortunately, this is not a case of isolation. There are many many countries where this happens on a regular basis.

Results: A Qualified Success

Some of the regeneration failed to meet expectations for a variety of different reasons. However, overall the project must be viewed as beneficial and positive to the town of Castleford.

The true success of Castleford’s regeneration may not be known for years. Undoubtedly, the real architectural and aesthetic triumph was the bridge across the River Aire. The best that modern architecture and engineering has to offer, the bridge became a beacon and potent symbol for a re-energised and reinvigorated Castleford.

The lesson of this project is that great architecture can transform any town and alter moods. If you have visionary and dedicated people success will follow as surely as water fuels life.

Recommended Amazon Reading

Kevin McCloud’s Big Town Plan is freely available on the wonderful 4oD  Youtube channel. Click on the on the link to access it.

The philosopher Alain de Botton’s book The Architecture Of Happiness explores the theme of architecture and mood in an enjoyable and well-written manner.

Amazon.co.uk
For people living in Ireland or the United Kingdom you can access The Architecture Of Happiness here.

Amazon.ca
For those living in Canada you can obtain The Architecture Of Happiness from here.

Amazon.de
For Germany: The Architecture Of Happiness.

Amazon.fr
For France: The Architecture Of Happiness.


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