Glenn Howells Architects was founded in 1992 in Birmingham, London by Glenn Howells. They handle projects in multiple sectors across the UK, such as residential, educational, master planning, and hospitality and leisure. Their recent project, a mixed-use redevelopment of the Paradise Circus area of Birmingham, was featured in the RIBA Journal in 2019. Recently, they have successfully obtained the planning permissions from the Peterborough City Council for the Lakeside Activity Centre in Ferry meadow, Nene Park. The project focuses on creating an activity centre in the Park, relying on the master plan of the city to conceptualize an exciting proposal that helps to enhance both the Park and its surrounding areas.
Nene Park in Peterborough occupies about three and a half miles of space, and contains three lakes, and serves as an important space for recreation in the region. A large portion of the Nene Park is utilized for Ferry Meadows, which is managed by the Nene Trust Park Fund. The Trust is also responsible for the long-term strategy to activate the park and create a key area within the city for recreation, culture, and leisure. An essential aspect of this strategy is the proposed Lakeside Activity Centre in Ferry Meadows, the planning permissions for which have been awarded to Glenn Howells Architects.
Currently, the Ferry Meadows Park is used for a variety of activities ranging from communal, such as picnics and group hangouts, to more active events such as walking, riding, and water sports. It is a major space for recreation in the city, and is part of the Green Wheel cycle route, adding greater interest in the area. Additionally, the park contains multiple commercial activities that add to the experience and aid in the upkeep of the park. The park also acts as a space for botanical and ornithological study.
The proposed construction encompasses 1,430-square meters and is expected to have Olympic-standard climbing facilities, a toddler play area, café, and community spaces. Glenn Howells intends for the project to lead to 31 new jobs in the park and is intended to substantially boost the biodiversity and ecosystems in the area by increasing the tree cover and improving landscaping and pollination. This enhancement of the natural elements is intended to complement the proposed indoor facilities to create a holistic experience that lasts year-round, while also ensuring that the more active areas of the park are kept away from the more ecologically sensitive areas.
The main attraction of the Activity Centre is the Climbing Tower. The form is carefully designed to call to mind the distinctive geometry of a climbing wall and forms a clear landmark within the park. Climbing walls traditionally have interesting planar geometry to create various levels of difficulty, and the proposed project will contain a bespoke climbing wall that rises to 34m high, with all the ancillary functions. The material selection is also intended to facilitate a sense of playfulness and emphasize a connection to nature. Glenn Howells’ design also contains indoor activity spaces meant to act as enrichment to the already established outdoor activities in the park. This will create a clear area of activity and play that helps integrate the activity areas into the natural habitats, without interfering with the ecosystems of the park.
Glenn Howells Architects and the Nene Park Trust aim to create a space that prioritizes the health and wellbeing of the population of the city. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a preference for open-air recreation spaces due to safety, and therefore, the planned Lakeside Activity Centre is intended to create a hub of activity that promotes a healthier, more active lifestyle in a space that is safe and nature-friendly. They intend this design to promote and stimulate the area, acting as a distinctive part of the site.
The proposal is passing after a lengthy period of two years due to its controversial nature, finally passing 10:1 in favour of it. During its original submission, many members spoke against it, citing the need to prioritize preservation over construction. Many were concerned that the creation of an Activity Center would prove unnecessary taxation on the natural spaces of the Park. The recent approval comes at the heel of many intense discussions with regards to conservation, biophilic design and sustainability. A spokesperson from Glenn Howards said, “While we are aware that there have been objectors to the project, largely relating to the location of the building, these were outweighed by the support for the project. In addition, as the project is being built on an area of the existing car park, there will be a net gain in biodiversity for the park, due to planning of new trees, hedgerows and the introduction of bird and bat boxes.” No official timeline for the project has been decided yet.
Eric Baldwin. “Glenn Howells Designs Lakeside Climbing Tower in England” 23 Apr 2021. ArchDaily. Accessed 26 April 2021. < https://www.archdaily.com/960583/glenn-howells-designs-lakeside-climbing-tower-in-england > ISSN 0719-8884
Glennhowells.co.uk. 2021. Climbing High | Glenn Howells Architects. [online] Available at: < https://www.glennhowells.co.uk/climbing-high/ > [Accessed 30 April 2021].
Waite, R. and Waite, R., 2021. Glenn Howells’ controversial lakeside climbing centre approved. [online] The Architects’ Journal. Available at: < https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/news/glenn-howells-controversial-lakeside-climbing-centre-approved > [Accessed 30 April 2021].