How modern architecture is shaping Chester

Chester, situated in North-West England on the River Dee and close to the Welsh border, is most closely associated with its remarkable heritage. From its Roman city walls to its picturesque Tudor-style shopping area known as The Rows, it is little wonder that this city attracts some eight million visitors per year. There is, however, another aspect of Chester that is perhaps of greater significance to its 120,000 residents; it is a full-fledged working town with all the infrastructure needs this entails.

In order to meet the varying requirements of this thriving city, its buildings need to keep pace with the times. Consequently, the “look and feel” of Chester is subtly being reshaped in ways which reflect the changing times.

The architectural ethos of this reshaping was captured by the “One City” development project, initiated in 2010. The “Chester One City Plan” document laid down the following marker for forthcoming developments:

“Chester should move forward with confidence using a design language which is the best of today and which will add to its own layer of valued structures to the historic fabric of the city.”

Whilst the future of the Chester One City – or Chester Renaissance – organisation is unclear, its architectural spirit remains and is reflected in the following examples.

Chester HQ

One of the most prominent examples of this spirit, of respecting the past whilst building for the future, is surely the Chester HQ building, completed in 2011 and primarily home to Greater Manchester Police, and Chester West and Cheshire Council. The building makes a bold crescent-shaped statement as it greets visitors on the road to Chester city centre from the west. Most striking is the abundance of glass. Indeed, as recently noted in the Design-Build Network journal, the:

“[trend] of using glass in the construction of public and private buildings has steadily grown to dominate the modern skyline in the 21st century.”

Yet, for all the shock of the new, it is hard to escape the echoes of Roman architecture in the HQ building, with the amphitheatre-like use of sweeping curves, as well as the overarching sense of space.


At the same time, Chester’s importance as a commercial, shopping and leisure centre is being recognised by plans to redevelop The Northgate quarter. The Northgate Quarter looks set to become a thriving new hub if current plans go ahead, with shops, restaurants, cafes and parking spaces aplenty.

There is, nonetheless, clear recognition of the importance of retaining Chester’s heritage from one of the architects involved, who has said:

“Chester is a place of great architectural tradition and [the intention is to] create masterplan guidelines for each block – combining freedom in some areas with straitjackets in others, so that the future Northgate Quarter will [blend] a common character with individuality.”

New cultural centre in the works

Finally the new theatre, cinema and library is set to replace the iconic Chester Odeon, which has stood since 1936. There are high hopes for this new cultural centre, and certainly, if any building will come to symbolise Chester’s journey in to the future, it is likely to be this one. Work is scheduled to start in 2015.

Posted by Adam Lloyd
January 13, 2014

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