A soaraway success on Ipswich Waterfront

PUBLISHED: 12:25 27 April 2010 | UPDATED: 17:06 20 February 2013

Space and light inside the Jerwood DanceHouse

Space and light inside the Jerwood DanceHouse

Its size caused initial concerns but now the region's tallest building is an accepted part of the landscape. Richard Bryson met its designer

High, wide and handsome?

Whatever your opinion is of East Anglias tallest building one things for sure . . . its hard to ignore. The Cranfields Mill tower stands proud on Ipswichs rapidly developing quayside, 23 stories and 71 metres tall. At night its still visible as two bright lights blink from its roof.
And while planners and architectural groups may have expressed concerns about its height now that its outer structure is complete many people rather like it
. . . at least a quick strawpoll of staff on the towns Evening Star newspaper (an independent-thinking lot) seems to suggest approval.
So what drew London-based architect John Lyall to the project? Well, my wifes sister lives in the area and I knew about the waterside regeneration. Also, having an interest in dance, I was aware of Dance East and knew they wanted new premises. When we first designed the Cranfields Mill development back in 2003, I was able to put a good design together because Assis had worked out a very specific brief for her dance centre. Our design and business case, with developer Wharfside, was in a competition with other developers and architects; and won through.

Previously John has designed sets and buildings for dance companies and schools - some of his first work was creating dynamic environments using light and video for dancers to perform in. He knew that adding a cultural addition to the large Ipswich scheme was imperative and so he brought the developer and dance school together to broker a deal whereby the developer paid for the shell and core of the dance school, enabling Dance East to afford what is now a fantastic new venue.
They had to fund the fit-out and through grants and appeals they achieved that which was a tremendous effort, says John , who is unstinting in his praise for Dance Easts dynamo of a leader, Assis Carriero.
So one very happy dance company but others in the community were intially not so sure. I think people recognised the quality of the architecture, but the local conservation lobby were worried about the height of the tower, which they felt should not rise above the skyline of the northern hills when seen from a distance. The chairman of CABE was fortunately supportive and even rogue-ishly suggested that the tower could be even taller so that the people of Norwich could see it! Also, during the design process, when asked by astonished planners why had I increased the height of the tower from 17 to 23 storeys, my answer that 23 is a lucky number and on the back of David Beckhams shirt, defused a degree of tension. said John.
It was a lighthearted moment in an often very testing project. Yes, inevitably it has been a battle at times and because I have been involved with other parts of the development I have been running around advising and acting as peace-maker too. But Im delighted it has all come together.
Windmills and lighthouses influenced Johns design. As a family we go to Southwold every year and I was inspired by the lighthouse there, a beacon overlooking water. Also the tall, grey concrete grain silos that had stood on Ipswich docks also came into our thinking so we have those pale colours plus the specs of red and yellow a little like the bright colours of a lighthouse. The whole building cascades down towards the town, he said.
The flats in the upper part of the building are becoming occupied and a retail company who have experience of developing shops ands cafes around Camden Lock in London have expressed an interest in doing something similar around the Mill building. We would love artists and craftspeople to have a presence here plus a Sunday food market. The place could become a really thriving community but there is still work to be done getting people to realise what a great facility the waterfront is....we need to encourage them here and the traffic system and lack of parking is something of a handicap.
John believes contemporary architecture of real note is lacking in the area. John hopes Cranfields Mill will add to the countys list of architectural landmarks that includes the Willis Faber Building in Ipswich (widely considered as Norman Fosters best ever building), the new Waterfront University building, the Cathedral at Bury and Snape Maltings.
Memories of the completion of the Mill should also bring a smile to Johns face. Assis persuaded us to take part in a Full Monty style dance routine on the opening night. It was going to be just the builders but they said they would only do it if I did, so we got together with a top choreographer and, after some coaching, we did our thing coming on stage in all weather jackets and hard-hats. It was called One Night Only but we had to perform it twice!

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