Tower Ramparts is transformed into Sailmakers
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Tower Ramparts is transformed into Sailmakers

DLG’s involvement with Tower Ramparts Shopping Centre goes back some 20 years, initially working with the previous owners to simplify some of the 80’s interiors. Although located in the heart of Ipswich’s historic centre and connecting the town’s main bus station to one of the main shopping streets, twenty years on the centre was failing to attract enough permanent and recognisable tenants made worse by the departure of the anchor department store which had been the focus of the centre.

LaSalle Investment Management bought the centre four years ago with a view to turn around its fortunes with a phased investment to refurbish and improve the centre. Our involvement this time round started with the subdivision of the former department store to bring in new tenants into the centre, and earlier this year works started to remodel the entrances and fully refurbish the interior. Works are now near complete following an intensive program of works carried out by Barnes construction.

The process began with the development of a new brand and name for the centre created by NextBigThing branding consultants. The centre was to be renamed Sailmakers and its new brand was to build on the towns maritime heritage as a major centre for sail fabrication with the architecture and interiors to focus on a language of the docks of Ipswich.

Before and after images of the entrance canopy

The centre suffered from poor visibility from within the town with only a small entrance facing Tavern Street, one of the main shopping streets in the town which failed to read as a clear and welcoming entrance to a shopping centre. Although on a much larger scale the other entrance facing the towns bus station suffered from similar problems of poor legibility.

The concept for the new entrances built on the sailmaking theme where we designed a canopy formed by two translucent sails which projected far out into the high street giving the centre a much bolder and clearer presence on the high street. Although a challenge at first, we were able to convince the council to accept the larger scale of the canopy in this historic setting which has greatly improved the visibility of the centre along Tavern street . The sails are made from translucent polycarbonate sheets on a steel frame and hang off a chunky rust coloured portal frame recalling the architecture and form of the docks. At night the entrances come alive with uplighting to the polycarbonate cladding making the sails glow.

Before and after images of the entrance canopy

The entrance arcade was transformed by stripping out the mock stone detailing and rendering the brickwork which created a much brighter and cleaner space. The maritime theme was continued by the introduction of riveted galvanized metal panels over the shopfronts. At night the space is brought alive by feature lighting to the roof lights.

Before and after images of the entrance arcade

The entrance facing the towns busy bus station gave us the challenge of how to brighten and modernise what is a large elevation on a limited budget whilst having a clear relationship to the Tavern street entrance. Using the same concept of sails, a canopy of translucent sails was formed together with a dramatic glass screen and bold new centre signage. The overall elevation was simplified with the removal of projecting windows and brightened up with rendering over the existing dark brickwork and the entrance further emphasised by increasing the proportion of the elevation.

The bus station façade before

The bus station façade after

As the centre is used by people as a cut through from the bus station the main section of the mall is always busy, however the centre suffered from poor sightlines internally due to a large central lift with some of the peripheral sections not getting much footfall and shoppers not spending enough time in the centre not helped by lots of fussy and dated finishes throughout.

Interior image before

We therefore relocated the lift, greatly improving visibility of the units as people come in off Tavern street, also the centre’s former toilets which act as one of the towns main public toilets have been moved to what was a dead end section of the mall and combined with a customer lounge which has now made this part of the mall a focus and brings footfall up to a before unused area.

Interior image after

The existing ceilings were a complicated mix of egg crate panels and moulded plaster which were a popular choice for shopping centres in the 80’s but now look dated and fussy and had to go! Changing ceiling designs in shopping centres is a complex task as they play an integral role in running the landlords services for the buildings as well as acting as smoke reservoirs in the event of a fire. This is why they were often used in shopping centres due to the large free areas they provide to allow smoke to pass through whilst also screening the services contained in the ceiling void.

Interior image before

The new ceilings had to provide the same free areas for smoke and still screen the existing services whilst looking good. Working with Armstrong ceilings we selected their Mesh Metal ceiling which is an expanded metal mesh tile, giving a contemporary look whilst still meeting the technical requirements. As it has a smaller free area than the existing egg crate ceilings we designed in gaps to the ceilings which related to the structural grid of the building to make up the same free area. The mesh ceilings also allowed us to suspend the lighting above the mesh hiding the lighting fittings and creating a unique lighting effect. The look was completed with directional rafts of Barrisol stretched fabric lights to add dynamic lines of lights throughout.

Interior image after

The challenge internally for shopping centre’s is always how to strike a balance between introducing a specific brand and feel for the centre whilst still being neutral enough to not take away from the shopfronts themselves and importantly being robust enough to take the heavy usage shopping centres get.

Our design was to introduce various elements of the maritime theme on the pilasters between the shops, service doors and columns. The pilasters were tiled to match in with the new flooring keeping a neutral frame to the shopfronts with marine themed wall lights. With the columns the intention was to remove the aluminium cladding to reveal the concrete columns and clad the lower sections of columns in driftwood timber. However once all the cladding was removed from the columns we realised that the concrete was in a much worse finished state than initial exploratory works showed. After exploring various concrete repair options it transpired that the only feasible and reliable option was to overclad the concrete in reinforced plaster cladding and tile the lower sections of columns in driftwood timber effect tiles finished off with stainless steel straps.

Completed images of tiling

The transformation was completed by over tiling the existing tired marble floors. Working with Domus tiles the Terranova tile was selected which could be laid over the existing marble finish thereby limiting the amount of work required to the substrate allowing for the centre to be kept open and fully operational during the works and still meet the heavy use demands of a shopping centre. The tiles form a clean backdrop to the shopfronts, detail was added to the flooring to entrance and circulation areas with contrasting grey striped tiles.

The owners have been able to bring in some big high street names into the centre following the refurbishment and continue to let many of the empty units.

We look forward to seeing how the centre develops and continues to transform as the new tenants move in.

Tomi Godina

Senior Architect

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