Coventry City Centre South Public Art Strategy

This Public Art and Placeshaping Strategy was commissioned in 2022 by The Hill Group and Shearer Property Group (SPG) working closely with Coventry City Council. Coventry has a long history of reinvention, and the development of Coventry’s City Centre site (CCS) will reshape the City Arcade, a large part of the city’s post war retail district, containing nationally important public art. Planning permission was granted for this development in Spring 2024, with work currently underway to radically transform this part of the city centre, bringing living back into the city within a more pedestrian-friendly, greener city centre.

Designed by Allies & Morrison, Phase 1 of Coventry City Centre South will create over 900 homes

Following Coventry’s year as UK City of Culture in 2021, our work builds on the area’s cultural heritage and looks to its future through both the reintegration of historic public art works together with opportunities for new commissions. The development site includes several pieces by the acclaimed architectural sculptor William Mitchell (1925-2020). Public Art makes up a significant part of the fabric of Coventry and is intimately associated with its story of place narrative. Coventry’s year as City of Culture brought a greater focus on its cultural offer and potential, and created the opportunity to commission ambitious new works including pieces by Zoe Power, Morag Myerscough and Studio Morrison, amongst others.

We were inspired by Coventry’s public art legacy and keen to ensure this is embedded and celebrated in the new city centre. CCS offers the chance for contemporary public art commissions to breathe new life into the public realm and reflect a more diverse range of stories and representations of the community. A key challenge lay in how to address the relocation of the existing public art in a meaningful way to evidence respect for, and a celebration of, local heritage to instil Coventry character genuine local identity within the new plans.

Public art themes were inspired by our detailed research and extensive stakeholder engagement

Core to our approach was the engagement of key stakeholders, including Coventry City Council, the Twentieth Century Society, Coventry Civic Society, Coventry University, Coventry-based artists and the architectural sculpture specialist Dawn Pereira. In addition to contributing to wider public consultation regarding the scheme, these discussions helped to shape our thinking and responses and underlined the importance of ensuring sensitive proposals for the reintegration of historic works.

We sought opportunities to bring additional social value to the project.  Our relationship with Coventry University enabled us to provide project briefs to two Architectural students to shadow the project, researching and testing the city’s existing public art and the public’s perception. This, together with our feedback, formed part of their degree coursework and also contributed to our knowledge of how Coventrians perceive their existing surroundings.

“It was great chatting to the team about the public realm in Coventry and they really understood the importance of place when creating a scheme for the future.”

Aaron Law, Coventry Society

In determining a feasible approach for the relocation of the existing public artworks we needed to assess and balance multiple perspectives, planning requirements, practical viability, cultural heritage responsibilities and cost for which we worked closely with the project team, council and stakeholders. With the design team, we facilitated workshops interrogate the public art reintegration options and to develop an overarching place shaping vision for the reinvention of the city centre. Our work focused on the inherent value these works offer in terms of heritage and identity together with the requirements of each piece, with our recommendations on viability set out in an Options Appraisal.

Mitchell’s Story of Coventry mural, courtesy The Coventry Society

The new development has created the opportunity for a detailed assessment and recording of Mitchell’s Story of Coventry mural, previously hidden behind plasterboard within Hertford House, due to be demolished.  The mural is significant for both its fabrication process as well as the many Coventry stories it incorporates, a ‘gift to the city’. If it can be feasibly removed, we have recommended its relocation within a city cultural venue where it can, after many decades out of view, be available for public access.  A scale replica will also be integrated within a building façade on site.

“I was invited to liaise with D-P-Q on the CCS development, where some of Mitchell’s key architectural sculpture needed to be sympathetically integrated and reimagined in this new environment.

By respecting the integrity of the artist’s materials, and themes, and through engaging closely with interested parties D-P-Q fulfilled this mission and I look forward to their vision becoming a reality.”

Dawn Pereira, Leading authority on the artist William Mitchell

Mitchell’s Grade II Listed Three Tuns mural is another significant artwork on site.  We have proposed that it is relocated within a standalone pavilion in the public realm close to Coventry’s listed Rotunda Market Building. Our research threw light on the artist’s original brief and intentions; a functional dual-sided artwork, incorporating a window with a long approach view and offering a sense of refuge.  In discussions with the client team and stakeholders we achieved consensus that using the artwork as the starting point for building a new pavilion could offer a renewed appreciation of the work and prompt new discussions around the relationship of public art and architecture. Other pieces include Mitchells’ cast panels, which will be reproduced within a building façade on Hertford Street. Other works including by George Wagstaffe will be relocated in the public realm or nearby.

Mitchell’s Three Tuns mural, and below a sketch indicating how the artwork will be integrated into the architecture of the scheme

To generate the placeshaping themes we dived into Coventry’s history and heritage to understand how this is core to its identity and sense of place, as a city of resilience and reinvention. Parts of Coventry have sustained well preserved examples of its medieval past that illustrates how trade has always been key to the city’s prosperity – famous for its wool and weaving trades and for the quality of its blue cloth known as ‘Coventry Blue’, details of which will be incorporated within the new architecture and landscaping design. This includes marking the old city wall within the ground, enriching the historic market threshold and reflecting Coventry motifs such as the elephant and Three Spires.

Located at a gateway to the city, the new development will embody an important linking piece connecting between the retained Market and Empire buildings and new Cultural Exchange in the old Ikea building and the Upper Precinct, and as such the design of the public realm will encourage and benefit from activity between these offers.

“Rebuilding part of the city centre required particular sensitivity around the relocation of existing public art. D-P-Q expertly led several complex discussions on the city’s public art, contributing towards a great deal of relationship building with CCC and other stakeholders to arrive at an agreed approach which is widely supported.”

Dan Palman, Hill Residential

Our multidisciplinary approach and experience in commissioning public art and urban realm design has enabled us to identify a range of opportunities for new public art commissions embedded within the new public realm, and the involvement of local communities in the development of new public art commissions will help ensure these respond to Coventry’s unique stories of reinvention and resilience. The strategy also highlights the potential for more active uses of the public realm to include pop up activity, markets, outdoor screenings and temporary cultural activity, including meanwhile, and we are delighted to continue our involvement on this project to work with the client, design team and stakeholders to develop a meaningful Meanwhile strategy for Coventry City Centre South.

Coventry City Centre
The Hill Group with Shearer Property Group
Collaborators: Allies and Morrison, Camlins, Redwood Consulting, RPS Consulting, Dawn Pereira

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