Designing the High Life at Lister Mills
A long and fruitful design relationship with Urban Splash in recent years has culminated this week in the completion of Lister's Pods - 30 rooftop penthouse pods at the Grade II Listed Lister Mills in Bradford.
This architecturally stunning former mill is impressive in both size and stature. Commissioned in 1873 by the great innovator Samuel Lister, the mill buildings are as long and tall as Buckingham Palace, while the boiler house chimney is like an Italian campanile, though much higher at 250 feet tall.
When bringing a new use to an old building, I strongly believe in the benefits of celebrating its heritage; that’s why so much of Lister's original fabric was retained and incorporated with the conversion of the existing floors into apartments.
Up above, the concept of the penthouse pods was to deliver a provocative design juxtaposition; the roof is a very special place, and the pods not only take advantage of superb views of miles around, but they act as a beacon, making a visual statement about the much needed regeneration of this area in Bradford.
Weaving was a starting point and inspiration. If you look at the roof structure you’ll notice the curvilinear metal fabric is wrapped into a plait format – a certain nod to the mill’s history. I decided to cut away at the fold lines to create windows and balconies with glass slots for the staircases. It’s important to have consistency throughout the entire project – albeit of a contrasting design in this case - and this generated a rigorous geometry which harmonised with the structure below. I think this sort of integration of the new with the old is an exciting challenge for many projects and it has been very exciting to take it to new levels here at Velvet Mill. Although very different to the 1873 stonework, the futuristic pods sit seamlessly on top of the building.
Because the Mill is such a robust building, the roof structure was made to be light and delicate and of sufficient scale not to become confused with the heavily articulated profile of the stone parapet. From close to, it is quite unobtrusive but from a distance the plait-like appearance of the roof is more legible evoking imagery of both the tradition of weaving and the process of regeneration.
Embracing 21st century 3-D computer software – which was of course unavailable to Mr Lister – meant a seamless join from the original building to the pods. Tim Lucas of Price and Myers 3-D Engineering ensured this throughout the entire design process – from initial form development with Solid Works through to feeding detailed cutting patterns directly to the computer with numerically controlled cutting machines. The parameters of the 3-D model were based on a 2-D overlay of a circular weaving pattern.
The contemporary design of the roof is of extreme contrast to the massive stone structure below, finishing the building off with an appropriate flamboyance. The materials used throughout the pods reflects this – natural zinc metal finish for the roof, facetted glazing for the stair slots, generous glass doors leading to timber decked balconies and terraces—these are all very light and delicate to compliment the statuesque building below.
Now, as the pods become a reality for Velvet Mill, I think we are left with a logical extension of the original buildings. I like to think that we have worked with the grain in a way that perhaps Samuel Lister, if he had been here today, would have wholeheartedly supported.
About the author
David Morley is an honorary scholar of King’s College Cambridge, graduating with First Class Honours in 1977. He joined Foster Associates in 1977 where he became a director. David set up David Morley Architects in 1987, initially working in healthcare but gaining a reputation in sport after the Indoor School at Lord’s and most recently the London 2012 Water Polo Venue.
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