Architecture: A river city is reborn

A bold scheme masterminded by Norman Foster and Terry Farrell is to regenerate the once great, now sadly run-down city of Hull. By Nonie Niesewand

Kingston upon Hull fell on hard times when the fishing, on which its prosperity had been based, collapsed in the Seventies and Eighties. But now the River Hull Corridor programme for the old town and Kingston- upon-Hull council, in partnership with big business, has signed up two international names, Norman Foster and Terry Farrell, to give them a masterplan for both the east and the west sides of the city and an iconic building in each.

Hull is about to have its heart put back again by that international pacemaker, Norman Foster, who is to build a complex covering 29 acres. And on the waterfront, Hull will harbour an oceanic tourist attraction by Terry Farrell, designed to make the city a stopping-place rather than a jumping-off point. At present there is nothing to hold people in Hull. Ferryloads from the Low Countries rush up the gangplanks and on to York or Leeds.

Hull can now claim to have commissioned Britain's largest city-centre development from Foster with London & Amsterdam, the developer that has worked with Foster Associates on Nimes cultural centre, the Reichstag, Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok airport, the Commerzbank HQ in Frankfurt, and Stansted airport.

In outline on the masterplan their Hull project looks as if a Stealth bomber has crash-landed over a site that will hold a 200-bed hotel, a health club, shops and offices, cinemas, the Hull Truck Theatre and Albemarle Music centre. A 1.25-acre-long boulevard runs diagonally through this complex, roofed with a glass javelin, 280 metres long and 30 metres broad at its widest. Foster designed this gigantic canopy to represent "a fish, for many years a symbol of Hull".

There is no escaping its history. Built on the confluence of two rivers, the tiny Hull and the mighty, two-mile wide Humber, Hull still smacks of the fishing fleets upon which its prosperity was founded. "Ships up streets" is how the poet Philip Larkin, librarian at Hull's university, described the strange, estuarine landscape. Fingers of the dock push through the city, dry docks stand empty and the pier has perished, but the gulls still circle yachts in marinas and container barges.

Through its buildings as well as its poetry - Andrew Marvell was its MP; Stevie Smith wrote of "Not waving, but drowning" here - Hull's history is revealed in its spires and cupolas and narrow-fronted waterfront houses. The medieval footprint of the city has cobbled lanes named after sea shanties. Stolid, redbrick 18th-century mansions are dressed up like Wedgwood vases with classical friezes and Doric columns, to stand alongside staid, late- 19th-century spires and domes of civic pride. There are Victorian and Edwardian sea captains' houses, moneyed and magnificent with out-of- scale porticoes and pediments, with balconies and oriels stucco-patterned and painted to resemble flocked velvet. The adventuring spirit that made Hull a seafaring city produced a vernacular style that could be a post- modernist's dream.

"Hull is a fine city fallen on hard times, but it's sufficiently removed from other cities to have a greater sense of identity," says Terry Farrell. His master plan for the riverfront seeks to link what another literary resident, John Osborne, called "this Janus-faced city". The west side is a hideous commercial development pockmarked with car parking rentals on old bomb sites, where the nearest things to water are the liquidation signs. The east is the wistful waterfront of brine and bridges, tidal mudflats the colour of plaster skim.

Farrell's plan keeps cars out of the city. Instead, he plans to park them in a rocky outcrop near his pounds 36m tourist attraction, the oceanic exploration centre called The Deep, and keeps pedestrians moving across a new cycle path and footbridge. Like all of Farrell's buildings, The Deep is designed to dominate the skyline. Rising 30 metres at its highest point, it will be a crag-faced Eiger of a building rooted in stone on the docks; it bellies out in steel, topped with a titanium nose-cone, and fissured with blue glass designed to let blue light dance upon the interiors like a Hockney swimming-pool. Its chief executive officer, Ossie Hall, says that The Deep is "as important for Hull as the Opera House was for Sydney. Some call it a shark, others a ship dynamically thrusting into the harbour. I think it's fantastic." However, they still need another pounds 1.9m to match the pounds 14.8m lottery funding for the building.

Farrell's recipe for a city in the 21st century is pragmatic: "Eighty per cent good steady buildings, 10-15 per cent of buildings of greater prominence, iconic buildings if you like, and an infrastructure. If Bilbao had done everything else - Foster's metro, Calatrava's airport - but not built the Gehry museum for the Guggenheim, I doubt Bilbao would now be on the map."

City Visions pushed the boat out to tap into EU and lottery funding to kick-start a pounds 1bn renaissance for a demoralised community, but what happens in Hull could become a blueprint for the rest of Britain - not least because their current MP is the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott. In October the Government's White Paper on urban planning will tackle the issues highlighted in the Urban Task Force report presented last month. The head of the task force, Richard Rogers, took John Prescott to Rotterdam to learn about model towns. In turn, John Prescott took Richard Rogers around his housing estates in Hull. The gables on tall, narrow waterfront houses in the historic old town are a reminder that Holland is closer to Hull than London. And it's cheaper to reach, too.

For some time Barcelona has been held up as the model of urban regeneration; now it is the Netherlands' turn, with The Hague and Rotterdam singled out by Richard Rogers. Terry Farrell has a word of advice for John Prescott. "Proceed with great confidence and certainty. There is an urban renaissance; it's not the time to weaken. So often politicians settle for soundbites, and sometimes media attention can be an end in itself. Really, the work has got to be done and the Government hasn't done it yet. Put resources and energy into it and show that you really mean it."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn