There are two key distinct and yet complementary facets of the scheme’s character, externally on the street and roofscape, and internally with the courtyard and building layouts.
New and old is interwoven throughout the scheme, but for the external street and roofscape the priority has been a devout reconstruction using modern techniques. The external streetscape and roofscape is sensitive and exacting. The contrast between neighbouring buildings in acute disrepair, serves as to highlight the standard of the refurbishment. Everything from window details, shop fronts and building facades have been designed to replicate in detail the evidence sourced from original sections and historic photographs.
The scheme’s imperative has stretched as far as casting gates and hand rails based on patterns of wrought ironwork salvaged from archaeological digs. The roofscape is, perhaps, the most impressive conservation feature, mimicking the organic, highly varied historic roofline almost exactly and incorporating bulbous and beautifully reconstructed chimney pots.
Internally, the quality of character matches that of the scheme externally, but is notably different. The two new courtyard spaces which pre-date the scheme not only make reference to historic plans but the Town Wall and revetment are also actively embraced. The 20ft 15th Century sandstone structures provide a rugged and textured backdrop to the courtyards. This feeling of integrity is extended by cruck ties, timber beams, a stone trough and brickwork retained or discovered in the demolition of previous structures and used as planters or water supply.
The internal identity also differs from that of the external character, in the sense that, whilst respecting the existing sense of place it is more irregular, playful and willing to reinvent with contemporary layers of character. The rear corner of one building is rounded at ground floor replicating the form of the original footprint, but is then corbelled back to square brickwork. Facades facing into the courtyard as well as the bridge, linking phase 2 and 3, utilise a modern palette of materials such as steel and timber, whilst deep-set and curved balconies jut-out at different angles; reinforcing privacy for residents but also enriching the experience.
The arrangement of balconies is carried through into the phase 3 apartments, with walls at gentle but unconventional angels. The renovated Tobacco Warehouse provides an element of surprise which manifests itself, largely, in three dimensions, with some rooms having random, but sometime substantial double-height ceilings. In one case, a three-bed apartment is carved out of the second, third and fourth floors with a centrepiece living/dining/kitchen space at fourth floor. Most rooms take full advantage of the original rafters.
Roads, Parking and Pedestrianisation
All buildings take priority over roads and parking. The scheme presents a continuous building line and active edges, reinforcing both Lower Hillgate as a pedestrian orientated shopping street and Rostron Brow as a key pedestrian route. Historic ginnel routes are maintained, but are now used as private access points into the residential development.
There is no car parking within the scheme. There are public car parks within a few minutes walk- adjacent to Market and St. Mary’s Church.
Design and Construction
The design of the scheme is highly specific to the site and its context. With the exception of some communal apartment areas it is very difficult to find a single aspect of the scheme that is standardised. This approach has been realised using a wide range of contemporary techniques and technologies. The most impressive of these is the installation of 15 tie rods pinned into bedrock by abseiling specialists to stabilise the Town Wall.
The scheme combines the retention of historic fabric with new buildings, both of which use modern technology to address fire prevention, acoustics, water exclusion, ventilation and security. It outperforms statutory building regulations in the following areas:
- Insulation detailing to ensure no cold bridging;
- Party wall and floor constructions;
- Phase 2 apartments exceed minimum space standards and double height ceilings improve daylight penetration;
- Secure By Design for both retail and residential uses;
- Housing Corporation Scheme Development Standard (SDS);
- Achieves Eco homes standard.
The nature of the public space is dictated by the topography of the site. The solution is two terraced courtyards. The lower space has little functional value because it lurks within the shadow of the phase 3 building and instead offers breathing space and a humble foreground to the Town Wall. The second courtyard space is situated several meters higher and is exposed to direct sunlight whist being sheltered from wind by the buildings that frame it. This is a very successful space that is a true sanctuary when juxtaposed with the hustle and bustle of Stockport Town Centre. Unfortunately, due to the circumstances of the site, this space, despite providing a clear amenity value, is exclusive to phase 3 apartments and not accessible to the apartments within the Tobacco Warehouse.
Northern Counties Maintenance team are responsible for the upkeep of the public spaces and a year after scheme completion, they are still well presented.
Environment and Community
Rostron Brow is situated in the town centre and is easily accessible to public transport. Local buses at Saint Petersgate and Churchgate are within a five minute walk. Stockport bus and train stations are 10-15 minutes walk. The scheme is also close to most community facilities such as, Vernon and Woodbank parks, newsagents, banks, a post office, public houses and cafes.
The tenure mix of the scheme supports the existing mix of the area and is intended to work with the previous phase of rented accommodation. This was based on a Northern Counties Housing Association assessment of local housing need for affordable shared ownership tenure, particularly for affordable two bedroom and three/four bed space apartments.
The building features that seek to reduce environmental impacts include:
- Reuse of existing, brick stone and slate;
- Reuse of existing redundant timber beams and stone features;
- Exceeds Building Regulations Parts A,D,L,E;
- Use of construction methods aimed at reducing waste in the stabilisation process;
- Water saving cistern flush;
- Recycling stores cut into bedrock.