Keel Square Public Space
Sunderland has never had a real civic heart. Until now.
As part of a wider strategic Masterplan, the City Council identified the former Vaux Brewery site as a fundamental space for economic growth within the city. The aim is to create a new central business district which will house an exciting mix of offices, shops and cafés, hotels and residential, with an emphasis on job creation. The success of this regeneration will be dependent upon the quality of the connections between the existing city centre and the site.
The first stage of this task was to prime the site for such development by remodelling the City Centre ring road – St Mary’s Boulevard. The second stage -the creation of a new public Square in place of the former road- is pivotal in providing an immediate interface between the existing city centre and the former Vaux Brewery.
When designing the Square, we considered it important to completely transform this part of the city centre, not only to set the standard of intent for future regeneration, but to provide a space unique to Sunderland that would resonate with its community. This central civic space had to be a meeting place for friends, a location for events and festivals, somewhere for Sunderland people to be proud of and a space to welcome visitors to our city. It had the potential to tell a story about the city and its people.
Keel Square is a celebration of the city’s industrial heritage, to record the international significance and the colossal scale of what the people of Sunderland achieved in the history of shipbuilding. The distance from the public square to the riverside is almost exactly the length of the longest ship ever built on the Wear: the Naess Crusader, at approximately 292m. This length would stretch across the new public square, over the redeveloped St Mary’s Boulevard and continue across the proposed new business district on the former Vaux site. Following this line, and marked by a specially illustrated 600mm wide band of granite, ‘The Keel Line’ includes the names of over eight thousand ships built in Sunderland’s shipyards since 1786.
The rear of the Keel Line houses the driving force of the imagined ship, in the form of a landmark sculpture, “Propellers of the City’. Created in collaboration with Broadbent Studios, the sculpture takes the form of a giant propeller made of glass and bronze. It bears the faces of over 300 of Sunderland shipyard workers, all submitted by their families, who dedicated their lives to building ships, and building Sunderland’s reputation as the best in the world.
Drawing upon local knowledge, the project was led by Sunderland City Council in-house multidisciplinary design team, from inception through to completion on site. Conceptual design work began in late 2011 with the scheme completed in Spring 2015.
The cost of the project, compromising of key utility diversions, major Highway construction and the creation of Keel Square totalled £13.5million and was part funded by European Regional Development Fund.