One of the UK’s greatest urban spaces – once the centre of global cloth trading – has been restored to its former glory
The Piece Hall in Halifax – one time centre of the global wool trade – has re-opened following its multi-million-pound transformation as a leisure, retail, cultural and heritage destination. Built in 1779, the neoclassical Piece Hall was the grandest of the eighteenth-century cloth halls built in the West Riding textile towns, epitomising the wealth, pride and ambition of the cloth manufacturers. The building’s original purpose declined during the Industrial Revolution, however, as cloth came to be traded directly from the nearby factories, and in the late 1860s it was converted to a wholesale market for meat, fish and vegetables. The threat of demolition in the 1970s was countered by its grade-one listing, and by 1976 it was partially restored for use as an arts, crafts and performance venue. In 2014, however, a comprehensive £20m restoration was begun and the Piece Hall as a tourist attraction with shops and an art gallery.
An application was submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2009 and the implementation team, led by LDN Architects with engineer Buro Happold and landscape architect Gillespies, was appointed in early 2011 after an OJEU open competitive selection process. With funding in place from Calderdale Council, a £7m HLF grant and the Garfield Weston and Wolfson Foundations, construction commenced in November 2015.
Calderdale’s priorities were to conserve and restore the building while installing the infrastructure and services to deliver high quality business and public facilities, and to regenerate the courtyard to provide an attractive and thriving town square and events venue surrounded by a range of high quality attractions that would help draw local people and visitors, an arena for business, pleasure, entertainment, learning, participation and relaxation.
The sloping 66,000 sq ft courtyard has been levelled, creating one of the most striking piazzas in Europe, with a capacity of up to 7,500 people for the programme of events set against the backdrop of the Georgian arcades. The courtyard features new lighting, seating and two cascading water features in opposite corners intended to reflect the historic importance of water in cloth production.
Three new interpretation spaces include ‘The Piece Hall Story’, a trader’s unit fitted out to recreate the atmosphere of a bustling trading day in The Piece Hall, and a map room with interactive displays that enable visitors to explore a range of local, national and international maps which place The Piece Hall in its global context. A new east extension at the Piece Hall provides facilities for a three-story restaurant and cocktail bar and links through to Square Chapel Arts Centre with a new £7m extension by architect Evans Vettori featuring a new theatre, cinema and café bar.
The stonework, which had deteriorated badly after chemical cleaning during the 1970s redevelopment, was conserved and restored. The replacement of several structurally unsound stone piers at arcade level required the temporary propping of the entire façade. LDN’s conservation approach was to do as much as necessary but as little as possible, retaining as much historic fabric as was feasible. Structural strengthening addressed instability problems that had resulted from the removal of two thirds of the cross walls in the 1970s. The courtyard was entirely renewed, with ground levels adjusted to allow full accessibility for visitors and vehicles during events. The Piece Hall transformation is linked to the wider regeneration of Halifax town centre, which includes the Orangebox, the new Central Library and Archive, the Cornerstone project at Square Chapel, and the re-opening of the Industrial Museum.