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Creative Re-Use

Cardiff’s creative sector is thriving. But until recently the city lacked the kind of central, flexible and characterful workspaces that a growing creative industry needs in order to keep growing.

The Creative Quarter has changed that. This interconnected collection of one-off contemporary workplaces has been designed to accommodate creative organisations of all sizes, including start-ups, with shared access to fun and welcoming ‘hub’ spaces that have been designed to promote collaboration and a sense of community.

The development does all this within oddly shaped and previously semi-derelict upper parts of the former David Morgan Department Store, which closed its doors for the last time in 2005.

Such upper parts in old buildings are tricky spaces. They often stand vacant indefinitely – in Cardiff and in many other UK cities. At the Creative Quarter, these spaces’ quirkiness has been turned in to a positive, as the source of precisely the kind of authenticity and uniqueness that creative businesses love.

Above: The office space pre-refurbishment

Opening these unconventional spaces up to creative commercial lettings wasn’t mere whimsy. It offered Helical and its investors an additional revenue stream, diversifying the development and helping to boost the economic viability of taking on a major restoration project. The buildings are Grade II listed, and parts of them were decaying quite badly.

It was not an idea without risks, but it has worked. The response among Cardiff’s creative organisations has been overwhelmingly positive. All available space at the Creative Quarter has been let, helping to restore vibrancy to an historic landmark and streetscape that had not been fully used for many years.

The success of the scheme is beginning to be noted, and not only in Cardiff. The Creative Quarter was nominated for two BCO Awards in the spring of 2017. It won both of them.

The BCO judges said the project demonstrated “how, with thoughtful design and bold financial risk, it is possible to create desirable workspace from redundant premises – a lesson that could be applied everywhere.”

Above: The building post-refurbishment

Turning these unloved and at times awkward and disjointed spaces into vibrant and connected workplaces presented some challenges. Helical worked with London-based Insight Architects to design cohesive, free-flowing and up to date spaces, all while keeping the buildings’ enviable period features intact. Oscar Clarke Design created the one-of-a-kind hub spaces.

The first step was installing vertical access in the form of a lift tucked discretely away in an original Victorian lightwell within the charming Morgan Arcade. The lift’s design is striking, but many passing shoppers will be unaware that it is a portal into what is undoubtedly the most creatively diverse 2,000 square feet in all of Cardiff.

Mary Wrenn, director of the Royal Society of Architects in Wales (one of the first organisations to take up residency at the Creative Quarter) says when the lift doors open it’s like stepping into “a contemporary tardis, with colourful and creative spaces unfolding in a welcoming, harmonious sequence.”

She adds: “The natural interaction with other organisations through ‘the hub’ and shared kitchen provides a creative and rewarding dynamic.”

Above: A lift to The Creative Quarter, “A contemporary tardis”

As Cardiff’s once neglected city centre continues to transform into a vibrant commercial and cultural district once more, it looks likely that even more creative businesses will look to move into the area.

There are signs that other developers are already taking inspiration from the Creative Quarter and putting redundant spaces in their projects to use in a similar way. Which could mean that the community that has taken shape at the Creative Quarter is just the beginning of a much bigger local creative community.

And as the BCO Awards judges have noted, the potential exists for a much wider application of this ‘pioneering’ redevelopment concept – in cities UK-wide.

The Creative Quarter sits atop the Royal and Morgan Arcades in central Cardiff and was owned by Helical between 2005 and 2017. The scheme has now been sold to LaSalle Investment Management.

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