The Trust’s award this year has been won by Millennium Place. Designed by David Prichard, of MacCormac, Jamieson and Prichard, the completed scheme fully justifies the choice of the Local Authority in selecting his design as the winner of its competition in 1996. The extensive scheme fully merits its accolade, even though the proposed building across the Claypath overpass was omitted. (It is also a pity that stalling of the Walkergate project currently leaves the riverside elevation of Millennium Place appearing raw and unfinished.)
The insertion of a large scheme in the heart of Durham without damaging visual consequences on the adjacent historic townscape presented a formidable challenge, one which had lain unanswered since the 1960s when construction of the new through-road (Leazes Road) and Millburngate Bridge blew apart the continuous townscape of Lower Claypath. For nearly forty years the new line marked
the inner boundary of a derelict area, significantly just ‘around the corner’ from castle and cathedral, with potential to become a new, distinctive quarter of the city. David Prichard has accomplished this daunting task – and, in doing so, has laid the template that the design of Walkergate must surely follow to complete the quarter.
Simplicity of line, harmony of materials and quality of finish are the key features in a restrained modern idiom. The angled glazing of the theatre, with its red hood and cedar-clad fly-tower, constitutes a distinct marker from the opposite side of the river. The twin arms leading off Claypath – one of which, incidentally, ties Tarran and Caller’s 1969 concrete frame building into the streetscape for the first time – open out into a broad public space. Its potential for community activities was well illustrated by the presence of an ice rink during the Christmas period, though there is still some regret that no sculpture has been included as a focal point.
The twin arms of Millennium Place, besides incorporating space for community group activities, are notable for a light, spacious library and resource centre in one, and a theatre in the other. David Prichard is on record as saying that designing a theatre is the most daunting task for an architect after that of a hospital, (In the present instance there was the added complexity that the theatre was to be convertible into a conference venue). The architect here has succeeded magnificently, combining space and lighting, vision and acoustics to give a most pleasurable experience, the climax of a welcome and satisfying architectural addition to our city.