Consultants appointed for Chester Portico project

Michael Hunt

Cheshire West & Chester Council and Chester Renaissance have appointed three consultants to prepare and develop design proposals for the refurbishment of Chester's walls and towers, as part of the European Portico project.

Architects Donald Insall Associates has been appointed to work for "an ultra lightweight construction pilot" to help bring investment through the European Portico project. The consultant will be working with Gifford Consulting Engineers, which have been sub-contracted for the project.

The European Portico Project involves the cities of Chester, Gent in Belgium, Köln in Germany, and Utrecht in the Netherlands, and aims to make the archaeological heritage of the partner cities more visible by developing new methods, techniques and ways of thinking about urban development, above and below ground.

The project, which also involves the Initiatief Domplein foundation in Utrecht and is sponsored by the European Regional Development Fund, runs until mid 2012.

Cheshire West & Chester Council said a proportion of the budget will go towards a feasibility study to investigate "the potential use of innovative construction techniques and ultra light building methodologies". The council added that a critical element of this study involves research to "better understand the condition of the towers, their construction, historical usage and development". The project will also consider new uses for the towers on the city walls.

The council said that the investment will bring about repairs, restoration and refurbishment of the city's walls and towers involving the appropriate use of ultra light weight building techniques and materials which in turn "will be promoted and replicated across Europe as exemplars of archaeological good practice".

The council has also appointred interpretive design consultants Imagemakers to provide an interpretation plan that aims to create a new interpretation for the city's walls and towers, which will take into account other investments being funded as part of the European Portico project.

The council said Imagemakers have come to know Chester through its development of Chester's heritage interpretation masterplan and is currently involved in the interpretation of other sites in Chester, including the Amphitheatre.

Cllr Stuart Parker, vice chairman of Chester Renaissance, said: "Chester's city walls and towers are amongst the city's greatest assets, visited by over 3 million people annually. The Portico European partners are studying the impacts of investing in cultural heritage and sharing their findings. Chester has built a strong reputation through a number of past European partnerships; Portico is another opportunity to work with experts across Europe to improve and protect our attractions for residents and visitors."

Donald Insall Associates and Imagemakers will be working together and holding a number of consultation workshops over the coming weeks with various stakeholders and representative groups.

The council said the project will include interpretation for visitors, access improvements and a study to investigate how the city walls can help boost Chester's local economy, and increase visitor numbers, extend stays, encourage repeat and more frequent visits.

The council said the ideas currently being generated, which are subject to the necessary permissions and budgets, for the interpretation includes:

  • Improved orientation signage throughout the walls circuit
  • New interpretation panels at key locations
  • A smart phone multi-media tour with still images, video, CGI content, audio and narration
  • Web cam at Eastgate
  • Immersive audio at King Charles Tower
  • Replica or original Civil War cannon, telescope and graphic panel at Morgan's Mount
  • Overhaul of Bonewaldesthorne's Tower camera obscura
  • Medieval style set dressing of upper room of Water Tower
  • Medieval ship public art installation in Water Tower Gardens
  • Cutting edge 'augmented reality' binocular viewpoint, panorama panel and Rood Eye cross arts installation at the Roodee viewpoint
  • 'Promenading' public art sculpture at Castle Drive
  • Newgate viewpoint panorama panel and immersive audio and lighting presentations in the towers
  • A possible public art 'Mirrors and Meaning' installation in Thimbleby's Tower
  • Orientation, interactive displays, 'Dressed to Kill' augmented reality game and exterior artwork/mosaic at the Grosvenor Mall 'hub'
  • National curriculum related education projects
  • An enhanced and co-ordinated programme of events and live interpretation

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