The Old Soapworks, Bristol

Masterplanning a listed site in Bristol’s historic centre

When Bristol’s manufacturing economy blossomed in the 19th century, land close to the Floating Harbour and the new railways was developed rapidly. The Old Soapworks in the Broad Plain area remains prominent as a legacy.

Much of the land this enterprise required has, since the 1950s, been the home of major homeware retailer Gardiner Haskins. But all around, former industrial sites have been cleared and much new city centre scale development is underway, rising much higher than most of what came before.

As Gardiner Haskins chose to consolidate to a smaller part of the site, we were appointed to prepare an urban masterplanning study and seek agreement with Bristol City Council for the early 19th century listed Old Soapworks site.

Working with agents Cushman & Wakefield, we devised a set of urban design principles that would allow the Old Soapworks and ancillary historic structures to remain a major definer of urban character, a ‘placemaker’. Our study, now endorsed by Bristol City Council (and part of the marketing pack for the site) shows how this striking and richly ornamented building can continue to be highly visible in the legibility of Bristol. It shows how pedestrian desire lines can be used to enliven new urban spaces in a mix of residential and other uses and how in places building height can be a positive contribution to urban legibility.