An old football field reaches new heights as a climbing center.
In what might be an old-fashioned way of thinking, people used to compartmentalize the concepts of place and connection. We thought of those things separately and managed our time around them in the same way. We were wrong. Place and connection go hand in hand.
Placemaking embraces the connection people forge with the places they occupy—a value-add proposition that takes a collaborative approach to the places we share in order to increase our shared value of that space.
Such was the thinking around The Arc in Chippenham, England. It’s one of the U.K.’s first purpose-built climbing centers, which reinvigorated a little-used part of the town. The center offers bouldering, roped climbing, outdoor climbing, a skate park, and a café.
To connect community to a particular space, The Arc’s intended purpose was to improve an area that was prone to flooding for a town that had missed out on investment. The community, through a series of meetings and stakeholder discussions, presented alternative visions of what the land could be—the very definition of placemaking. Also key were the ability to translate the vision into a plan and program of uses, and finally to ensure sustainable implementation of that plan.
In the case of The Arc, the architects at Artel31 used local materials for insulation as well as a mechanical ventilation and heat recovery system and photovoltaics to ensure minimal energy demand. The structure and surrounding area include elements of rewilding such as wildflower meadows, flowering and fruiting trees, bee posts, birdhouses, and bat boxes. The project team also made the effort to retain many of the site’s existing trees, as well as plant hundreds more. Limited parking and improved cycle/footpath access to minimize car usage was created, as were recycling areas, EV and EB charge points with low-energy lighting, and air handling units.
Also, the highly insulated fabric uses a combination of composite panes and SIPs for enclosure, which are then clad in local timber. A challenge for the architect team was the floodplain area on which an old football field was situated. “With the building sitting on a floodplain, we needed not only to ensure it and its users were safe in the case of highwater levels, but also to ensure that the site could hold more water after we undertook the work to protect properties downstream,” the team noted.
Another example of its placemaking-led strategy is that The Arc was funded by a local charity with support from Sport England and Wiltshire Council. Nina Gizzie is the regional operations manager at The Climbing Academy. Speaking to the Gazette & Herald newspaper in Wiltshire, she said, “Being able to see the community of Chippenham come and use it regularly without too much push was really great.”
And, after six years of careful planning and construction, The Arc is a raving success. According to the architect team, it has been “a catalyst for change in Chippenham.”
Joel Kranc is an experienced and award-winning editor, writer, and communications professional. Currently, he serves as director of KRANC COMMUNICATIONS, a full-scale marketing and content firm founded in 2011.