Fort Regent in Jersey is an icon for the island. Sitting on top of Mont de la Ville, it overlooks the main town of St Helier and the bay of St Aubin.
The Fort itself was built in 1806, during the Napoleonic Wars, to defend the island against invasion. Named in honour of the Prince Regent, the fort has never had to be used for its designed purpose, instead it has been used to house garrisons and was occupied by German forces in WW2.
In 1967 the States of Jersey decided to adapt the site into a leisure centre, with a new building to house the Olympic length swimming pool, a domed roof added to cover the main fort and the Ramparts made into a beautiful pleasure garden. The whole site was also connected to the town by a cable car. The conversion was successful with families traveling up to the Fort to spend the whole day up there. However, over the years the Fort has gone into decline, first with the gardens closing, followed by the closure of the swimming pool in 2003.
The Fort buildings are, one by one, going into disrepair and the discussion about how to regenerate the site was taken up by the States of Jersey and an appointed Steering Group Committee.
A consultation with the islanders took place in 2013, to discover what was wanted from the site. There were three areas which were highlighted by the people as needing addressing:
- The Lost Links- improving access to the Fort.
- The Hidden Fort – creating more interior space for extra activities.
- The Forgotten Gardens – redeveloping outside space for leisure and activities.
“We want Fort Regent to become a successful sporting, leisure, entertainment and cultural center for Islanders and visitors. I hope people in Jersey will engage in this consultation process so real change and improvements can be made,” stated Assistant Treasury Minister Deputy Eddie Noel.
New plans were unveiled this week which will cost islanders £85million to become reality.
The proposal includes:
- A new 120-bed hotel on the site of the former swimming pool.
- New conference facilities.
- Re designed Reception area.
- New Swimming Pool and Gym.
- A Family zone including a nursery school.
- A new teenage activities area.
- Also new café and ramparts restaurant.
Access is to be addressed through a floating cliff-top viewing platform with lift shafts connecting to the Town below. The connecting lift shaft would extend down to the Snow Hill area where the old cable car terminated.
The proposal also shows a new escalator route directly from Pier Road to the Fort.
The scheme details reorganising the existing structure into activity zones to attempt to dramatically increase usage of the site, and rationalise the space, as much of the area currently is used for circulation.
The zoning includes a new active zone with 25-metre indoor swimming pool and relocated gym area.
A Teenage Zone: which includes extreme sports and a skate park, designed to give island teenagers a safe haven to meet and to carry out activities.
A cultural quarter has also been proposed, with a piazza housing permanent exhibition spaces. This would be where the children’s zone and café is currently, and would create a multipurpose space for congregation and exhibition.
The central drum of the Fort, Queens Hall, will also be transformed into a 2,000 seat arena, which can be adapted for multiple functions.
The proposed restaurant and new café will service the already dedicated members of the Fort whilst attracting new customers who wish to enjoy the fabulous view over St Helier. They would be located on opposite sides of the fort to offer opposite views and atmospheres.
After the Association of Jersey Architect’s success in getting the Fort’s iconic dome listed during Architecture Week 2013, it is great to see that the new designs do not hide or mask the existing structure, but rather rationalise it for better use of space.
Connectivity was always going to be a problem, how do you create great access to a building that was originally designed to keep people out? Modern engineering seems to be the Steering Groups solution, with a glazed, cantilevered walkway surrounding the ramparts.
The new viewing deck will highlight the phenomenal views of St Helier as well as creating an opportunity to link with Snow Hill below via the new lift shafts. The only down side could be the distance into the building once out of the lift on the Fort level. There can be some pretty high winds at the fort, and a long walk from the lifts to the building in winter weather could lessen their usage. Perhaps some thought needs to be made about creating some shelter for this journey?
The styling of the viewing deck my seem futuristic with its cantilevered steel and glass, but we think this is the perfect foil for the monolithic granite walls that surround the Fort. Rather than adding a granite platform that will blend in with the existing, by using glass the viewing deck will appear to touch the Fort gently. The modern addition will juxtapose with the old granite, highlighting it, rather than masking it. Something similar has been achieved with the Coast Path Staircase by Gillespie Yunnie Architects, who had to create a modern route through the former impregnable wall of Royal William Yard in Plymouth. Instead of detracting from the wall, the stair brings your attention to it and celebrates it. We feel the same will be achieved with the Fort Regent walkway.
The views from the Fort make it an ideal location for a hotel, especially if you are going to encourage Sports Teams to visit the island. The only hesitation is that with tourism numbers reducing can the island really support another hotel?
Overall, we feel that the challenges of the location and access of the fort have been addressed in a creative manner. The scheme is cohesive and makes better use of the existing space through rationalization and zoning. The site needed to become a destination again and if this scheme is implemented, that could certainly be achieved.
We hope that others will see that the proposals allow Fort Regent to remain an iconic building well into the future.
Information sourced from:
Personal visit to the Exhibition at Fort Regent.