22 February 2018

Designer creates vision for the town’s prison

An architectural assistant from Barton Willmore has created a vision for what Reading’s historic prison could look like as part of his course at Oxford Brookes University.

An architectural assistant from Reading-based design and planning consultancy Barton Willmore has created a vision for what the town’s historic prison could look like as part of his MarchD Applied Design in Architecture (ARB and RIBA part 2) course at Oxford Brookes University.

David Cooper’s vision for the re-use of Reading Prison would build on the success of the recent temporary art exhibition in the Prison by providing a permanent public art gallery which would form a cultural hub in Reading’s historic cultural quarter. The historic prison building would contain permanent and temporary exhibitions, education and leisure facilities. By opening the prison to the Abbey ruins and the river, attractive public spaces would be formed which could be used for pop-up events and markets.

The plans by Cooper, who lives in Caversham, see the Grade II listed prison building retained and refurbished for the new use. The prison wall and 1970s additions to the prison are removed and a selection of new structures forming courtyard spaces. The new additions at the corners of the site provide a heritage centre, a café and a gift shop which form connections to the wider area. The addition of a contemporary translucent extension towards the river helps to open up to the river and create a safe environment along the waterside.

The vision suggests that the reuse of the prison is an opportunity to provide community education programmes and rehabilitation programmes which use art as a form of self-expression to encourage reform and positive lifestyle.

Despite calls for action among local residents and campaign groups, Reading Prison, which was housed by Oscar Wilde between 1895 and 1897, has been empty since its closure in November 2013.

Cooper said: “Having grown up in the area, I chose the prison as the subject of my university work as it has a fascinating history and immense potential. The vision I have created gives Reading the opportunity to reclaim this fantastic space and turn it into a cultural hub. By using the existing fabric and wings of this Victorian masterpiece we would be able to create a multi-use building that is open and easily accessible to all.”

Barton Willmore, which is based in the Blade, has a long association with Reading having its headquarters in the town for more than 80 years and was recently instrumental in the delivery of the Reading 2050 vision.

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