Modern design finds its place in history

We have been pleased to see all the positive comments about the new design on Rochester Esplanade. A lot of thought went into the renovation of the space, and the public has taken such an interest in the area that we thought you might be interested to learn more about the designs for the new landscaping.

There were several objectives to meet:

  • To create a more attractive space for pedestrians to linger and enjoy the River Medway;
  • To complement the important structures which surround it and reflect the evolution of the area over at least 600 years;
  • To reduce the number of different hard landscaping materials in use, and improve the quality of the materials and finishes used;
  • To incorporate information about the history of the space into the landscape;
  • To select materials and designs with permanence to reduce whole life costs and be resistant to vandalism;
  • To declutter the space; improve sightlines for pedestrians; and eliminate hidden areas which previously encouraged anti-social behaviour

The Victorians are generally seen as being important in the history of Rochester, Charles Dickens’ books have helped with that, as has some of the area’s architecture – including our Victorian Bridge Chamber – however to stand on Rochester Esplanade is to be surrounded by buildings and structures which have evolved over more than 600 years. There’s the 1914 Old Bridge with its steel trusses, the bridge’s massive stone piers and retaining walls dating from 1856, the parapet of the river wall dating from the 1790s, the Bridge Chapel from 1399, and the Castle with its early medieval walls. A number of different types of stone are used in these structures – Cornish granite, Yorkstone paving, Kentish Ragstone and Portland stone.

The materials palette was previously uncoordinated with a wide mixture of hard-landscaping materials in use, some of which were not of an appropriate quality. The Rochester Bridge Refurbishment Project gave an opportunity to renew and refresh the landscaping and reduce the range of materials in use so that the aesthetic treatment of the Esplanade responds more sympathetically to its setting.

Given the unique history and setting of the space, it was never going to be appropriate to use “off the shelf” street furnishings in this important location. It was also important to avoid pastiche furnishings with, say, Victorian or Georgian references, which would not acknowledge the medieval features of the location. For the same reason, timber and wrought iron were avoided as these are not materials historically used in the area.

To incorporate seating into the area, the decision was taken to use stone which would complement the stone of the surrounding buildings and structures and create an unfussy and ageless design for the space. Granite was selected as the material which is most significant in the construction of the Old Bridge and the most durable for the purpose. It is also in the middle of the historic stone colour range from the pale cream of the Portland Stone through to the yellow/grey mix of the York stone to the darker grey of the medieval Kentish ragstone.

By using the large granite blocks as benches, it was also possible without adding any sign clutter to provide information about the bridges which have crossed the river at Rochester for 2,000 years. Each of the seven benches gives facts on the history of one of these bridges and includes an inspirational quotation. Two further benches give information about the Rochester Bridge Trust and the Bridge Chapel and Chamber.

The new ornamental lighting designs complement or replicate the historic lighting and the columns are made of cast iron as a reference to the original material and parapet of the Old Bridge. Cast iron was selected for the bollards along the river wall for the same reason, although the examples currently installed are of a temporary design because of supply problems caused partly by Covid-19. They are installed in temporary sockets so that they may be replaced at some point in the future with a bespoke design without the need to disturb the new York stone paving.

Overall, we believe this work creates a pleasing environment where residents and visitors can linger to enjoy the area’s history and its magnificent views.

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