The Valley Palace Project takes an abandoned ASDA warehouse and transforms it into a civic recreation facility providing an experience and programme of activities similar to that which one might normally find in a country park. Though the idea of creating a false landscape inside an industrial building surrounded by natural countryside may seem perverse, it is driven by the inaccessibility of open green space nearby and offers a sustainable and spectacular solution for a disused leasehold premises.
On one level, the proposal is simply a pragmatic response to the local impacts of growth and development: due to its rapid expansion programme, Didcot has an urgent requirement for outdoor recreational space but limited public funds available; at the same time several of Didcot’s huge warehouses have been sitting vacant for some time - bingo. However, the project also responds to a much broader set of issues around the notion of ‘productivity’.
Dormant warehouse space in the UK has risen to record levels as tenants of established areas such as Southmead Industrial Park vacate leaving these previously sufficient sites to potential decay. Commercial landlords are being forced to consider alternative tenants and the possibilities for adaptive re-use afforded by the long, wide spans of a huge industrial shed are endless, with a little imagination.
In this scenario the Council is assumed as client and, unable to afford any of the surrounding agricultural land scheduled for development, a deal has been struck with one particular warehouse owner that offers an experimental change of land use designation with assurances against future compulsory purchase in exchange for a short term lease and assistance towards certain improvements.
By using a series of lo-fi solutions and ready-made structures to create a scattering of multi-use, narrative interior elements, with only a light touch and subtle manipulation of the existing fabric, the retrofit design joyfully exploits its existing industrial features and in doing so enjoys considerable financial and environmental benefits too.
This combination of pragmatism, playfulness, mundanity and magic ultimately result in a uniquely delightful amenity for the public of Didcot and beyond.