Sarah Wigglesworth Architects
Fayre Isle, Leicester, creates a community with a distinct identity for Soar Island. Set apart from, yet linked physically and historically with the city, it celebrates low-impact living, embracing the protection of wildlife while creating a thriving neighbourhood that is sustainable on all levels.
Connected to the city centre via Soar Island gateway, the active, urban frontage to the island's eastern edge forms a ribbon of trade and enterprise. The concrete plant is kept in commission temporarily to supply concrete for the construction of a frame and podium. At ground level this frame will host commercial units (cafés, office space, workshops, shops) while the deck above provides a base for 1-2 bedroom self-build homes. Across this structure, steps and ramps connect the towpath level with the centre of the site. Here, fruit trees and planters provide seasonal produce for residents. This formal planting gradually merges with the more naturalistic landscape to the north.
At the centre of the island the concrete plant structures celebrate Leicester's industrial heritage. These are decontaminated and repurposed to provide a landmark symbolising the competition's three visions: water, wildlife and built environment. The structures accommodate a camera obscura, wildlife habitat and water tower. The latter stores water for the new community and terminates inside the new market hall at the heart of the island. Our vision for the new market hall is for a community-built structure, a vehicle for skills sharing and creating social and physical capital for Soar Islanders.
We were delighted by the response to the competition, both by the range of ideas and the quality of thinking about how the site could transform this important part of the city. SWA's ideas stood out from the other entries because their proposal was diverse and rich, integrating heritage, landscape, ecology, and architecture together with a range of activities that could draw people to the site and create a strong identity for the riverside area as well as the island itself.– Glenn Howells, Glenn Howells Architects, RIBA Architect Adviser
At the northern end, the existing woodland is thinned out to improve ecological diversity. Small clearings welcome campers and a few micro tree houses provide hides where nature-lovers can appreciate wildlife at close range. These activities are supported by the cycle caravanserai located near the towpath on the woodland border. It offers repairs, frame-building and supplies for overnight stays on the island and travellers on the Sustrans route.
The tranquil western bank of the island forms a naturalistic edge fronting the River Soar and Rally Park. This bank is a place for leisure, contemplation and relaxation. Small clusters of mixed-tenure family housing are perched along the waterfront, set in a meadow and surrounded by newly planted willow trees that will remediate the soil. This planting extends the character of the existing woodland and provides privacy to ground floor residences. A floating lido with its generous sun deck is moored alongside the banks and a secluded lookout projects over the water. Changing and WC facilities, for bathing and for festivals, are located nearby.
The southern end of the island retains its character as an open space while the ground is enriched with low-maintenance adaptive planting to support seasonal festivals. A micro farm and shop enclose its eastern edge, providing food and drink for participants. Festivals are supported by the market hall and towpath commercial units. The Festival of Resilience will offer events linked to established festivals in Leicester while providing space for an extended calendar of gigs, performances, talks and events, attracting seasonal visitors to the area.
The competition certainly generated interest in our Waterside plans and inspired some extraordinarily creative ideas, with architects from as far away as Hong Kong and the USA keen to make suggestions for the site. There was plenty of imagination and creative thinking in SWA's proposals, although clearly it would be the more commercially deliverable elements that could play a part in our vision for Soar Island. While the final scheme will be at the discretion of the developer who ultimately takes on this site, it's possible that some of SWA's pioneering ideas - such as self-build homes and workspaces - could work on a site like this.– City Mayor Peter Soulsby