New Build: Trenchard Street

Forest Pennant Unite Students muf architecture/art Bristol, slabs of Pennant sandstone. Public art

Bespoke cut slabs of Pennant sandstone have been used to complete a public art commission for a reinstated public highway and social space, designed by muf architecture/art for Unite Students.

Forest of Dean Pennant sandstone was specified due to local provenance, sourced from Barnhill Quarry.  Muf architecture/art also considered the Stone Firms’ independent PAS 2050 verification as a criterion.  The Gloucestershire-based stone company also supplied a flight of steps with eased edges and non-slip resin infill treads and a back plate for a basketball hoop.

Located on Trenchard Street in Bristol city centre, the public realm is narrow, just 18 metres wide and steeply sloping, described as a canyon between new build, 11-storey University of Bristol halls of residence, Orchard Heights and a multi-storey car park.  Muf architecture/art was commissioned by Unite Students to treat the space as an opportunity for public art, satisfying Bristol City Council’s 106 agreement for public art.  The challenge was to deliver a bespoke scheme on a site constrained by its topography and on a limited budget.

Katherine Clarke, artist partner, muf architecture/art commented:

It is “…a scheme of pared back drama using a very limited palette of stone in the form of raw slabs of Forest of Dean Pennant sandstone, aggregates and plain cast concrete, with simple detailing where one material meets another, and in the design of the hand rails and balustrades.”

The practice worked with Bristol City Council’s Public Arts Officer and Planning team to progress the project through planning.

Katherine continues, “Natural stone was used to create a landscape of informal seating and to take up the level differences where steps and ramps meet, and to ground the main flight of steps from the upper level.

“We wanted to use local products and local skills as far as possible; local in miles to reduce embodied energy in transport costs, to make something relevant to the place and to keep capital costs circulating, as far as possible, in the local economy.  Rather than buying stone from China or India.”

While unique in its simplicity the implementation of the design was a challenge.  Communication was crucial.  Forest Pennant welcomed Katherine and practice associate, Mathilde Lebreton to Bixslade stoneworks and Barnhill quarry.

Mathilde Lebreton, architect, muf architecture/art commented:

“When you’re pushing the limit of a material you inevitably need time for everyone to understand the design intentions and find the best way to realise the project, by knowing all the parameters and constraints and how to overcome them.

“The design detail was advanced through visits to the quarry to identify the most cost effective and technically viable way to maximise the dramatic use of very large slabs of stone with a natural oxidised surface, contrasting with the blue/grey cut face.

“Achieving the accuracy of 15mm joint between each block of stone was remarkable.  The slabs gave us the opportunity to answer design intention and provide protection as a balustrade at the same time.”

Paul Blake, production manager, Forest of Dean Stone Firms [Forest Pennant] said:

“This design was unlike anything we’d seen before.  It was the first time a client had created a model using sliced bread!  Our stone is a natural material so needs to be cut and worked to achieve precision.  The design required 15mm joints and for the slabs to be positioned in a descending/ascending order while maintaining the natural surface finish.  It was a challenge but we’re incredibly proud of the result.”


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