Park Here & Play: Architecture collaboration with DLA Architecture

Partner spotlight | John Orrell, Consultant – DLA Architecture


park and play event

Project name: Park Here & Play

Park Here & Play was an ideas competition for the temporary transformation of the public realm outside Leeds Art Gallery that built on previous temporary installations delivered by DLA Architecture on St Paul’s Street in Leeds. The installation marked the start of the countdown to Leeds Art Gallery’s re-opening in October 2017, and aimed to create a relaxing, creative and inviting space to inspire residents, workers, visitors, children and families alike. The city centre intervention provided an interactive space with an artistic programme of workshops and events that turned the gallery inside out, alongside a series of seminars to discuss and debate the design and programming of public spaces in cities in the UK and abroad.

John Orrell is an architect and founding director of DLA Architecture, for whom he now acts as a consultant. He has been a part-time lecturer at Leeds Beckett University School of Architecture over the past twenty years and is currently an internal examiner on the Part III Professional Studies course and a lecturer in professional practice to third year undergraduates. 

John previously sat as a member of the Project Office Steering Group; a design and research collaboration of staff and students making ethical, social and resilient architecture.

This close working relationship between Practice and Academia has presented many opportunities to former students; for example, Mark Hargreaves is now a DLA Director in the Leeds office, Neil Matthews is a DLA Director in the London office and Mark Redfern is now DLA Head of Design.

This ongoing reciprocal relationship that now includes Leeds Beckett School of Architecture “Speed Dating” initiative, an introductory event for second and third year BA (Hons) Architecture students to share their work with a range of local practices whilst finding out more about each practice. Students and practices are then matched together for work placements. 

Tell us a bit about your organisation and what led you to working with the School of Architecture.

DLA Architecture is an award-winning architectural practice with offices in Leeds, London and Manchester. The practice has been delivering high-profile, award-winning projects for over 40 years throughout the UK and Europe.

The business is founded upon the value the practice attaches to their clients, projects, people and the environment. DLA are committed to achieving design excellence and regard all commissions as special. The practice delivers projects across a diverse range of work sectors, including learning, sport, industry, leisure, workplace, homes, retail, conservation and re-use.

Community engagement is a key strand of contemporary architectural practice and DLA have a long-standing interest in encouraging creative community participation through projects, often of a temporary nature, going back many years. The practice also has a long-standing academic relationship with Leeds School of Architecture through part-time teaching.

To deliver the Park Here & Play project, DLA teamed up with Project Office, a design and research collaboration of staff and students at Leeds Beckett University, to launch an ideas competition inviting Leeds Beckett University alumni to create a design for the temporary transformation of the public realm outside Leeds Art Gallery.

The winning design called Redscape was created by Bo Muchemwa and Steven McCloy, both of whom studied at Leeds Metropolitan University, graduating in 2010 with first-class degrees. They are now based in London and have created their own architectural practice. Bo and Steven collaborated with DLA and artist Trudi Entwistle to turn their ideas into reality.

Park Here and Play Event - Short film by Nick Singleton

Why were you passionate about this project and why is it important to the work you already do?

Projects of this nature are important in extending DLA’s collaborative partner network as well as creating a city-wide community resource.

Leeds Art Gallery said: “The competition winners Bo Muchemwa and Steven McCloy have exceeded our ambitions for the design of a playscape for Victoria Gardens. Their scheme is bold and will sit as a beacon in the city centre inviting people and intriguing them from afar. Splashes of bright colour will create zones in which activities can take place and there is a wonderful hide and seek playfulness with their design. It is tremendously exciting that we demonstrate how we can work collaboratively to achieve an extraordinary summer pavilion for Park Here & Play that transforms Victoria Gardens and creates a unique environment in which visitors are invited to play, reflect and mark the countdown to Leeds Art Gallery re-opening in October”.

Councillor Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council, said: “This is an ambitious and imaginative project which demonstrates how much culture permeates so many different aspects of life in Leeds. As we move closer towards the exciting reopening of Leeds Art Gallery, it’s also great that families and people of all ages will be able to come together in front of this iconic building and enjoy an interactive, creative space at the heart of the city centre”.

All Park Here & Play partners contributed to achieve this ambitious programme with additional funding and support from Arts Council England, Leeds 2023, Leeds Inspired, Leeds BID, RIBA, Sir Robert McAlpine, Leeds Beckett University and Project Office, Academy of Urbanism and Marshalls.

What have you enjoyed most about this collaboration?

The collaborative ‘can do’ attitude of all partners in the Park Here & Play project was inspirational. It was a multidisciplinary project providing opportunities for artists, designers, landscape architects and architects to collaborate and play a vital role in shaping the relationship between Leeds Art Gallery, Leeds City Council and the public realm.

What have you learnt through this project and what's next for DLA Architecture?

The temporary installation on Victoria Gardens in front of Leeds Art Gallery has become an annual event, although suspended in 2020/21 due to the pandemic. We are already planning the next installation and programme of events that will be delivered in the summer of 2022. The project will again be a collaborative partnership between Leeds City Council, Leeds Art Gallery, DLA Architecture and Leeds Beckett University.

Other partners included: Leeds Art Gallery, Leeds City Council and Leeds Beckett University


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