A DRAMATIC regeneration of Bradford’s ‘Top of Town’ area is reimagined in more than 250 designs by architecture students around the world.

The innovative drawings - of squares, communal gardens, roof terraces and work and cultural spaces - explore a new future for the city centre area, where streets of listed buildings are blighted by empty units.

The designs are showcased in Bradford Reimagined, an exhibition at Bradford’s City of Culture hub in City Park from Saturday until the end of August. It’s the culmination of a year-long project involving over 70 students invited to explore regeneration opportunities for this urban heritage area. It is hoped that some ideas will be used by planners and developers.

Plans for the area include a Darley Street market and a ‘city village’ with family homes. But regeneration has been slow off the ground.

Bradford Reimagined is the brainchild of Kieran Thompson, who is nearing the end of training to be an architect with IBI Group. Having graduated from Manchester School of Architecture, jointly administered by the University of Manchester and the Manchester Metropolitan University, Keiran commissioned students to look at the potential of Bradford’s ‘Top of Town’ area, setting a new standard for city centre living. He received £7,680 from the Architectural Heritage Fund - the first time it has awarded money for a concept design-only project - and the scheme is supported by theTransforming Places Through Heritage programme, helping charities and social enterprises restore and bring new uses to historic high street buildings.

Working remotely in the pandemic, from around the UK and countries such as China, India and Latvia, the students used plans, drawings and information from Bradford Civic Society and Bradford Council to develop their concepts. Focussing on the lack of public and green space, their designs include green atrium squares, winter gardens and various styles of housing.

The ‘Top of Town’ has some of Bradford’s most historic buildings, including the Yorkshire Penny Bank and Bradford Dispensary. In 2018 the area received £2m in Heritage Lottery Funding for re-development and is included in Bradford Council’s 10-year vision to create the ‘City Village’ of around 1,000 new homes and for business to develop.

Said Kieran: “My family are from Bradford and I’ve long been fascinated by the city, its architecture and potential. The City Village designation offers a fantastic opportunity to lead the way in 21st century city centre living. We do however need to challenge traditional design and procurement approaches and become more people-led.

“We asked the students to question things like the lack of green public realm and look at why so many people moved out of cities during the last year and how they could be transformed to become vibrant and child friendly. The concepts are quite ground-breaking, I hope some will be taken into consideration by city planners and developers going forward.”

It was while researching his dissertation that Kieran developed an interest in Bradford’s potential. He joined Bradford Civic Society and carried out interviews with key stakeholders in the city. His research asked the question: “Would the city’s future success be led from the top down or bottom up?” He concluded that a combination of both will lead to it reaching its potential.

“We hope visitors are inspired by the projects; they’re specifically designed for Bradford and the people of the city,” said Kieran. “They are deliberately challenging and ambitious and we hope they will help everyone love their city a bit more and expect more from it. Maybe this collection of thought-provoking proposals will help to generate a bright new future for Bradford.”

Laura Sanderson, Atelier Leader of Continuity in Architecture at the Manchester School of Architecture, who oversaw the project said the designs include “new residential developments which consider the different type of homes needed in this inner-city location, from co-housing and affordable housing to multi-generational living. There are also examples of how to transform some of the larger historical buildings into co-working or cultural spaces without having to divide these incredible heritage assets.”

Cllr Alex Ross-Shaw, Bradford Council’s Portfolio Holder for Regeneration, Planning and Transport, said: “It’s great to see so much passion for our city and the ‘Top of Town’. I look forward to seeing these exciting ideas of ways in which the area could be transformed.”

Bradford Civic Society vice chair Alan Hall said: “This exhibition looks to the future, imagining how Bradford might respond to challenges facing all city centres. The students have done some terrific, thoughtful work.”