Customs House Square

Status: Lapsed
Type: Office/residential/retail
Year: 2007
Developer: Sassan Holdings
Price: £25 Million

The proposal for this large scale development was to link two areas of Ipswich that are becoming ever so more distinctly separate, the brand new Waterfront development in contrast with a medieval town centre; this project was intended to bridge that gap.

Trevor Horne Architects

Located on the derelict site surrounded by Key Street, Slade Street, Star Lane and Fore Street, the proposed development consisted of 5 new blocks, varying in height from 3-12 storeys. The mixed use development would have been comprised of 1457 sq m retail, 268 sq m workshops, 839 sq m retail/office floor space, 6942 sq m multi-storey car park plus 211 residential units.

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Ground floor plan along Key Street

Why Customs House Square? The arrangement of this development was to create open spaces and encourage pedestrian traffic from the Waterfront around the Custom House to Fore Street and the town centre. A pedestrian square (bottom left of photo above) would encourage footfall, while a centre thoroughfare, lined with retail, leisure and restaurants would link the corner of Salthouse Street and Fore Street (photo below).

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View from Fore Street, heading right

Two listed buildings are incorporated in this design, a Tudor Barn is in the centre of the site and is the centrepiece of the development. Due to its listed status, the thoroughfare is directed past the building, therefore, by converting the building into a cafe, it would create, not only a centrepiece, but make for an interesting juxtaposition between old and new.

The 1934 John and Slater building along Key Street would have its façade retained and converted into an indoor market. By dropping the windowsills, a safe pedestrian route is created with stone surrounds, stone flooring and stone wall cladding. away from the busy traffic on Fore Street, to the new Customs House Square and a route to the covered market. The building incorporated a roof garden and a 5 storey building set back from the rooftop garden.



As, it seems, with all large mixed used developments, there has to be a ‘landmark’ building of some sort, this proposal is no different. A 40 metre, 12 storey residential tower consisting of light render, random fenestration and random window sizes. Having the larger buildings by the Waterfront and the lower buildings on Fore Street, the development was designed essentially as a step from the high density waterfront to the low density medieval streetscape.

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North elevation

To have less of an impact on the skyline, not only was the tower designed to have a lightly coloured façade, but the top two storeys were to be all glazed. This was to lower the impact and ‘heaviness’ of the building on the surrounding landscape. As seen in the two renders below, the development is not overbearing. The building to the right of the tower, above the proposed indoor market, frames the public square with the brown cladding. The scale of this building also is similar to that of the Customs House, thus accentuating the tower as a ‘landmark’.



The appearance of the development changes considerably along Star Lane and by doing so, it keeps in character of the area. A modern five storey brick building with ground floor retail creates a mid density block acting as a ‘step down’ from the high density (waterfront) to the lower density (town centre). On the junction with Fore Street, a modern building inspired by the pitched roofs of that street conforms to the urban fabric.

The entrance to the 6942 sq m multi-storey car park is to the right of the brick building, the building framed with vertical orange panelling on the picture below. The position of the car park allows for easy access from all directions due to Slade Street which allows westbound traffic to cut off the one-way system.

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View looking down Star Lane, Fore Street to the immediate left

Though no official reason has been given for why this development was never realised, the financial crash of 2008 certainly played apart and confidence was lost causing this proposal, among others, being shelved. The devastating impact the crash had on the Waterfront can still be seen today with the Regatta Quay development, the winerack as well as the unfinished Cranfield Mill.

Though debatable to how much of the residential blocks were ‘affordable’, the link between the Waterfront and Fore Street as well as the Customs House Square would have certainly enhanced the area for the better. As it remains, the development is listed on the architects website, however, a completely different proposal for a ‘student village’ on the same site was submitted in 2011, henceforth, Customs House Square will never be built.

Images: Trevor Horne Architects

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