New Islington Polka-Dot

New Islington is an urban regeneration project in Manchester. As landscape architects for the whole project we have worked with the client, Urban Splash and English Partnerships, to create a richly diverse and distinctive landscape and public realm for the new development. Old Mill Street was one of the first elements of the project to be built and it needed to say something about the attitude and feel of the whole project: Different, Modern, Comfortable, Natural.

The street treatment embodies the philosophy of shared space and creates a distinctive pavement punctuated by a simple arrangement of lighting, trees, seating, shelters and signs. The Polka Dots came about as an idea to create a rhythm and order along the street and visually to break down a large pavement in the absence of kerbs and level changes. These 2-metre diameter discs became the organising grid for the street’s design features.

The most interesting thing about the Polka Dots though is their motif and their method of manufacture. We wanted to express something about the natural environment in this street and to bring nature into the public realm in an unusual way. The canals lining the site support communities of the rare and European threatened species of floating leaved plantain. We thought it would make a wonderful design and texture for the surface of the Polka Dots and developed a number of sketch studies digitally. These were printed out at full size and presented to the client as great big mats on the floor rather than as projected images or wall plans.

Cast iron was the obvious material in which to make these due to the beautiful way in which it weathers, and gave us the opportunity to use recycled material. We worked closely with a foundry in Scotland to work out the fine details of the cast, including limitations on height of relief, drainage, and the subtle forms of the leaf and flower motifs.

In situ, the grid of Polka Dots creates a clear pattern to the street, and their detailed texture, colour and form offer surprising and engaging features in the street surface. The branding of New Islington is reinforced through their design with the inclusion of the stencilled-text logo.