Once the bustling heart of Bristol’s busy dockside, Welsh Back has taken on a quieter, more subservient persona in recent years. Many of the historic warehouses, have since been repurposed as apartments with commercial use at ground floor.

Built in the late 1980s as part of a development which included the adjacent residential apartment the Waterfront/Queens Quay, the building sat uncomfortably beside the earlier single storey transit sheds. A postmodern aesthetic treatment further created a disconnect with the original structure. This coupled with a low-key entrance and ground floor frontage resulted in a building that lacked identity and street presence.

Despite the existing development’s lack of dialogue with its context, it was clear to us that there was an opportunity to establish a new conversation through careful consideration of materials and detailing.

In 2021 AWW was approached to develop proposals that would bring new life to an existing office building fronting onto Bristol’s Floating Harbour.

But how could we tap into the layered history of this area of Bristol? As with all our projects we set ourselves a goal of developing concepts that are truly ‘of place’. With our studio conveniently located only three minutes’ walk from the site we were able to apply our knowledge of the surrounding area.

Weathered metal was a prominent material in Bristol’s working dockside, much of this is still visible today in the form of manhole covers, kerb edging or preserved dockside cranes.

Furthermore, weathered steel is still a commonly used material in today’s construction. Its strength and low maintenance properties make it a popular choice in industrial structures.

We have looked to reference this in our design by introducing weathered metal to the ground façade fronting onto Welsh Back. The existing over scaled brick clad columns have been removed and replaced with corten cladding. The underpass and entrance, currently in red brick, have been overclad with weathered steel panels and the entrance is further emphasised with an open portal frame echoing the open framed transit shed which once occupied the site.

Our design work extends beyond the exterior, where the new palette continues throughout the interior. A terrazzo floor to reception echoes the warm tones of the weathered steel while a simple pared back aesthetic together with exposed soffits further emphasise the industrial theme.