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Montagu Evans’ Historic Environment and Townscape team has recently advised the Topland Group and Colico Living on a planning application approved by the City of Cardiff’s planning committee on the 11th April 2024. As part of this application, for a tall building predominantly of purpose-built student accommodation (585 beds), they had to study the intricate history of the city, its castle, and its civic centre.

Cardiff skyline from the keep [Source: Montagu Evans]

Cardiff Castle dates back to the Roman period in AD55-60. Successive phases of the castle’s development followed, including the construction of a motte and bailey after the Norman invasion in 1081. The stone keep from this period survives today, with panoramic views of the Cardiff skyline achieved from its summit. The castle was expanded, altered and rebuilt in the centuries following as it passed from owner to owner, each leaving their own unique mark. The castle was updated substantially in the 19th century by the celebrated architect William Burges (1827-1881), who reimagined the medieval building into a contemporary home for John Crichton-Stuart, the third Marquis of Bute.  Burges’ reimagination of Cardiff Castle was as a vast ‘Gothic Playhouse’ which began in 1865. He was involved up until his death in 1881. The substantial Clock Tower (designed in 1866) in the south-west corner of the castle wall is the most dominant exterior feature and acts as a landmark along Castle Street. However, Burges’ interior designs are particularly striking and notable. With the investment of Bute – reputedly the wealthiest man in the world and heir to a substantial fortune – Burges rebuilt Cardiff Castle with ‘opulent interiors rich in symbolism and narrative art recalling the work of the pre-Raphaelite painters’, of which there were in total 17 rooms and designed interiors, cresting with the rib vaulted smoking room in the clock tower.

Cardiff Castle – 1921 [Source: Wales Online]

Cardiff Castle stands today as one of the finest examples of the playfulness of the Gothic Revival and embodies the High Victorian era, displaying perhaps the most elaborate ensemble of 19th-century ornamentation to be found anywhere in the country; it is understood as a pair with the romantic vision of Castle Coch, located to the north of the city and see from the medieval keep. 

The keep at Cardiff Castle (left), Cardiff Castle interior (right) [Source: Montagu Evans]

The Cathays Park Civic Quarter, to the north of the site and castle, is a piece of city development which was constructed in the early 1900s as a grand Civic Centre. It includes key landmark buildings within the city, including the City Hall, the National Museum and Gallery of Wales, Law Courts and Cardiff University. The land was formerly the site of a Georgian mansion, built for the 1st Marquess of Bute and was sold by the Bute family to the Council in 1898 to provide a cultural, educational and recreational space and to obtain land to place a new town hall. The buildings were built throughout the early 20th century by various architects who won competitions to design the principal buildings. One such individual was Edwin Rickards (1872-1920), a flamboyant Edwardian architect who won the competition to design the City Hall and is known for other buildings, including Deptford Town Hall. The buildings within the Civic Centre are laid out along clearly defined north-south and east-west axis’, arranged around three main open spaces within the core of the Civic Centre.


Cardiff Civic Centre [Source: Montagu Evans]

The Civic Centre is nationally recognised as a significant example of civic urban planning. Each of the buildings has its own architectural identity and style, but together, they form part of a cohesive group. The scale and grandeur of the buildings represent Cardiff's industrial success throughout the 19th century, which brought prosperity to the city. 

Each phase of Cardiff’s long and varied history is evident in its urban fabric and contributes to its narrative of regeneration, which makes it one of the most nationally important cities in Great Britain. This is evidenced by its highly significant collection of built heritage.

Our Historic Environment and Townscape Team visited Cardiff last year as part of their involvement in the redevelopment of Friary House, Greyfriars Road in the centre of the city. The 28-storey element of the scheme would be visible from within Cardiff’s Castle’s walls and within the Civic Centre. As such, our work comprised the assessment of the visual change to the settings of the above heritage assets while also separately focusing on the benefits to the townscape character and visual amenity that the development, designed by ECE Westworks architects, will bring to Cardiff.

Final image below: Skyline showing the proposed development [Source: Nicholas Pearson Associates]


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