Royal William Yard, Plymouth – The Designer Office Development Making a Splash

To walk around Royal William Yard Plymouth today is both a step back in time and a giant leap into the future. The latest development by regeneration specialists Urban Splash is an inspiring realisation of the future of this historic building – and maybe the City of Plymouth itself. Whereas only a few years ago, the vision of Royal William Yard was certainly impressive, the more cynically inclined locals would point to the promise of the new shopping centres, the vision of the Mackay plan and only provide examples of great hopes followed by disappointment. At last there is an example that it can be done…and has been done.

Only a few years ago, to see some of the newly converted residential blocks was to to admire the details but have concerns for the future. Undoubtedly the location is stunning – a peninsula of beautiful historic buildings jutting out into what is recognised as one of the best natural harbours in the world – but the potential of Plymouth has always been talked about and rarely realised, uncertainty remained that the contemporary residential blocks would transform the area into a bustling desirable hub. Would Plymouth residents warm to the cutting edge design? Was the area out on a limb away from the city centre? Would businesses support the scheme?

As we come into 2012 the answer is now a resounding yes. Royal William Yard is a hive of activity, beginning to show signs of being the envy of the region – not only living up to the hype but perhaps exceeding expectations. A feeling of energy pervades the development. When we visited “River Cottage“, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall‘s celebrity restaurant over looking the corner facing North towards the River Tamar, it was packed with diners lapping up the ambience. River Cottage isn’t the only place to relax with friends or catch up for a business meeting, all the restaurants we saw were packed, beautifully designed and in keeping with the surroundings.

Local diners are increasingly joined by destination tourists travelling to enjoy the ambience and the success of the office buildings adds to the vitality of this inspiring environment. The main office building already has achieved nearly 50% occupancy. First movers include Hoare Lee, Interserve, Cowlin and  Ward Williams. Plymouth University are also occupying a large top floor space temporarily for their art college – a space with high ceilings, rafters and sky lights which would be an office designers dream to work with.

Emily Handslip, Head of National Lettings for Urban Splash, showed us around the soon to be completed ” Cooperage”, an incredible building where the main office floor is an enormous, light open space that is possibly the most beautiful office space we have seen in Plymouth (see picture left). We hope that the new office relocation attracts a firm that does not feel the need to close down the open space and maintains the high ceilings.

Going beyond the Cooperage there are two further spectacular Georgian buildings. “Residence One” is waiting to be brought to life as a boutique hotel, behind which is a secret walled garden leading up to a small observatory that looks out across Plymouth Sound towards Drake’s Island, with a quite spectacular view. One can’t help but imagine the octagonal cabin transformed into a luxurious hot tub spa, from which to observe the America’s Cup racing while enjoying a glass of champagne! “Residence Two” is a office building for smaller companies, but all the details are still delightful – even the mail box cubby holes are a collection of US Mail type metal domed boxes. It’s touches like this that make you realise the attention to detail in this project – turning a good space into a great space to work.

Urban Splash are to be congratulated with what they have achieved with Royal William Yard, not only rescuing an historic building for the benefit of Plymouth City, but also having the vision and determination to see it through without compromise. Urban Splash have employed Gillespie Yunnie Architects, a visionary firm of local architects based near Totnes to work with them on this project. It’s wonderful to see local talent transforming local landmarks. Business Interiors worked with Gillespie Yunnie on the Devon Wildlife Trust offices in Exeter, where they converted a disused water mill into an inspiring office headquarters.

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