Thornaby Town Centre

Elder Lester Architects

The expansion and growth in the local petrochemical industry in the early 1960s gave way to a boom in smaller conurbations around Teesside. Formerly an airfield, Thornaby council acquired the site in 1962 to develop a new town centre to serve the expanding population. The objectives were to provide a new traffic-free, commercial centre, with elevated shopping and new housing.

Development was carried out in stages to avoid a half finished appearance. The first stage focused around a large public pedestrian square with one side left open for future expansion. Stage two extended the square to provide further shopping facilities, a hotel, superstore, library, health centre, indoor bowling, social centre, conference and indoor sports hall, the Nesham motor showroom and private office blocks. The development featured unusual, individual elevated houses and private streets built on top of the shops in order to create activity in the square day and night.

Routes into the square featured an abstract ‘double AA’ sculpture, taken from the town motto ‘Always Advancing’ and connected into the surrounding streets via a distinctive curved concrete bridge which notably takes inspiration from Ove Arups Kingsgate bridge in Durham.

Streets within the square incorporated large hoardings and signage designed as part of the buildings to give relief and colour. The landscape scheme uses mature trees, raised flower-beds, seats, pools and a patchwork of decorative paving in large areas to provide an immediately mature environment. The two stage development commenced in 1965 and was completed in 1968.

The square and the majority of buildings surrounding, except the occasional high rise where demolished between 2007-2009 to make way for a low-rise, nondescript shopping centre.

All photos copyright of Elder Lester Architects