Leeds City Square Competition

Leeds City Square Competition

​MICA was one of five teams shortlisted to develop a concept design to redesign Leeds City Square to create a world-class, vibrant and inclusive public realm.

Leeds is a diverse and vibrant city that is looking to the future as an economic centre and capital of the Northern Powerhouse and Leeds City Region. Central to this positioning is the drive to create world class, vibrant and inclusive public realm across Leeds, which responds positively to the city’s diverse population, cultural richness and the effects of climate change.The competition was launched by RIBA, Balfour Beatty and Leeds City Council in 2020, and MICA was one of the teams invited to develop a scheme for the re-design of Leeds City Square.

Our proposed design envisages a transformation to create a coherent set of spaces with diverse characteristics and scales. The interconnecting geometric landscapes offer City Space, City Lawn, City Play and City Garden areas, each with a variety of potential uses throughout the year. Areas are framed and defined by significant quantities of tree planting, new soft landscaping and sustainable rain gardens. Central to our green city strategy is the planting of over 50 new trees, located in groups to maximise vitality and carbon sequestering potential.

The joy of the proposals is in the wide selection of places created to sit and relax: generous and well-defined areas for congregation, relaxation and enjoyment both in hard and soft areas. New benches will be provided with a variety of heights, seating surfaces, armrest and seat back options to suit all users. The principal areas and features are described below:

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A soft landscape strategy that works on multiple levels, from creating softness in the urban environment and offering seasonal change throughout the year, to increased biodiversity and taking a proactive role in sustainable water management and drainage. Our landscape designs relate to the history and identity of Leeds, its wider context, and its community.
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City Space

A piazza delineated by formal tree planting and a warmly textured hard surface, the area has been defined at a dynamic angle to the Black Prince equestrian monument which is retained in its existing location. The setting and historical importance of the statue has been respected, while reducing the dominance and centrality afforded by the currently layout. This enhances opportunities for the new City Square to tell multiple and new stories that may relate to some of the unheard or under-represented voices of Leeds history, culture and people. The generous open space and amenity created by the City Space provides a great location for informal performance, adaptable seating areas, and for a civic scale Christmas tree during the winter festive season.

City Lawn

City Lawn is a green and sustainable heart to the proposals; a new lawn is created in the sunniest area of the site adjacent the Post Office and shielded from Park Row by rain gardens and tree planting. The lawn provides opportunities for fine weather picnicking and informal play while offering a green amenity all year round. This gently contoured grassed area is protected from excessive wear by a raised edge that provides seating opportunities and discourages short cuts. Level access from a quiet path is provided on the north east edge of the lawn.

City Copse

The scheme features a dense central copse of trees, rich in variety and species, an important focus and backdrop for all spaces. Semi-mature saplings and high tree canopies will provide transparency through the copse from the outset, providing sight-lines and safety. The copse is under planted providing a further new habitat with a rain garden element.

City Trees

Trees are critical to the scheme with over 50 trees proposed in a series of grouped engineered tree pits. Recognising that trees health is greatly increased by shared and connected root growth and in-turn that carbon sequestering increases significantly when grouped, all trees are both grouped and linked below ground. Leeds will change from a City Centre notable for its lack of trees to a welcome to the City that is rich in tree canopies.

City Play

Relating to the refurbished Majestic building, this space provides an animated and colourful backdrop at a respectful distance. In many ways a counterpoint to the relative formality of the City Space, City Play is an adaptable, multi-purpose area, animated by City Beach, a water feature that works in mirror pool, play fountain or dry modes, with amphitheatre seating defining the edge and creating opportunities for small-scale planned and impromptu performance. City Play is anchored by a colourful new café or kiosk and external seating area adjacent to the City Beach. This provides a revenue-generating opportunity and accommodates equipment for the new water feature. The kiosk/café also serves as the under storey to City Plinth. City Plinth creates a space for the display of contemporary art, raised up in dialogue with the formal traditions of the Black Prince monument. Links to the Henry Moore foundation, Yorkshire
Sculpture Park and local communities could be explored to reflect the diverse and vibrant culture of Leeds today.

City Garden

We have created a garden extending from the southern half of Chapel Yard towards Park Row. This is intended to be a space of quiet contemplation that provides a sensory garden with the healing and well-being connections of a traditional physic garden and incorporates plants used in the historic natural dyeing process, relating to the coloured woollen cloths that would historically have been traded in this area. Re-locating the cenotaph to provide a sacred space that is a refuge from the commercial pressures of city life is an approach that is supported by the Chapel.

Fountains + Music concerts, brass bands, street performance
Ice Rink + Christmas Tree and Markets
Mirror pond + Outdoor Cinema
Festival Carousel + Market, Community Events
Music Performances and Street Food Stalls
1 / 5 Fountains + Music concerts, brass bands, street performance

City Terrace

A new terrace for the Post Office building provides a defined and protected area for restaurant seating and new accessible level entrances. The terrace also improves the setting of the building, historic statuary and phone boxes. South facing steps provide informal seating opportunities while maintaining a clear public route along the edge of the terrace from north east to south west.

City Walk

Outside Queens Hotel, and bookended by Leeds Station pedestrian entrances, we have created a new, generous shared surface. With the existing Wellington Street closed to traffic this space allows a change of pace, flowing seamlessly towards the enticing greenery beyond.

Planting Strategy

The planting style will have a naturalistic feel and though contained within a formal bed planting system it will flow over the edges to the surrounding hard landscape. This garden extends beyond the existing confines of the chapel yard to bring in the wider public realm and symbolically reaching out beyond these boundaries into the currently under-used large area of hard landscape beyond.

The focus will be to design a planting scheme that appeals to a wide spectrum of biodiversity; birds, bees, and butterflies but also invertebrates that may struggle to find shelter in city environments. This is inclusive planting.

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As part of the competition, MICA's team had a number of engaging sessions with a land owners and stakeholders of the city square. The following is a selection of feedback from the main consultees mentioned, which were incorporated into the final competition proposal.

‘It looks like a great space that provides the grass and piazza that is missing’.
‘You could have a quartet playing or Covent Garden type street performances’.
‘It gives life to the area and plays well with the Hotel’s external dining ideas’.

- Alistair Campbell General Manager, The Queens Hotel, Leeds

‘It needs to be a green gateway to the city and to Yorkshire’.
- Martin Woolstencroft Arc Inspirations, Banyan Restaurant Owner

‘I like what you are proposing’.
‘A Garden is a good idea’.
‘A physic garden could connect to our strong health and well-being links’.
‘Keen to establish Chapel Yard as a noncommercial space of contemplation’.
- Rev Jo James, Mill Hill Chapel


MICA Lead, Architecture, Landscape
Jeremy Rye Studios, Landscape
DHA Designs, Lighting
engineersHRW, Civil and structural engineering
Max Fordham, Sustainability and M&E
CannonCE, Transport


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