Keel Square is a new public space and boulevard based in Sunderland, Tyne & Wear, completed in 2015. Located to the North of the City Centre opposite the Vaux Site, the square is part of the larger vision known as St. Mary's Way and Vaux redevelopment. The aim is to create a new central business district which will house an exciting mix of offices, shops and cafés, hotels and residential, with an emphasis on job creation. The total cost of the project amounts to £11.8 million. A celebration of Sunderland's maritime and industrial heritage, the square's name was decided by the city's residents.
Drawing upon local knowledge, Keel Square was designed by Sunderland City Council in-house multidisciplinary design team. The design set out to completely transform this part of the city centre, not only to set the standard of intent for future regeneration, but to provide a space unique to Sunderland that would resonate with its community. This central civic space had to be a meeting place for friends, a location for events and festivals, somewhere for Sunderland people to be proud of and a space to welcome visitors to their city. It had the potential to tell a story about the city and its people.
Keel Square is a celebration of the city’s industrial heritage, to record the international significance and the colossal scale of what the people of Sunderland achieved in the history of shipbuilding. Natural stone materials such as granite, Yorkshire Gritstone and porphyry were specified to complement the surrounding sandstone buildings. Sculptural features and street furniture utilised high quality materials such as hardwood timber and bronze.
Seating was designed to be organic in shape to break up the formal lines found within the paving. Timber laths soften the seat for maximum comfort. Known as “Friendship Benches”, they incorporate ends that acknowledge the cities associations with Washington DC (USA), Essen (Germany) Saint Nazaire (France) and Harbin (China). Each bench features the co-ordinates of that city from the Square, together with the distance, measured in nautical miles. The form of the benches would not look out of place on the deck of a ferry.