Victoria Quarter, Leeds
Queen Victoria Street Arcade, Briggate, Leeds, England
1989 – 1990
In the late 1980s Brian was asked to contribute a proposal for a stained glass artwork to accompany the refurbishment of Queen Victoria Street and Frank Matcham's 19th century, Grade II* listed arcades in the centre of Leeds, in the north of England, by architects Derek Latham & Co. Latham and Clarke had previously collaborated on the transformation of Buxton's at-risk Thermal Baths into the Cavendish Arcade, which Clarke glazed over with what is still the largest stained glass window in the United Kingdom. The initial commission at Leeds was for stained glass at either end of the street, but Clarke developed the idea into a scheme to glaze over the entire street, which was being pedestrianised and roofed over to form a contemporary arcade, with stained glass. The vibrantly coloured, traditionally-leaded roof of mouth-blown glass, which extends from one end of the street to the other and is over 400 feet long, was the largest secular work of stained glass in the world at the time of its completion in 1990, and remains the largest single work of stained glass in Great Britain and the largest stained glass roof in Europe, measuring 746.9 square metres (8,040 sq ft) according to the Guiness Book of World Records. Among the largest public artworks in the UK, the project was recipient of the Europa Nostra Award in 1990, and the Leeds Award for Architecture (Special Award for Stained Glass).
"Where the eaves of the modern roof glazing meet the Edwardian street façade it was decided that a band of clear glazing would be left, allowing plenty of natural light into the street and sensitively limiting the amount of coloured light falling onto the polychromatic glazed tiling of Matcham’s architecture. Visitors to the Victoria Quarter are treated to an unforgettable coloured sky even during grey autumn afternoons, as the glass vivifies the space."
The junction of Cross Arcade and Queen Victoria Street in Leeds has an immense white cross in the artwork above the main pedestrian traffic crossing, where the restored Victorian arcades connect up to the contemporary one created when the stained glass enclosed a formerly-open street. Just-visible during the day, Clarke's signature cruciform here is made of opalescent glass, and so becomes more visible at night and on dull days, in contrast with the fully transparent coloured glass surrounding it.
"The arcade at Leeds is like a cathedral. There’s a semi-joking reference – two forefingers, like a corrupt God and Adam (amorphic elements disturbing the rectilinear grid) at the crossover where the ‘transept’ meets the ‘nave’: my Sistine Chapel. The stained glass is a musically sympathetic continuation of what happens in the terracotta pediments by Victorian theatre architect Frank Matcham, responding to context without being historicistly fawning." – Brian, 2020.