Custom House Square is a public open space situated to the west of the Custom House, south of Albert Square and north of Queen’s Square. The area is reclaimed land from the 1700s and was initially used as the Salthouse Dock and later the Lime Kiln Dock. The docks were backfilled in 1846 to create Albert Square and Queen’s Square and the Custom House was built 1854 -1857, followed by the Albert Memorial Clock between 1865 – 1870. By the late 20th century the area had become dominated by car parking, road infrastructure and bus traffic.
In 2000 the Laganside Coporation published ‘A Strategy for Laganside Linkage’ as a strategic overview of how to integrate the various built and proposed Laganside developments, including the area around Custom House Square. The Laganside Corporation and other stakeholders entered into detailed discussions over the next number of years and detailed traffic impact assessments were carried out to find an appropriate traffic circulation system.
With a rationalised road network agreed the design team could develop proposals for the public realm. A sunken events space to the west of the Custom House is bound by promenades to either side, and to the west by five lighting structures named ‘The Hecklers’, in reference to the former use of the square as a ‘speaker’s corner’. A grid of LED lighting set into the paving of the event space can be choreographed into various arrangements of colour and sequence.
The Calder Fountain was restored and relocated to nearer to its original position and a public toilet was installed adjacent the Custom House. On the historic line of the culverted Farset River a linear water feature was installed. The feature, designed and installed by Ocmis, comprises 84 jets in two blocks, laid out in three parallel lines. Integrated lighting illuminates the jets of water at night. Initially the lighting was provided by halogen bulbs but these were replaced in 2009 with LED lighting to reduce power use.
The project was delivered in phases and involved relocation of underground utilities, including 33KV oil filled electricity cables. Construction work began in July 2003 and was completed by April 2005 at a cost of £4.2m. The project required approximately 2,000m of granite kerbs, 6,000m2 of Caithness and 3,000m2 of granite paving.