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A new Manchester masterpiece? Chetham's School of Music reinvents itself

Remake, remodel, retune: Manchester's city centre high school to rise again

Published on June 24th 2009.

A new Manchester masterpiece? Chetham's School of Music reinvents itself

Chetham's School of Music is the largest music school in the UK and the only one based in the North. A £4.6m investment from the North West Regional Development Agency (NWDA) is enabling it to expand by building a new multi-purpose school and a state-of-the-art venue. The overall build cost will be in the early to mid twenty millions.

The architects for the new school are Stephenson Bell. The plans, which have now been submitted, include a 350 seat concert hall and enhanced boarding facilities for the pupils, the majority of which are boarders at the school. The design could turn out to be Roger Stephenson's Manchester masterpiece.

The development will also mean views of the fifteenth century library on the site, and the medieval buildings of the school, can be opened up from the continuation of Deansgate which is Victoria Street and Hunt’s Bank. The library is the oldest free, public library in the English speaking world, dating from the 1650s. To achieve the views the Palatine Building fronting on to the main street will be demolished.

It's controversial at the best of times to knock down older buildings but on this occasion Confidential think it's worth it. The Chetham's site is one of the most important in Manchester and has been in constant occupation for a thousand and more years. The Library and School buildings are some of Manchester most special structures. To have more people able to see these and to have people able to better read the site, justifies losing mediocre nineteenth century buildings.

The architects for the new school are Stephenson Bell. The plans, which have now been submitted, include a 350 seat concert hall and enhanced boarding facilities for the pupils, the majority of which are boarders at the school. Stephenson Bell are well known in Manchester for providing a whole range of quality structures from Manchester International Convention Centre to the Manchester International Festival Pavilion presently occupying Albert Square.

The design could turn out to be Roger Stephenson's Manchester masterpiece. It has movement, presence, a good colour palette and provides a clever, restrained and elegant introduction to the city from Victoria whilst paying respect to the older buildings on each side.

Chetham's School of Music was established in 1969. Housing just under 300 pupils, it offers students funding through the Department for Education and Skills' Music and Dance Scheme.

As stated above the total project cost is estimated at £25m.

With the Co-op's ambitious, £100m plan to build new, 20 acre headquarters on nearby Miller Street, it only remains for those responsible for the appalling dilapidation of Victoria Station to be tarred and feathered and whipped down Deansgate until they restore it to its former glory. Then the whole area will, at last, be rejuvenated.

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41 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

vampsintheJune 24th 2009.

MUCH more historically significant is the fact that, from what I can make out, Palatine Buildings were the location of the antique shop at the beginning of the criminally overlooked "Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue" (UK title for "Let Sleeping Corpse Lie").www.filminglocationsdetectives.com/…/ue.htmDown… it goes though, I would imagine...

John WareJune 24th 2009.

This is something that Chetham's School of music needs - a proper and modern concert hall for their students. I think in this instance, one victorian building (the Palatine building) may need to go in the effort to bring out the history of the rest of the site.

GrizzleJune 24th 2009.

It's all subjective debate; the relative importance of which buildings are present, what codition the buildings are in and the merit that they retain.I would propose this for debate: Will the city be better, or worse if this proposal goes ahead? I would say all taken into consideration, significantly better.

roger stephensonJune 24th 2009.

The response to my last note is clearly from a person- not the Vic Soc.I suggest it would have been better if you revealed yourself and your opinion.For the sake of meaningful debate, it must be made clear that there is hardly any detail left internally in the Palatine Buildings- indeed, there is much less than is left externally. I have surveyed every room in the place. The buildings in their sorry, stripped of all detail state, may make an edge to Victoria Street, but on the other side they present an ugly windowless common brick facade to this really important historic courtyard.It collides with the medieval fabric in places, it covers over important medieval walls and the first of the defensive ditches around the manor house.

JanieJune 24th 2009.

Why can't we have a fabulously decked out facility whilst retaining the historical aspects of the outer building? Why does every architect think they need to start with a blank canvas?? I'm tired of seeing the beautiful old buildings being systematically wiped out for high-tech glass monstrosities that actually look like something from Logan's Run! What'll be next to go? Please stop this now!!!

AnonymousJune 24th 2009.

The new building looks really promising. But the demolition of the Palatine Building - a really important piece of local, national and international railway heritage - is totally unwarranted and totally unnecessary for the new development to take place.

JonJune 24th 2009.

OMG... this looks like a cross between the Arndale and a car park. And not in a good way. Where's Prince Charles when you need him?

SteveJune 24th 2009.

Like the idea, but the location and aspects are all wrong!Please build on the car parks instead as suggested!

Darren ScottJune 24th 2009.

Like it! Distinctive and creative architecture!

TrevorJune 24th 2009.

It's a wonderful design and the green space is an accidental green space. Build it I say. I would love to see Chets from Victoria Street and I'd love to see that silly litter strewn green sward in front the station become a world class educational centre.

AnonymousJune 24th 2009.

pozzoni llp...

GadgeJune 24th 2009.

Would prefer it not to be any higher than Victoria or Chet's. It's all very well presenting pictures sunny pictures, but the road with the listed awning will be a windy dark place in winter. They've got all that space below where the gate to Victoria undercroft is for an auditorium. Not sure what the wedge on top is for. If extra height is essential, it'd be better on the side adjacent to the MEN Arena, or do Stephenson Bell get a special prize for lining up 3 wedges in a city?

CravesJune 24th 2009.

What a surprise, another Stephenson Bell wedge!

eddy rheadJune 24th 2009.

I too have the highest regard for the architects (kudos to Roger Stephenson for coming on a public forum and defending his work aswell) and in itself the new building looks top rate but i think that the practice of destroying one building to 'reveal' another is setting a dangerous precedent. Who gets to decide what building has more interest or significance than another? I personally can take or leave medieval manor houses and to be honest Palatine buildings are a bit ropey aswell but what they (the Palatine buildings) do provide are a layerl of history and i understand them to have a significant amount of historical importance and as such contribute to the cities overall character. Whether or not they obscure a more important building should not really come in it - opening up long lost vistas is a retrograde step anyway and tampering with historical development. There is also the question of sustainability - in so much as what is the wisdom of demolishing a building, that could well have new purpose, simply for aesthetic reasons? The cynic in me thinks that the Palatine Buildings have become an annoying inconvenience for Chethams and instead of trying to find a new use for them within the new development they just want to get rid.

TomJune 24th 2009.

Not only will the construction of this building see the destruction of about 20 beautiful mature plane trees which currently sit around that sunken area in front of the station. But it also dwarfs the historic station facade itself and there is far too much dead frontage ie just brick walls facing the street.The Station Approach will become a dark, gloomy, wind tunnel with no greenery and buses thundering through, it will only really come to life when there's a concert on in the School or at the MEN.This design is just too brutal and will become an eyesore of the future, much like the Renaissance Hotel complex round the corner is now.

badgeJune 24th 2009.

not impressed at all. what do they teach at architect school these days?

Conservation AssistantJune 24th 2009.

I fail to see how Stephenson Bell have the history and character of Manchester at the heart of this design, i used to be involved with the last design they came up with for this site last year and i can tell you it was a lot worse than this! and that design showed that all they wanted to do was to have a flashy modern design, regardless of the historic context and important setting of Cheethams, this design would completly overshadow the grade I listed buildings and they want to completly remove The Palatine building, origanally built as a hotel in i believe 1840, predating Vistoria Station and built so accomadate passengers from the new station. Im finding it heard to understand that in manchester developers find it very diffecult to work with what they have, if they REALLY cared for the place they would alow their design to compliment the red sandstone buildings and historical context instead of building something that could be disigned for any place in the UK, and to also have no regard for the old hotel which in a round about way is connected to the history of Victoria Station is shameless

IanJune 24th 2009.

Hurray, more mediocre architecture for Manchester.

Property editorJune 24th 2009.

Sorry Downsizer, not a press release at all, we picked this up from the planning permissions that have been submitted and liked it

John McrJune 24th 2009.

Well I didn't like the first proposals for this site and think these new ones are no better. It towers above Victoria but not in a good way, its blandness will fade nicely into the dull facade of the M.E.N. arena, creating a sea of gray, boring brick... Just what commuters want to see when exiting Victoria or people visiting this city.The Northern gateway into the city needs something grand, a great statement not a boring, clunky mess that wedges itself into a floorplate.

TomJune 24th 2009.

In fact there are probably about 40+ mature trees on this site at present. Probably the largest number of trees together in one place in the whole of central Manchester. Why not preserve them, tend for this greenspace and build this carbunckle just over the river on that endless expanse of parking lots at the former Exchange Station?

downsizerJune 24th 2009.

..and another thing. I invite everyone to stand on the canal bridge outside the Union and look across West property's stalled site. This must be the best view of uninterupted older Manchester architecture in town. Enjoy it while you can before they put their monstrous carbuncle in the way. (I know..I know..)

Tom HennellJune 24th 2009.

The Palatine Hotel caused quite a stir when it first opened.Three things to note.- At this date, leading commentators were beginning to be fascinated by the potential impact of the railways on urban building - and were coming th Manchester (as the world's first railway city) to see what was happening here.- Three new building types particularly interested them; railway stations themselves (with workshops and offices), commercial warehouses (i.e. warehouses as free-standing economic entities, rather than as associated with docks or factories), and new hotels. - The Palatine was recognised as the pioneer of this new type of railway hotel in Manchester (in April it was the only one; by November the correspondent of the Builder could also describe the Queen's Hotel in Portland Street and the London Road Station hotel). The commentators were especially interested in the staircases - it seems that the spectacular cast-iron staircase of the Palatine caused a great stir. This was an early work by Edward Bellhouse who subsequently built most of the cast-iron railway bridges around the city centre, as well as the City Halls etc.Is the staircase still there? If it is, then surely listing is an urgent necessity. Civil Engineer and Architects Journal April 1845 p 129Architecture and the Building Arts in Manchester and its neighboursNear the Hunts Bank railway station we noticed a new hotel, called the Palatine, which is worthy of mention as well for external design as for the admirable adaptation of the internal arrangements to the purposes for which the building is devoted. Messrs Holden are the architects, and they have certainly made the most of the awkward piece of ground with which they had to deal. A novelty in this edifice is the main staircase opposite the entrance; the whole of the stairs and landings (with the exception of the mahogany handrail) is of iron, each step (riser and tread included) is of one piece of cast iron, which is attached to a wall-plate and depends therefrom; the whole has a remarkably light and elegant appearance, and is an instance of the grand effect which may be gained by a judicious use of this material. In the case of fire, a staircase of this construction would be invaluable, as it would afford a means of escape to the inmates which would not be liable to destruction. The total cost of the building was about £7,000. The Builder 1845 p 548Architecture and Art in Manchester November 8th 1845Near the station is the Palatine Hotel, a plain Italian building of stone, but in good taste, in which there is a staircase wholly of iron. It was executed by Bellhouse & Co. and while demonstrably conducive to its object of providing a means of escape from fire, it is not inelegant, and may be given as an example fo the successful treatment of ironwork. The strengthening ribs beneath each tread are arranged so as to intersect with one another, with good effect when seen from below. Some gilding might be introduced with good results.

downsizerJune 24th 2009.

No name on this article. Sounds like a press release.

The Victorian SocietyJune 24th 2009.

The Victorian Society has put Manchester’s threatened Palatine Buildings forward for listing and has asked Manchester City Council to defer its decision on Chetham’s latest application until English Heritage has completed its assessment. Although the three buildings have been greatly altered; losing their parapets, cornices and window sashes - inside many original features still remain. They may have modest architectural character but they are still a key part of the historic streetscape in the oldest part of Manchester. They sit on a very busy road and give a well defined, robust edge to the public space, as well as shielding the medieval complex behind from the noise of the road.To destroy some of the earliest surviving railway buildings in Manchester for a strip of lawn which it is hard to see being used is utterly wasteful. Demolishing a building which makes a positive contribution to a conservation area is also contrary to government planning advice. These buildings enhance the Cathedral Conservation Area and the society believes they must be kept.

eugeneJune 24th 2009.

In image 4, the upper section of the building loosk liek it's going to fall off! Seems to twer over Victoria too...not a good look!

John WareJune 24th 2009.

downsizer - agreed about the West properties development on whitworth street. The hoardings advertisements are so pre-recession that they are an embarrassment.

AnonymousJune 24th 2009.

I don't think anyone's disputing that the city will benefit enormously from the new build proposal going ahead however what is in question is the need to demolish the Palatine building which isn't integral to the development. Reading the interview with Chets in Friday's MEN its clear that this is all about their desire to increase their profile and their lack of appreciation for what is the most worn out building on their campus.

GrizzleJune 24th 2009.

The devil will be in the detail, but high qulaity materials and finish are a must. At present however this is little more than a glorified back-alley.I have reservations that this proposal perhaps bows down a little too much to the existing buildings. Perhaps in this case it will be worth it.

Karen HJune 24th 2009.

What is it with ****ing trees and people. We are replanting all over the place, look up the Irwell and Irk valleys for instance, full of them now in the post industrial world. This is a great scheme in location that needs tidying. Please go ahead with it. Manchester should demonstrate energy and go ahead.

AnonymousJune 24th 2009.

The Palatine Building should NOT be demolished.

EditorialJune 24th 2009.

Dear Downsizer, there was not a single press release involved, but it was the research of two writers hence no byline.

AnonymousJune 24th 2009.

Would it not be possible to restore the Palatine Buildings to a condition and level of functionality that satisfies both heritage interests and Chets (and whomsoever takes on the building should it be sold). Perhaps a bid to HLF could provide for a partial restoration to its oriignal condition, improve the rear wall and setting for Chets and perhaps expose some of the medevial bits and bobs it covered over (in the same vein as bits of Liverpool's old dock have been preserved and displayed in-situ by the developers of the L1 development... or the way Manchester's Hanging Bridge has been revealed just up the road at the Cathedral Visitor's Centre). I must say I am uneasy at putting medevial heritage on a pedestal over and above Victorian era heritage, regardless of how messed about it is. In terms of its value, as one of the very earliest railway hotel buildings anywhere and a decent chunk of streetscape in its own right surely what remains of the Palatine deserves better than to be just swept away? And if valuable buildings that are carelessly or willfully eroded are thereby routinely justified for demolition, what sort of signal does this send out to the patron's of what's left of Manchester's built heritage? Worrying. All this aside, this is clearly an incredibly complex project and the new-build element looks highly promising. Without being sycophantic, I have the highest regard for the architects too. Just not (yet) convinced on the case for clearing the Palatine.

who are youJune 24th 2009.

This is an excelent proposal. The palatine building needs to go, imagine being able to see the medeavel library from deansgate?

JeevesJune 24th 2009.

People talk of the Palatine Building as the oldest railway hotel building. It isn't, that honour goes to the Commercial Hotel on Liverpool Road opposite the oldest railway station in the world now part of MOSI. These buildings - the new ones - look great, would bring life, and a healthy one back to the area. Bring them on.

roger stephensonJune 24th 2009.

Thank you very much for publishing this article. The images you have used are not quite up to date and maybe Jon might think the final version looks less like a multi storey car park. This project is the result of the work of a large team of people over a period of at least 2 years so far and more than two years to go.The complexity of the problem is on a par with designing a new car without having the opportunity to construct a number of prototypes along the way.It is not something I dreamt up in the bath !!Janie's comments are particularly irritating. No old buildings are being removed to allow new glass ones to take their place. The Palatine Buildings have a totally disrespectful relationship to the extremely important medieval buildings- to the extent that if one tried to obtain planning approval for them today, it would be refused. The idea is to put the fortified manor house back into a setting similar to its original one.I do not see where she got the 'glass facades' from in relation to the new school building.Finally, a good building from any era will be the result of a meaningful dialogue between the client and the design team. In this case the relationship has been superb and I hope it bodes well for the end result.

Burt CodeineJune 24th 2009.

I like the Palatine building too...but I'm hoping those who 'know best' really do on this occasion (Stephenson Bell, to be fair, generally have this citys best interests at heart).The area around the Cathedral is p*** poor, dull, insipid...in my eyes (although the planned development around greengate and the demolishment of the Renaissance should be a good start here) so we desperately need intelligent thinking in these parts. I...think...I like the extension...

AnonymousJune 24th 2009.

looks like another multi-storey car park to me. Please leave our old buildings alone

jimjamJune 24th 2009.

too many people confuse historic significance and historic value.

David12978January 29th 2010.

what a monster, how did this get passed?

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