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New Hotel For Manchester: Bye Bye Employment Exchange

Jonathan Schofield likes the distinctive but doomed Employment Exchange

Written by . Published on July 22nd 2013.

New Hotel For Manchester: Bye Bye Employment Exchange

340 room, 4 star hotel by 2015 

BUSINESS DESK have reported (Monday 22 July) that ‘a company backed by Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia, the entrepreneur who sold Euro Car Parts for £225m two years ago, is planning a 340-bed four star hotel at the derelict Employment Exchange in Manchester’.

Apparently Ahluwalia is still with Euro Car Parts, but also owns a property company called Dominvs Living. The plan for the Employment Exchange is to flatten it and start afresh on the site. There have been other ideas, and lapsed planning permissions, including an Ian Simpson Architects designed 44-storey tower which failed with the collapse of property company Albany Estates.

The new hotel is planned to open in 2015.

Dominvs Living say: ‘As part of a planned expansion of strategically located branded hotels in key UK cities, Dominvs Living have acquired a landmark site in Manchester City Centre for the development of a 340 Bedroom 4-Star hotel, restaurant and conference facilities.This is an important and significant development and the hotel will become a vital element of the fast growing international attraction for Manchester and its increasing stature as a major European City.’

In April Dominvs Living acquired the Hotelier Group , operating under the Aston brand. 

While the former Employment Exchange is not great architecture it’s a shame that it has to go. It represents a style and a period of architectural history rarely seen in Manchester. 

Thanks be that the mocked-up picture at the top of this page is unlikely to be anything like the finished article. This design is bland in the extreme. 

 For more on its distinctiveness read our Good, Standard, Ugly article below, from 2008, updated to reflect this news. 



The Good, The Standard and The Ugly: Employment Exchange, Aytoun Street

Category: Ugly (but…)

What, when, who?
The former Employment Exchange or 'dole office', on Aytoun Street. According to the Manchester edition of the Pevsner Architectural Guides, it was designed in 1936 by David Thomson. Then World War II came along and there were more pressing matters, and after that the economy stalled. It was fully fifteen years before the building opened under the supervision of the splendidly monikered E H Montague Ebbs. Is there another building that took longer from final design to build in the city?Employment Exchange

Employment Exchange

Undead building
The empty building is doomed: it’s a dead structure standing. Demolition is staring it in the face as a Dominvs Living, a Reading-based property developer eyes the site for a four star hotel with 340 rooms. See the Yellow Box at the top of this page. 

‘Brick, thin and cheap’

That - ‘Brick, thin and cheap’ - is the savage and simple description in the aforementioned Pevsner Architectural Guides of the present building. You can see why. The place is the very image of dowdy post-War Britain. It looks rationed, half-starved.

But remember it was designed before the War in the 1930s. It seems as though Mr Thompson then had an idea for giving us a bit of civic North European Modernism: maybe a bit like one of those classic town halls in Holland or Scandinavia. Then he got the budget, and it turned out to be twopence ha’penny. And after the War there was just the ha’penny left. When a tram passes by, the old Employment Exchange looks as though it's part of a movie set in communist East Berlin.

Dreary but distinctive
There are bits and bobs to enjoy on the building. The massing is interesting, and the long glass tiled window on the south, over the canal, sort of exhilarating. Next to the window is a perfectly period Modernist curvy protrusion and next to that just about the largest elevated terrace in the city – big enough to fit a tennis court. Round the corner there’s some thin metal decoration over the Aytoun Street entrance carrying the letters and numbers GR IV 1951. Another year and it would have been ER II. The building also fits the street scale on this side of the street – maintaining the line and height of the nineteenth century buildings up the road.

Mess is best
Half-starved can also seem lean and fit. Or different. This is the only building of this type and scale from the post-War period in the city centre. British cities tend to offer variety, with different styles of structure next to each other – it’s their charm, a product of the way we do business and look at property.

The Employment Exchange adds to that interest in Manchester. There’s also a lot of historic distinctiveness going on. How many buildings do we know which span, from conception to construction, the transition of Britain from an Imperial nation to just another European country? How many buildings span three monarchs and an abdication crisis: planned under George V, approved under Edward VIII, and built in the last year of George VI’s reign?

Fantasy world
I know a man who worked in the building in the 1960s. “It was horrible and grim: a depressing place,” he says. Perhaps it should go. But before we condemn it out of hand consider the recent building to the left (pictured a couple of images up) built for a Chinese housing association. This is in almost day-glo orange brick and a real stinker. It makes the description for the Employment Exchange as ‘brick, thin and cheap’ seem excessive and wrong.

If that sort of rubbish is allowed by the Planning Department then maybe there's a case for trying to persuade Dominvs Living to keep this building and convert it into a hotel or apartments - retain in otherwords its distinctive presence in Manchester 

Fat chance.

But in some fantasy world if execution for the Employment Exchange is stayed or the developers decide to convert the existing structure into apartments, put me down for the flat with the massive terrace

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield or connect via Google+

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

GavinMarch 26th 2008.

I'm beginning to find this whole concept that someone writes something, doubtlessly someone unqualified to comment, and we respond like lemmings, completely ridiculous. Write about buildings yourself. why respond to someone else when you can create yourself? start a blog, jesus it's not like you know any less than the author whose qualifications to write about this are? Why them not you? And with that, I'm off to write my blog about ****e buildings....Set one up yourselves posters and stop this silly deference to people with bylines. With a few honourable exceptions, their opinion matters no more than yours

MathewMarch 26th 2008.

Mick, there's another architecture walk in September but I don't when. The tourist info centre in St Peter's Square with a full list of walks, there're loads. Schofield also does a good Radical Manchester walk which is in May sometime, went on it last year.

pamMarch 26th 2008.

I love this building. When will the planning department stop approving demolition of characterful, interesting buildings, for replacement by lacklustre an characterless monstrosities. Seeing some of the new builds that are going up recently, makes me wonder whether they are deliberately going for a nondescript look to the new city.

TomcatMarch 26th 2008.

I agree with Adee, we need a mix of designs. Its not all about the shiny things. Manchester should keep examples of every era and this is a good example of post war Britain, its no where near as bad some of the c*@p thats been built recently. Keep the Front and side and re-build the rest - its been done before why not do it again? (BTW can anyone let me in there to take a few pics before its flattened?)Manchester - Ian Simpson`s ego trip. Sponsored by Bruntwood.

AnonymousMarch 26th 2008.

I also love this building and will be very sad if it goes. Every time I walk past it I wonder why it is still decaying! I think a 40-floor tower here would be okay but it could be even better if it was made to either sit inside the original structure or 'float' above it. In my opinion it is far better than a) the mercury buildings, b) the orange housing association flats next door and c) the entire Argent collection at One Pic and Pic Place!

Mick HowardMarch 26th 2008.

Nice touch Matthew...can you post details of the walking tours please. thanks

The Real BenMarch 26th 2008.

I remember going for a job interview there in 1989. It was standard 80s civil service inside - very dour, very dark and oppressive. Walking through the reception area wasn't much fun.I'd like to see this building kept and improved upon rather than just demolished to make way for something that looks exactly like everywhere else in the city.

New MayMarch 26th 2008.

This is probably my favourite building in Manchester. Straight out of Orwell. Agree that it has far more appeal than much that is being thrown up around the city at the mo (which will probably need to be torn down in much less than 57 years) and rare representative of its era in Mcr. Jonathan I will be gazumping you for that terrace flat and doing it out as my office, Ministry of Truth style.

Ali McGowanMarch 26th 2008.

Sorry Gavin, I won't be reading your blog as I am too busy being a lemming here. I hope it goes well for you.

John WilliamsMarch 26th 2008.

I like the building - and I agree with others here that with a bit of care it could be a great space - I'm not against new towers but surely there are other places for them that don't involve knocking something down.

MathewMarch 26th 2008.

Gavin, you've got this wrong. I was on one of the writer's excellent walking tours on Saturday. He's a Blue Badge Guide and has been writing about, guiding and studying architecture for many years I think. On Monday he was on Radio 4 talking about Victorian architecture and the Victorian Society with You and Yours.

EditorialMarch 26th 2008.

Pedantry is good. Thanks for alerting us to the missing I, now replaced.

Mick HowardMarch 26th 2008.

I think this place is ugly too but then, so was Piccadilly Tower and she has scrubbed up well. I'm all for building big glass towers with dual purposes - it makes sense for those building them and no sense to buy in one (comment Hilton Tower owners??!!). However, make the street level structure inkeeping with its surrounding and maybe refirbish this old beauty. Who cares, why rant - who's listening? PS - hope the Ballymore / Inacity Tower comes off like it shows on the marketing literature - that will be an impressive tower.

AnonymousMarch 26th 2008.

This is one seriously ugly building with no redeeming feature other than its representation of a design era best forgotten. And lay off the orange flats - these could look pretty good with a bit of plate-glass next to them!

clapclapMarch 26th 2008.

I've wondered for many a year why the Aytoun DOSS office hasn't been converted to apartments and offices. Its prefect for it. We already have tonnes of empty apartments though. There is no need for more - but better use the current building than build another skyscraper of investment opportunities (alternatively known as tiny empty apartments)

Ali McGowanMarch 26th 2008.

Even fully refurbished it is of little architectural merit IMHO. I have nothing against buildings of that era but it's served its purpose now and hardly a beauty. Blow it up and take the horrendous orange flats next door with it ;)

alanMarch 26th 2008.

I like the massing of the building and the way it occupies a difficult corner by the canal and Aytoun Street. I also like the facade with its granite lower level and the big punched out windows. This whole area needs animating, if Afflecks had closed this building would have been a great replacement and brought in some genuine living activity to this rather dead part of the city. And Gavin, what a ridiculous statement. Papers, magazines, websites such as these provide a focus for people, draw their attention to parts of the city which we might never pass or are too busy to be curious about. I looked at the press info box at the top of the page here and given the figures stories like this must be read by lots of people - more than another bloody blog - and better written as well. And Gavin, the ultimate irony here is that you have read this and posted on here...which destroys your argument.

PedantMarch 26th 2008.

Sorry to be a muppet but Edward VII sort of died in 1910, think you mean Prince Eddy who abdicated as Edward VIII.Ardwick post office/sorting office is a very similar design. I wonder how long before that is deemed too post war?With the demolition of Granada will Manchester have anything left of the 1950s? Although in the instance of the MUSU Steve Biko building that was internally gutted to stunning effect.Perhaps all things are possible.

salforddaveMarch 26th 2008.

i remember signing on in that building round that back . it was depressing . a stark reminder of Thatchers Britian . I think it should stay but im sure it wont,

adeeMarch 26th 2008.

To tear down a perfectly attractive building and build another god awful glass tower would be really sad for manchester. A couple of glass towers set amoungst our historic buildings does appeal but they are going to far.

cheesenvinegarMarch 26th 2008.

How long before we're all wandering through Manchester city centre dwarfed by a series top-heavy shiny towers nobody can afford to live in interspersed with identikit branches of shops and bars, all misty-eyed remembering the (what have become)one-off gems that we're still lucky enough to have standing in this city? With a bit of love and, no doubt, conversion into flats, this building could have a new lease of life and will be a talking point for decades to come. Do we need another tower clad in weird terracotta panels? Will that make the cityscape more interesting? The Employment Exchange building and others like the Britains Protection, Palace hotel, Afflecks Palace are what makes Manchester distinct and memorable. Not distinct in a flashy looks-wibbly-wobbly-but-it-won't-fall-down kind of way (which I also think there's a place here for), but in terms of keeping alive some examples of what the city once looked like. A sense of what the city once was feeds directly the sense of what it is today. We can't just raze everything and start again or the city's going to look gaudy, suspiciously new and ultimately souless. 1930's utilitarian chic might not be up everybody's ginnell but surely we should keep it, even just to contrast with the spiky steel tower block that will eventually spring up next door? Ohhh, you'll miss it when it's gone, you mark my words.

ScottMarch 26th 2008.

I think it should stay, and be built upon. Look at the bottom of Mosley street facing the Town Hall, a nice old building, refurbished and now wioth a brand new tower appears from the top. Excellent, why not satisfy both arguments and repeat this ??

WayneMarch 26th 2008.

I like it. It just needs some love and affection and then it will be something right of its time that's interesting to look at rather than some identikit crap.

Anthony McCaulMarch 26th 2008.

I like it - and it will be a shame when it goes. Could have been refurbished and added to and been an asset. Lets see a bit more imagination from developers!

rinkydinkOctober 10th 2012.

It's not ugly at all. It could look amazing. Student Castle - now that is ugly

AnonymousJuly 22nd 2013.

To go from a five storey building to a 10 storey building seems excessive considering the scale of the other buildings on Aytoun. Yes the argument could be used that Piccadilly Place is next door but there's a road and canal separating the two so could be considered separately. Surely the planning for the building would at least try to keep the height of the building in line with the existing buildings.

MDJuly 22nd 2013.

What happened to progressive Manchester? Commenters on this site seem to want to preserve the city as some kind of monument to brick and asbestos. Move on folks, nothing to see here.

AnonymousJuly 22nd 2013.

I'm really going to miss this building. It is one of my favourite ones in the city. We just don't have many examples of architecture from that era left in Manchester anymore. It would be nice to preserve it and re-use it in some way, rather than demolish it and replace it with a mediocre, faceless development...

AnonymousJuly 22nd 2013.

If you all love it so much why did you not do something about it. I have been promised action on it for nearly 20 years. There was planning permission for an Ian Simson tower .. so last century but would have got plaudits no doubt in 2000 The proposal is not much good but better at least than the rats nest at the moment. Just to remind everyone Planning is not allowed to do aesthetics unless it's countryside. So one down (if it happens) and two to go: MMUs Aytoun building and the Old Fire Station The UMIST and the campus behind it. Meanwhile lets get the employment exchange knocked down and build a pavilion whlle we wait... and wait ,,,.and wait.

AnonymousJuly 22nd 2013.

It's too big, looks like just another building. Shame, they won't the most of the Exchange Building - Manchester's loss. Malmaison won't be chuffed? The back of both hotels will be facing each other, not much space on the street there.

AnonymousJuly 22nd 2013.

Dull and grey. Why it's even more important to save LRFS and why I am going to fundraiser at Soup Kitchen this Thursday and helped with art for their upcoming exhibition. We can't loose more and more and more. Manchester's designs are getting grim. 'Project Liberation'!

1 Response: Reply To This...
Marcus EadyJuly 24th 2013.

agree wholeheartedly - save LRFS!

Don AllwrightJuly 23rd 2013.

Very refreshing to see signed posts until the usual rash of 'Anonymouses' at the end. By the way the rather restrained Art Deco building should remain; it's unique and quite nice.

tblzebraJuly 23rd 2013.

Such a shame to let one of Manchester's few 1930s modernist-style buildings go.  On the canal side I love the curvy brick feature next to the tall glass-brick window - there are small round 'porthole' windows above. All very Streamline Moderne, 'Its architectural style emphasized curving forms, long horizontal lines, and, sometimes, nautical elements.'

Poster BoyJuly 24th 2013.

'Massing' doesn't exist in Manchester anymore. But in the 'real' world of commercial viability this is a building which it is very difficult to justify 'saving'...

Marcus EadyJuly 24th 2013.

get with it people, this building is a shed, it looks like a post war / eastern bloc dreary mess and its been a blot on Piccadilly's landscape for years! I'm more concerned why the council don't have the balls to force a compulsory purchase order on Britannia Hotels owner, Alex Langsam for letting the London Road Fire Station fall into disrepair! Now there is abuilding worth crying over.

3 Responses: Reply To This...
Adam PrinceJuly 24th 2013.

I agree (though on other Heritage campaigns too and not a fan of the ugly proposal and hope is not the final design from Dominvs and have emailed to say so)! Planning permission for LRFS expires this September. The Friends of LRFS I'm a member of are having an exhibition of art, photography, workshops from 22 - 25 Aug, and within a few weeks are releasing our vision competition for all ages and hoping to align with RIBA for a professional architecture and business competition in the autumn. Hope you can make the Soup Kitchen event Project Liberation tomorrow. (Now, I'll await the inevitable snide and sarcastic remarks from Poster Boy as per).

AnonymousJuly 25th 2013.

The council did try to do a compulsory purchase order but failed at huge expense.

Adam PrinceJuly 27th 2013.

Find out why here. Apart from a bias against our city the Council failed to engage public interest or the community. I wonder for how many issues history will repeat itself? www.mediafire.com/…/IRRV_Valuer_Journal_May_2013_-_CPOs_Listed_Buildings.pdf…

Manc GuyJuly 24th 2013.

I worked there for two years. It was a typical civil service deck-out. Big phones with bells, lots of filing cabinets and a cloud of cigarette smoke. I'd like to see it be re-invented. I see the Odeon/Paramount on Oxford Street is ready for demolition now. This place looks like an extensions to One St. Peter's Square. *sigh* landmarkmanchester.com/…

Dom77July 25th 2013.

Who has the right to say that a building has little architectural merit? People of past era's thought that the Victorian buildings we now cherish were of 'little architectural merit' and demolished them in favour of modernist sixties buildings. Every generation has a responsibility to preserve elements of architecture for future generations and whilst some may deem this as a poor example of the era; it's one of the only ones in Manchester of its kind and could be successfully developed without knocking it down and replacing it with generic hotel architecture of the 21st century. I'd love to see the original building retained and combined with a tower or modern addition - it happens all the time across Europe though seldom in the UK - shame.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousJuly 25th 2013.

I happens across most of Europe, Berlin is rebuilding it's lost buildings. Even most of the UK has cottoned on to the idea, sadly Manchester seems to be going the opposite way. It will be regretted, that much is guaranteed, but it is unlikely to stop any time in the near future. It's all all pretty depressing really.

VerbatimJuly 27th 2013.

Who is going to save all the modernist sixties buildings? People of this generation may view them as having little architectural merit but future generations may not.

Chris BamfordJuly 28th 2013.

There was a plan a few years ago, to retain it and to turn the Bridgewater Canal facing elevation into bars and restaurants. The existing building is a wreck, and the cost of the works didn't stack up. You could try to save this building, but private money would have nothing to do with it.

AnonymousJuly 31st 2013.

Just home from TORONTO, where they would make a better job on such a site..A tall tower could be built there, as once promised, whilst keeping a restored façade of the old building below..God, this city lacks vision and ambition....

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