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Beautiful MCR View v Ugly Pointless Blockage

Jonathan Schofield and the good, the bad and the lovely

Written by . Published on July 4th 2014.

Beautiful MCR View v Ugly Pointless Blockage

IT's all about the elaborate swagger of Manchester Town Hall on one side and the stern confidence of the Town Hall Extension on the other.

It's about the pair of bronze faced bridges linking the buildings, the nearest one in these pictures binding the older Council Chamber with the newer. 

The result of this clearing of clutter and this refinement of the surface has resulted in the creation of great British urban view. 

Manchester Town Hall and the Town Hall Extension have never been more happily married than after the recent urban improvements.

The Town Hall was designed by Alfred Waterhouse and completed in 1877. The Town Hall Extension was designed by Emanuel Vincent Harris and completed in 1938.  

The view again

The view again

By paving completely between the buildings, rather than leaving a tarmac stretch on Lloyd Street, the buildings seem to have been unified as part of a dynamic civic whole.

It's moving to see the effect the uniform pavement has lent the view here - although the old pavement around the Town Hall is still marked, it's in the same stone creating almost a seamless surface.

Clean lines and seamless uniformity

Clean lines and seamless uniformity

It gets better too.

The view down Lloyd Street under the elegant but monumental bridges frames three superb structures by a couple of big name architects. 

The first of these is Sir Edwin Lutyens' Cenotaph originally erected in 1924 to mark the grief of the First World War and now marking the grief of all subsequent conflicts imvolving Britain.

Behind the Cenotaph are glimpses of Charles Barry's Manchester Institution for the Promotion of Science, Literature and the Arts (1835) and his Athenaeum (1837), both now part of Manchester Art Gallery. 

Lutyen's Cenotaph and Barry's Art Gallery and Atheneaum

Lutyen's Cenotaph and Barry's Art Gallery and Athenaeum

Lutyens' designed India's New Delhi parliamentary buildings in the 1920s, Barry designed the Houses of Parliament in London in the 1840s. The mighty sub-continent and the former colonial power are fleetingly re-united in this view.

You have to hope the shifting of the Cenotaph across St Peter's Square was deliberately engineered to provide focus at the end of Lloyd Street.

Although if it were a happy accident then no matter, the result of this clearing of clutter and this refinement of the surface between the Town Hall and the Town Hall Extension has resulted in the creation of a great British urban view. It also gives the Cenotaph a far better location then it previously had in Manchester. It's accidentally arrived in the right place.

Charles Barry's winning entry for the Manchester Institution carried the Latin motto 'Nihil Pulchrum Nisi Utile' or 'nothing beautiful unless useful'. It fits this view snugly.

Harris's bronze bridge kisses Waterhouse's Town Hall at the Council Chamber levelHarris's bronze bridge kisses Waterhouse's Town Hall at the Council Chamber level

Bear that motto in mind and bear in mind the phrase 'clearing of clutter' and then weep to see how just on the other side of The Town Hall Extension a view has been vandalised. What the council give with one hand they take with the other at Library Walk.

We can begin to see how Confidential and other campaigners were right to regard the glass blob designed by Ian Simpson Architects (ISA) as a ghastly and pointless intrusion in a much loved soft caress of an urban space.  

Blob in the middle

Blob in the middle

Confidential calls it Sir Richard Leese's Folly after the City Council Leader's intransigence in the face of criticism over the structure: and because of the ludicrous cost of £3.5m.

The architects involved have also betrayed their principles.

Barry's Latin motto could have been used as a motto by so many of the International Modern architects so revered by ISA and others. But it's been ignored here, instead florid artifice has been imposed where none were needed.

The pointlessness of the whole exercise in 'needing' to link the two buildings at this level is shown in the video below. The Central Library and The Town Hall Extension are joined by a three car wide gap at basement level. There are good lifts to get people up and down.

Building works associated with the glass blob currently block the three car wide access between Central Library and The Town Hall Extension and even then a smaller side door is adequate

Building works associated with the glass blob currently block the three car wide access between Central Library and The Town Hall Extension and even then a smaller side door is adequate

The video shows how it takes less than two minutes to walk from the entrance of one building on St Peter's Square to the entrance of the other on Mount Street.

Another uncomfortable truth for the blockage has become apparent as the Library Walk blob grows. On the CGIs it looked like a light filled, almost invisible, barrier. In reality the way light and shade falls here hasn't been kind to the Library Walk intrusion.

It turns black - unless there's some element yet to be revealed that we haven't seen. Being so dark makes it resemble a particularly big and very dowdy bus-stop. The world's most expensive bus-stop. 

Bright and happy in CGI land


Bright and happy in CGI land

Dark and dim in realityDark and dim in reality

But why should we care?

It's only a little thing.

We should care because despite hundreds of legitimate citizen objections clearly articulated and presented to the council over the destruction of this much loved space the council has refused to listen. We should care because the level of cost at £3.5m is not justified by what's been delivered.

Of course, decisions have to be made by councils, bold ones on occasion, but the dismissiveness of Manchester in this particular case, especially after a perfunctory planning meeting, smells wrong. Stinks.

It's no surprise that in October the Council are facing a public enquiry into whether they acted legally over the stopping up order for Library Walk. Good work by the Friends of Library Walk here.

Despite the doubts about Library Walk it remains a fact that the Lloyd Street view east towards Manchester Art Gallery is wonderful.

It's just a shame that we couldn't have two stately civic routes and vistas here rather than one. 

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

Img_7878Under the bridges down Lloyd Street way

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

Ghostly TomJuly 4th 2014.

Lloyd Street is shaping up to becoming one of the most beautiful streets in the city with The Cenotaph at one end and those two elegant bridges spanning it. Add a canal and it could be Venice. I hope they stop cars parking on it. But Library Walk is shaping up to be a monumental disaster. The Central Library and Town Hall Extension really shouldn't work together, they are different styles and different materials. But they do because of the dramatic, architectural tension created by Library Walk. Joining them with this glass box has ruined the tension by connecting they two buildings very unsuccessfully while the original Town Hall and the THE were connected in a way that was genius. In 80 or so years when they are upgrading the library again to take into account whatever the technology is then, they will look at what has been done and and say 'what the **** were they thinking?'

AnonymousJuly 4th 2014.

it seems a bit pointless, given that the Library and the Town Hall are already joined via the basement, which is perfectly adequate in terms of linking the two buildings and their respective functions, and is in some ways more satisfying that some short cut greenhouse. I sometimes think Manchester Council are a bit like the Chinese Politburo with their one party state style of 'socialist capitalism'. They know what is good for us and they just force it through irrespective of any protest. Forget democracy beyond a token vote every few years. Their slash and burn policies with regard to architecture have become a motif. Perhaps St Peter's can be renamed Tiananmen Square.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousJuly 4th 2014.

I look forward to standing in front of a tank the next time the council tries to vandalise another part of Manchester like this. And to thing they have money to ruin this beautiful space and nothing to sort out the mess in Piccadilly Gardens. The latest is the Children's playground up again the Queen Victoria statue. No objection to a playground but next to the statue? Appropriate placing? I think not...

AnonymousJuly 4th 2014.

I take it you're not amused.

AdrianJuly 6th 2014.

Hear hear. Sometimes it seems that the people who are entrusted to look after our civic buildings are the least architecturally minded and shouldn't be trusted near a brick outhouse.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Twizzer88July 11th 2014.

Or, indeed, a brick Oasthouse.

Geoffrey EntwistleJuly 6th 2014.

I'm waiting to see if people still praise the cenotaph move after the 4 platform Metrolink station is built nearby.

1 Response: Reply To This...
GimboidJuly 6th 2014.

Considering it will actually be a lot further from the new platforms than the previous arrangement, I'd say that they will.

SoapysudsJuly 6th 2014.

Manchester City Council's reply, to the criticism of it being a waste of public money is: '(Rather than respond to such an emotive subject), why not consider the impact of not providing a Link in Library Walk?' As pointed out in another comment, they are already connected via the basement. 'Manchester City Council is committed to offering access to all its Services across the Town Hall Extension and Central Library. This requires a physical link between the buildings at ground floor level. If a link is not provided between the two buildings the Council would have to duplicate Service delivery in the Town Hall Extension and Central Library.' I do not understand that last bit, other Cities have their Central Libraries totally separated from their Town Halls. And the Central Library should be providing a totally separate service, to that provided by the Town Hall. As for English Heritage, they have proven themselves, time after time, not-fit-for-purpose.

AnonymousJuly 6th 2014.

Bit of a pointless video there Jonathan. Surely the point of the glass building is about notionally connecting two buildings that now have an integrated service offer as well as creating a convenient, covered and easily identified link between the two. People will innately take the most direct route between two points and are more likely to do so if that route can be clearly visualised - these are basic tenets of good urban design. Many people questioned why Selfridges spent a fortune reducing the amount of floor space in order to insert an atrium into their stores in Manchester and London - people could have still used the existing escalators and lifts to get around the store, but clearly doing this influences people's perceptions and behaviour to such an extent that it made commercial sense. In the same way, it is reasonable to assume that an improved link will influence how people use and access public services in the new combined town hall and library complex. All that said, I am not a fan of the design of the building, I think it looks poor and incongruous and should have been the result of a competition. But I absolutely believe that some sort of entrance / link structure is needed here.

22 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousJuly 6th 2014.

As a post script to that, the Library Walk building is essentially about service provision rather than architecture. In reality it should be about both. Right idea, wrong design IMO (but will reserve judgement until it is complete).

Ghostly TomJuly 8th 2014.

There's a perfectly acceptable entrance to the library on St. Peter's Square and a perfectly acceptable entrance to the Town Hall on Mount Street. Both have been used for generations successfully. There was no need for a new entrance to either which also has ruined one of the most attractive spaces in the city at a great deal of unnecessary expense.

AnonymousJuly 8th 2014.

2 entrances to two separate buildings; we will have one entrance to what is effectively one building. Makes sense to me.

AnonymousJuly 9th 2014.

@anonymous2... There are two buildings with two different functions with two different entrances. If I want to read a book I use one, if I want to pay my council tax I will use the other. They are not one building. People will use the old entrances and the glass intrusion will be only used as a passage way from St Peter's Square to Mount Street. It is an unnecessary entrance built at great expense with is entirely surplus to requirements. They did something similar with the Art Gallery and people continue, mostly, to use the original entrance on Moseley Street.

AnonymousJuly 9th 2014.

They are not separate buildings though. You need to look at the layout of the library. You also need to ask yourself would you be more or less likely to use more than one service if the link weren't there and you didn't have a specific and pre-planned visit. Human nature dictates that you would be less likely to do so.

AnonymousJuly 9th 2014.

How many people a day require a sheltered direct shortcut from Manchester's council offices to the library?

AnonymousJuly 11th 2014.

If I needed to visit both buildings on the same day I would use both of them and use their separate entrances. When I go shopping and want to visit, say Selfridges and Harvey Nichols, I don't expect an underground link or a great greenhouse blocking New Cathedral Street to get me from one to the other. I'm perfectly capable of going from one to the other without a link and, not being a witch from Oz, I won't melt in the rain as I pass from one store to another. This blockage was totally unnecessary and expensive.

AnonymousJuly 12th 2014.

But you're talking about specific, pre-planned needs - of course a link won't make much difference. Doesn't alter the fact that most visitors would still be more likely to visit the other half of the complex with a convenient and obvious link in place. It's simple human nature and its partly why Selfridges gouged a massive hole in their shop floors to put an atrium in.

AnonymousJuly 12th 2014.

Also if you're not familiar with the buildings, like most people, you would benefit from a clear, intuative, single, central entrance. That, I think, is what the new link provides too.

AnonymousJuly 13th 2014.

They always have been and, inspite of this unnecessary entrance, remain two distinct buildings with different purposes. The new 'link' does nothing to add to the buildings. It does, however, ruin Library Walk and destroys an elegant space. Selfridges built the atrium to improve their building. They didn't wreak a nearby street to forge an unnecessary link to another building that didn't need a link in the first place. The destruction of Library Walk has been an act of wanton vandalism foisted upon the city by some very arrogant people.

AnonymousJuly 13th 2014.

The clear intuitive entrance to Central Library is the enormous classical portico facing St Peter's Square. Anyone looking at the building and not knowing it will head for that and not the peculiar glass box thing. The only way the glass box will be the entrance will be if they block off the portico entrance. Do you think that's what they intend to do?!!

AnonymousJuly 13th 2014.

The portico is fine for the library, less so for a unified complex offering complementary services. The simple fact remains that as humans we are less likely to visit somewhere if the route is not clear and convenient. The new link vastly improves accessibility on both those scores.

AnonymousJuly 13th 2014.

Selfridges built the atrium for the exact same reasons. If there is a business case for the (admittedly ugly) link building it would be based on the same principles of behavioural economics and, in this case, the consumption of public services rather than products sold.

AnonymousJuly 13th 2014.

The simple fact remains that these Rs two separate buildings for two separate purposes. Each has a perfectly usable entrance. If a human doesn't want to visit a building they won't do so. If they do they will find the entrance. These two buildings are not complementary. One is for borrowing books,the other is for doing business with the council. The new link is a unnecessary, expensive intrusion into a once beautiful space. People coped with the two entrances for 80 years, another third entrance is surplus to requirements. People will use it to get from St. Peter's Square to Mount Street as they have been doing for the last 80 years, they will just have the inconvenience of pushing open two sets of doors to do so. Selfridges built the atrium to open the building up not to link it to something completely random with which it has no possible need to connect. The nearest analogy would be the atrium and entrances to the Art Gallery. The connection between the three building was needed but people still use the impressive Moseley Street portico entrance and not the doors to the atrium. The Art Gallery needed that link, it has a purpose and works well. The Library Walk carbuncle has no real use and is an unnecessary waste of money while ruining a beautiful space.

AnonymousJuly 13th 2014.

This is going round in circles. But the premise of your argument is wrong. Have a look at the floor plans for the library. It's services do (or will) extend into the town hall extension at ground floor level. Then there is the principle of removing barriers to the provision of services. The plain fact is that people are more likely to access a building and it's services if there is a clear, obvious and user friendly route between two points. In that respect the correct analogy is Selfridges atrium which on first appearances looks like a frivilous waste of time and money - why reduce deliberately the size of your sales floors when there were already perfectly adequate and plentiful means of accessing the different departments. But they understand that doing so improves the perception of the journey between the different floor making it seem less onerous. It also helps improve orientation and perceptions of space. It's a nuanced argument that requires understanding of human nature but it is important because in the case of Selfridges it clearly made commercial sense. The same principle applies to consumption of public services and unifying two important buildings now providing a unified and complementary service offer.

AnonymousJuly 13th 2014.

You have missed the point entirely. The link in Library Walk is a totally unnecessary, expensive project that has ruined a beautiful space . It's an act of vandalism that has been perpetrated by some very arrogant people who, in spite of stiff opposition from many people in the city and not having done all the necessary paperwork before it was stated have had it built. The comparison with Selfridges doesn't hold water. What a commercial enterprise does to enhance the interior of their building to maximise profit is their own affair. Good luck to them. Selfridges didn't build a link to a completely business and block a public right of way. If people need to find their way from one part of this forced arranged marriage of a building, a few signs dotted about the place would have worked just as well. And at a tiny fraction of the cost. The link is an appalling mistake and I look forward to some future generation removing it in the next refurb the buildings need. Are you the architect or one of the people who sanctioned this misguided project?

AnonymousJuly 13th 2014.

...and the link doesn't enhance the journey through the building, it degrades the experience...

AnonymousJuly 13th 2014.

I have absolutely nothing to do with the council or the project team. No vested interest whatsoever. But I am interested in urban design and how cities work for people. You are very passionate about Library Walk - good for you. But it is clear that this passion prevents you from looking at the situation objectively, ignoring the many valid reasons for the link and preferring instead to frame the entire issue from an architectural viewpoint. Cities are not just buildings and spaces but the facilities and amenity they provide. As I have said before, this is not just about architecture, this is crucially about service provision. A library provides educational, cultural and social functions; the town hall extension mainly functional customer service orientated functions as well as part of the library. A few signs would have little impact on people's choices and behaviour as most people already know about the function of the two buildings. But visits to the library are mainly discretionary; those to the town hall less so. People already know about the their respective roles but if you make the journey from one to the other easier and more attractive you increase the use and impact of both. Human nature.

AnonymousJuly 13th 2014.

This so called piece of architecture has failed already. It has ruined a much loved space in the city to create a completely unnecessary link between two buildings that, apart from being next to each other, do not share a purpose at all. Far from creating flow, for some of the time it is going to impede movement through the area. And why? So some people might want to borrow and book and pay council tax on the same day? Well we have being doing that through existing entrances for 80 years and we have never needed a third entrance. Not only has it ruined a beautiful space it has done so a great expense in a time when the city is supposed to be strapped for cash. Money that would have be better spent on keeping open suburban libraries, doing something with the mess that is Piccadilly Gardens to name but two. That link will not increase the number of people who will use these buildings by one person. They will still go to the library to borrow and book or pay. Own il tax in the Town Hall If that's what they need to do. They will have done that through the existing entrances. The third one is a monumental mistake on so many levels. If people need to visit both they will have found a way without having to use this completely unnecessary expensive carbuncle.

AnonymousJuly 13th 2014.

And if you claim to be interested in urban design it is beyond me that you could find any redeeming features in this misconceived project.

AnonymousJuly 14th 2014.

You're repeating yourself. And increasingly clutching at straws. So I will introduce a well worn cliche of my own: let's agree to disagree.

AnonymousJuly 14th 2014.

Your position is completely untenable. All you comments have been about how wonderful this link is and that it is needed because people aren't intelligent enough to borrow and book or pay council tax in two buildings without having an unnecessary, as it says in the title of this article, 'ugly pointless blockage'. The vandalism done to Library Walk far out weighs the need for the odd random visitor to the area to find their way in. It is an ill conceived project that should never have been allowed off the drawing board. Read the rest of the posts on this thread. I have net seen any that support this badly designed unnecessary blockage. The perfection that was Library Walk should have come before the need for some confused person who has failed to notice the portico on St Peter's Square metres away from the new link. Maybe you would like to reconsider your position? And I'm not the one clutching at staws, many people, like on this forum agree with my position. It is your position that is untenable shared only by the few people who sanctioned this ill conceived scheme.

James SmithJuly 6th 2014.

MCC's answer to everything, destroy it. People use it as a toilet at night - block it off. It's a dubious gay club - knock it down. The dodgy area of canal - fence it off. The shabeen in the 60's - knock it down, that'll stop people dealing weed. Huge successes, all of them. Don't ask why the things happen, don't think about how to deal with them, don't listen to other opinions - just floor it or make it out of reach -we know best. Wonderful, just wonderful.

James SmithJuly 6th 2014.

Suppose thankfully it's not Salford, their solution would be - knock down the library.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Trouble at t'millJuly 8th 2014.

...and sell the land to Peel.

Peter CastreeJuly 6th 2014.

I agree with every word of this article. The full horror of what is being done to Library Walk is now becoming apparent. All along, the discussion has mainly centred on whether Library Walk is a valued short cut for pedestrians rather than on the architectural merit of the space as part of the magnificent grouping of civic buildings of which it is a part. The disastrous effect of the link building on the overall design is now obvious for all to see.

AnonymousJuly 6th 2014.

Genuine question - how have they designed the rainwater drainage from the roof of the new link building?

AnonymousJuly 7th 2014.

The most amazing thing about Leese's Folly is how they've managed to make a few pieces of glass look so spectacularly ugly.

SmittyJuly 7th 2014.

Lloyd Street is looking absolutely stunning with the addition of the Cenotaph at the end. And it looks like it really will be a gorgeous space when the whole area is finished. But my god, that monstrosity on Library Walk. Couldn't agree more with the article. How something as hideous as it looked in the CGI representation has actually ended up looking uglier in the flesh is remarkable. I was at the tram at St Peter's sq the other week, saw it from the platform and actually had my breath taken away by its sheer ugliness. Hopefully, in the future, someone will recognise the mistake that's been made. I just hope the vandalism that's been done to the fabric of both Central Library and the Town Hall Extension can be reversed.

4 Responses: Reply To This...
BelfJuly 7th 2014.

One can only hope that someone in English Heritage grows some balls, forms a militant breakaway faction and pays a night time visit with a sack of half bricks.

SmittyJuly 9th 2014.

haha, the rest of your nickname has to be "ast", Belf, with a suggestion like that!

BelfJuly 9th 2014.

I'm not sure citizens of Belfast would appreciate the implication, Smitty.

SmittyJuly 10th 2014.

I'm right through, aren't i :-)

Manci DoodleJuly 7th 2014.


SAZKJuly 7th 2014.

Reminds me of those huge revolving doors used at shopping centres *shudder*

AnonymousJuly 8th 2014.

Lloyd street went for beauty over practicality. Having the same coloured paving for both road and pavement causes issues for those of poor sight. The black dots are supposed to mark out the edge of the pavement and are particularly useful during rain or at night.

Peter CoppingJuly 12th 2014.

It's called flogging a dead horse.

AnonymousJuly 12th 2014.

There is an official inquiry into the Library Walk fiasco scheduled for the 21st of October 2014. Feel free to email caroline.baylis@pins.gsi.gov.uk about it. Their ref. FPS/B4215/5/9.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousJuly 13th 2014.

Prob helpful to read this first friendsoflibrarywalk.wordpress.com/…

AnonymousJuly 14th 2014.

That glass structure would be an ideal location for a sorely needed burger restaurant in Manchester.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousJuly 15th 2014.

Or maybe a chain coffee shop, it's next to impossible to find one of those....

AnonymousJuly 21st 2014.

In an email today from Friends of Library Walk: I hope this finds you enjoying the Summer. Things may have seemed quiet but behind the scenes we have been trawling through Manchester Councils submission to the Public Inquiry into the Stopping Up of Library Walk. It contains a plethora of controversial assertions and we are now working on our response. This is a chance to make it clear to an independent inquiry why the carbuncle on Library Walk is so wrong. The Inquiry itself is October 21st and 22nd but we need to submit a robust written statement by 12th August so have organised a public meeting with our legal experts. The meeting is NEXT MONDAY 28th JULY 6pm in Seminar Room 3:01 in the New Business School at MMU (next to All Saints Park). Please note this is a change of venue and is fully accessible, there is a lift to the 3rd Floor. Everyone who supports our aims is welcome to attend. The briefing will include colleagues from the Open Spaces Society and Manchester Modernist Society and other interested parties. Please join us if you are able to act as a witness for Friends of Library Walk, want to make your own representations at the inquiry (we can make sure we all have the most up to date information) or you have any information that could be useful. We will offer you as much support as possible to make sure your voice is heard. If you can’t attend the meeting but would like to be a witness or contribute in some other way to our case please get in touch with me as soon as possible so your views can be taken into account. Thanks to everyone who has already come forward, it is very much appreciated. For more information please contact savelibrarywalk@gmail.com or call/ text 07974929589 You can also find “save library walk” On facebook and if you tweet please use #savelibrarywalk

1 Response: Reply To This...
AdamJuly 21st 2014.

Other than the mobile in post, I imagine the above is fine!!! Will be great to go to the public hearing on 21st & 22nd October. The arrogant, out of touch nature of the leaders in this city needs urgent insight and realisations. Wake up the imagination, transparency and ability to work with REAL people - no matter if they agree 100% or not. That is called diplomacy, measured wisdom and insight, with which this would never have happened. (And yes this post is a non party broadcast as think the main three/four are all tools and the remnants are generally a waste also). Really time someone did better in that 'democratic seat' of Mancunia!

moragJuly 23rd 2014.

Thanks to whichever anonymous posted the library walk email, we are working really hard to put together a robust case for the inquiry and anyone who wants to contribute to the evidence is very welcome. Although it is primarily about the right of way at this stage the architectural merit and heritage value are valid grounds for objection. Library Walk is a special place, and the campaign has highlighted many other issues around "consultation" and we have not given up yet. Thanks so much to everyone for their support and interest, Morag

moragAugust 7th 2014.

hello everyone, just a quick reminder if you want to speak at the inquiry in october you must submit a statement of case to the planning inspectorate by next Tuesday, August 12th. If you need any more information or want to comment on the friends statement please get in touch, email savelibrarywalk@gmail.com Thanks very much

AnonymousSeptember 2nd 2014.

The paving on Lloyd Street already has chewing gum blobs and tyre marks spoiling the effect.

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