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Build us up

Jonathan Schofield meets HKR’s Phil Doyle and Jon Matthews: an occasional column on Manchester architects

Written by . Published on October 17th 2007.

Build us up

Architects and designers think of themselves as the funky creatives of the industrial world, a micrometer screw-gauge measurement away from being artists. A artistic temperament is the only explanation for HKR architect, Jon Matthews’ shirt – pictured here. Or it might just say something about the ebullient character of him and his colleague and buddy Phil Doyle.

Oldham-born Doyle and Bolton-born Matthews are Manchester’s architectural double-act: down to earth, funny and yet very serious about their work. Their path to running the thirty strong Manchester office of Irish-owned HKR revolves around alcohol.

“We drank about ten pints of Landlord bitter down at Sam’s Chophouse, one night,” says Matthews. “We knew we had our own ideas and during that drunken occasion we decided to follow that up and set up on our own. Then, out of the blue an opportunity came through friends of friends who’d started HKR in Dublin and they asked us if we wanted to create a business in Manchester. Of course we did.”

“Before that we’d worked in London before coming back to work for Sheppard Robson in Manchester,” says Doyle. “I’d interviewed Jon for a job there. Within thirty seconds it was like we’d been together for years...professionally speaking of course. It was only a matter of time before we went on our own.”

So what are they working on?

“Chancery Place, off King Street, will be the first building we complete,” says Doyle. “It’s an office building and unusually for an office there is quite a bit of architecture in there. I was quite taken aback the other night because somebody said it was going to be Manchester’s gherkin.”

For ‘quite a bit of architecture in there’ read quality product, not cheapest option bilge. It’s pleasant to see people thinking big – as long as it comes off. Manchester will wait and judge upon delivery. But the sleek design as pictured looks promising even if there are concerns about the scale of the building on this tightly packed site.

Two other buildings which will also make a big impression on the Manchester street-scene are Axis, on the empty corner site at the end of Deansgate Locks, and The Hive. Axis will complete the view down Lower Mosley Street from St Peter’s Square, whilst Hive will inject life back into Lever Street. The latter’s going to be especially interesting.

“The Hive is an office development in the Northern Quarter with Argent as the developer,” says Matthews. “It’s going to be the most energy efficient speculative office block in the North. We’re trying to strip back the mystique of what that means and design simple, low-tech buildings which use significantly less energy than typical office buildings. The Hive is aimed at the creative industries with flexible units and lower rents than buildings in the central hub of the city. With that in mind we really wanted to plug it into the context of the city, its history and its present. Partly we’ll do this through artworks – one of which will be the largest piece of public art in Manchester on a building.”

And away from their own buildings what do they think are the best new structures in the city? For Matthews it’s, “the recently completed Civil Justice Centre: the best building I’ve seen in years. Staggering.”

For Doyle: “I’m going to pick two. The first would be Urbis, it might not work on the inside, but outside it’s a fantastic jewel. The second is North City Library by Walker Simpson in Harpurhey, which is both good looking and works well.”

Time will tell whether any of HKR’s new buildings will be on the favourite lists of other Manchester architects. Doyle and Matthews seem determined that that will be the case. By combining originality with flair, and a taste for real ale, they might be on to something.

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