Grim stained crappy 1960s Elisabeth House is to be replaced by a shiny sheen of Modernism from Glenn Howells Architects.
The project, known as One St Peter’s Square, was won in competition ahead of FLACQ, Stanton Williams and Austin-Smith:Lord. It sits in a hugely important position opposite Central Library.
Glenn Howells, the architect, described the project in the Architects Journal: “as probably the most significant building north of Birmingham.” Shy lad our Mr Howells.
Here are the hard facts.
The new building will be a commercial office scheme overlooking St Peter’s Square for the Greater Manchester Property Venture Fund and Argent. It will house a ‘mix of uses’ including a gallery, restaurant and shops at street level. It will be 14 storeys high and will provide a vast 350,000sq ft of commercial space with a completion date of 2012.
He went on to say: “We want to create an elegant building, with a long life and that will not look like it was built in 2012. We want to make it look effortless. We also thought it was inappropriate for it to be louder than the other buildings around it.”
He’s achieved three things here.
First off, the building has elegance. It looks lighter than it is with stone-clad vertical columns heavy on the lower floors turning narrow beyond that, and then recessed upper floors with the square on shape continued by corner piers to the crest of the building. A bit of trickery involving heavier horizontals every couple of floors deceives the viewer into thinking the building is not as tall as it otherwise might appear.
Secondly, the building isn’t ‘louder’ than the three classic older structures here, the Midland Hotel, the Central Library and the Town Hall Extension. It has architectural good manners and defers to the flamboyance or grandeur of the others. It also sort of matches in shade with Peter House on the one side and Century House (although it crushes the latter in scale) on the other and Central Library across the Square. There’s a slight echo of the Library portico in that lower floor as well.
Thirdly Glenn Howells is right it doesn't 'look like it was built in 2012'. It looks like it might have been built in 1959 instead. This is a very International Modern design.
A downside is the sheer bulk of the structure. In the imaging it looks light, but will something far taller than Central Library feel like that in reality? Its bulk as it turns into Oxford Street is even more of a problem especially as here it seems to lose the finesse of the St Peter's Square facade.
A further doubt lies over its subtlety - except in scale. The Midland, Central Library and the Town Hall Extension are all 'me, me, me' buildings and they are all more or less on one side of St Peter's Square. Maybe something more demonstrative was necessary on this side of the space to deliver exuberant balance. Let's just hope the restrained nature of the design wasn't deemed necessary to try and ease its passage through planning.That would have been cowardice.
The Confidential verdict is generally a thumbs up.
Glenn Howells Architects is a top practice: a quick look at Timber Wharf, a class piece of work in Castlefield-cum-St Georges-cum-Hulme (wherever it is now) will underline this. The only concerns are about the building's sheer bulk and whether being so polite in tone is right for such a key location.
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