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Old bones, new roots

Jonathan Schofield finds out about plans for re-positioning Chetham’s School of Music

Written by . Published on May 10th 2007.

Old bones, new roots

Just because buildings are old they don’t necessarily deserve to survive if a better plan comes along. This is the case with the Palatine Building on the bit of Deansgate which becomes Victoria Street, before it disappears under the railway viaducts at the MEN Arena. Built by a minor architect in the 1840s everybody involved in the initial construction would be astonished to find it still standing.

Chetham’s School of Music uses the Palatine Building as classrooms and as Claire Hickman, the Principal of the School told Confidential, “it’s useless, not fit for purpose as they say, we desperately need new space. And at the same time we can revitalize an area of the city centre and do something for this important historical site.”

Some people might not know of Chetham’s. It’s a school for around 290 talented kids between eight and eighteen years of age and takes in boarders and day pupils. The children are virtuoso when it comes to music and the school’s reputation is such that it falls into one of those few Manchester institutions which are world-class. It’s not just for posh kids either as most of the pupils are funded through burseries. With the Royal Northern College of Music, Chetham’s makes Manchester a national centre of excellence for musical tuition.

Chetham’s College and Library date from 1421. If they were in York they’d get 150,000 visitors a year. We bet most of our readers have never ventured in.

The ramshackle facilities at Chetham’s put that at risk which is why the School proposes to partially relocate to an area directly in front of Victoria Station. This is presently a grassy bank of un-mown herbage, scruffy plane trees and litter.

The architectural practice which has drawn up the plans is Stephenson Bell. Their brief was ‘to create a unique contemporary building for the musical and academic teaching facilities, providing a state-of-the-art environment which will be a fitting platform for the students.’ In otherwords, exactly what the Palatine Building doesn’t do at present.

There’ll also be a 400 capacity public auditorium which will allow Chetham’s students to display their talents. It’ll also be open for use by other groups and performers too. Artists’ impressions show an impressive and fluid black/grey building. The overall shape gives the project a certain musical movement.

The shoddy, tiny green space that would be consumed by this building would be more than adequately replaced by a landscaped area on the site of the Palatine Building. It would do something else too.

The jewels in Manchester’s architectural heritage are the old College buildings and the Library here. These date from 1421 and have been described as the best range of medieval secular buildings in the North. If they were in York they’d get 150,000 visitors a year. Confidential will profile these buildings at a later date, but suffice to say that while Chetham’s Library is open to the public every weekday we bet most of our readers have never ventured in. Get down there if you haven’t been, you’re missing a treat. A free treat.

The demolition of the Palatine Building would allow a view up to these ancient buildings. It would give a hint, now masked, of how the sandstone bluff under the library formerly dominated the local landscape, raised as it was above the confluence of the Rivers Irwell and Irk. It would show just why the Saxons and maybe earlier settlers chose this area as a naturally defensible site. It’s here where the Manchester we know began, not at the Roman fort a mile away which had been abandoned for centuries.

Everybody benefits with these proposals.

The new buildings look as though they would give life to the dead area in front of Victoria Station whilst the cleared site would show us how the city developed. One green space would be exchanged for another that people might want to use.

Seems like a plan as they say.

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JamesMay 10th 2007.

Absolutely whole heartedly agree with Neil on this. Something needs to be done.

NeilMay 10th 2007.

Fair enough they need more space but the photo of how it will look is truely awful! What is happening to our city? It's becoming a mess of tall glass and metal structures with too much anytown orange brick being used as the famous Manchester red brick is costing too much to transport from Scotland. Not sure if you've abandoned your old Civic Society role Jonathan but more needs doing to save our old buildlngs. Have a look at the plans for Castlefield - the only area of the city centre tourists actually still visit. My father is chairman of a high profile construction company in Manchester and he always moans that the council can put more pressure on developers to produce more beautiful buildings than the cheap square boxes they have no responsibility for after they've sold.

nerdMay 10th 2007.

The Palatine Hotel building is of major importance - both as part of an important Victorian townscape composition (the neighbouring tower and west end of the Cathedral being the work of the same architect) and in its own right as the earliest surviving railway commercial hotel in teh world. Pevsner rightly said that the modern hotel developed out of English railway hotels of the 1840s - in particular the conjuntion of the older European genteel hotel tradition (which failed in its translation to railway uses at Fleetwood and Bristol), with transatlatic hotel designs of the 1820s. It is therefore highly significant that the developer of the Palatine Hotel picked architects (the Holden brothers) who had practiced for 20 years in Philadelphia. And apart from designing the new cathedral tower, the Holdens - together and separately - contributed many other major buildings to this city, such as the Market Hall at Smithfield, St Peter Blossom Street, and a number of early Italianate warehouses in Chinatown. They are by no means minor architects.The original modern hotel - in the original modern city. Under no circumstances should it be allowed to be demolished.

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