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Phil Griffin loves Abito

Quayside development is a hit

Published on February 19th 2010.

Phil Griffin loves Abito

There is a 1200 sq metre sail over Dock 6 at Salford Quays. Which is the biggest sail ever seen on this waterfront. You can’t miss it if you’re approaching Trafford Road Bridge from Chester Road. It is a vast white rigid PVC canopy that encloses the internal court of the new Abito apartment development. First generation Abito is on Greengate by the Irwell in Salford. These are one bed studio apartments in which the house-proud may fold their bed away, with or without duvet. The concept (as it was probably called at the time) was out of the hyperactive brain of highly individual development consultant Les Lang. He got together with Ask Developments and architects BDP to build out his idea. Greengate was a hit, and the new Salford Quays building is a refinement.

These are some of the best apartments I’ve seen at this price

The building is a ziggurat rising to 12 storeys looking onto Dock 6 and La Pinta, houseboat of John Wassal and Liz Pugh who run Walk the Plank, pyrotechnics, theatre and events company. Also, a slightly sinister looking boat that looks as though it might have made its way here from the Mekong Delta, and is centre of operations for Paul Astill, interiors man of the moment, having designed the new Cord and Apotheca in the Northern Quarter. I mention this because I get the strong feeling that something is going to happen down here on the waterfront. Abito is the most original residential development at the Quays. It has loads of character and is a true original. The Quays is beginning to look alternative.

There are 290 apartments, of which 6 have two bedrooms and roof terraces. The one beds are 347 sq ft, and prices start at £90K. They all have balconies. For the record, and for those not hobbled by the credit crunch, two beds are 694 sq ft with the same sized terrace. That’s 1388 sq ft in all, and yours for around £220K. These are some of the best apartments I’ve seen at this price. The put-me-up studios have a vaguely nautical cabin-like feel. The first tenant to move in a short while ago tells me he loves it, “Except I don’t think I could share it with a partner. On my own, it’s perfect. (I notice he leaves his trainers on the doormat outside) And a 4 minute tram ride into town”. From Exchange Quay, which is just across the road.

There are two floors of car parking above ground, which means that even the flats on the lowest level get some elevation. If your balcony looks over the water, you're quids in. As with Abito Greengate, even the balconies get a rhythm going, especially on the long side elevations here, where they are staggered in time with the roof line. You enter the building through enormous bespoke steel gates (actually, bespoke for the Greengate building, but working just as well here). You can take the lift, or climb the double height steps that deliver you into the enclosed courtyard.

If you avert your eyes from the rather unfortunate concierge / sales office (a late addition with none of the building’s qualities) and daft potted palms, you are in a quite spectacular show case of ‘eighties minimalism, coloured lighting a la neon artist Dan Flavin, box like qualities of sculptor Sol LeWitt. The real art rises before you, a brave and very successful installation by Salford student Craig Need. He was runner up in a competition for art at Greengate. Les Lang gave him a direct commission, and a generous budget for his piece here. I looks like a supply line of coloured car doors, tethered to the lift core on wires.

This huge interior space is effectively open air, below the sail canopy. The atmosphere is alfresco. The glass balustraded decks take you to your front door. The whole effect is a kind of understated chic. These are apartments for people who cant walk past Urban Outfitters, or else couldn’t give a toss. I’ve a feeling that one or two of the two bed apartments with their large terraces may in time go to reluctant BBC migrant workers from nearby MediaCity. A caution to any recalcitrant Chelsea fans (or indeed Mark Radcliff, should he ever want to relocate from rural Cheshire): they do have quite generous bonus views of the Theatre of Dreams.

Project architect James Birkin and his colleagues at BDP have successfully refreshed an already impressive offer. What is good at Greengate, is even better at Salford Quays (not that that devalues the earlier development). Abito brings something new to the market. Les Lang’s hunch paid off; small is good. Ask Life has sold upwards of 230 apartments in a chronic market. I’ve a feeling that there are opportunities for some brave new structures down here on the water. Houseboats anyone? A floating market? Wake boarding school? There is room for almost anything below this towering sky.

This article was first posted 18/2/2009 and has been re-edited for the new Manchester Confidential.

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