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Student Castle: Good Work Mr Hodder

Jonathan Schofield finally appreciates fifty shades of grey

Published on September 26th 2012.


Student Castle: Good Work Mr Hodder

MANCHESTER has a new gentle giant. 

Almost unheralded and unnoticed the skyline of the city has just got better. Student Castle with its variegated profile of retreating and advancing planes and its up and down peaks is a cunning yet gentle presence on the horizon. 

I love skyscrapers. I'd like Manchester to have more of them. I think people who complain about them would have us all still living in caves.

The building is by Manchester practice Hodder+Partners and is tall. At 106m (almost 350ft) it's a shade under City Tower's 107m. The tallest building in Manchester is of course, Beetham Tower at 168 metres, followed by the CIS Tower at 118m.

The developer is Student Castle itself, the engineers WSP. It cost £28.5m, is 37-storeys and provides self-contained studios, apartments and cluster flats of up to six bedrooms for 520 people.

Student CastleStudent Castle

Stephen Hodder of Hodder+Partners tells Confidential he wanted a building that was "tall, yet street relevant".

"We'd been working on the project before Student Castle came about," he continues. "Originally it was envisaged as apartments for developer Dandara over 21 storeys. We always knew that on an extremely tight site we had to respond to the scale of street and make the corner of our design at New Wakefield Street and Great Marlborough Street really do some work. So we always intended the tower would sit on a podium.

"Then Student Castle took over and it was clear that to make the business case it would need to go taller so we could fit more students in."

But what about the finished profile? One of the best things about Student Castle is that it's not a straight up and down shoebox design or even, as some have described Beetham Tower, an 'old-fashioned mobile phone." 

"We wanted that variety. We wanted it aesthetically, and we wanted it for practical reasons," says Hodder.

"There’s a single core with four components and each presents a different profile. The clusters from the west are higher, because you get more views of Student Castle from distance on that side, so you need them bigger. On Oxford Road the view is foreshortened and so the scale of the building is much more fragmented, giving it more variety and flow.

"We've tried to express that lower down as well. The materials used in the building are there to express the types of accommodation. For instance the studio rooms look on to the railway, and are arranged in a saw-tooth so they look up and down the street rather than directly onto the railway.

"We've also provided a central corridor that is sheared in plan to allow natural light in - that doesn't happen frequently in corridors in student residences. With the rooms themselves you could say we've made a return to early accommodation in early colleges with their cellular-like make up. We're proud of the fittings too. One of the things which Student Castle asked us to design was all the furniture, so for once in student accommodation what you get in the rooms is all bespoke, not off-the-peg." 

Student Castle - saw-toothed on the railway sideStudent Castle - saw-toothed on the railway side, sitting on a podium

So did Hodder+Partners feel pressure to get things right given they were altering Manchester's skyline?

"When you're changing that aspect of the city, you do feel a responsibility," says Hodder. "You try and envisage the changes, how it will look when completed, its impact. You want it to contribute to the city, enhance the skyline not detract from it."

"At the same time we have to balance those considerations with quality and cost effective accommodation, fortunately we’ve had a good client and a good contactor. Delivering tall student accommodation is a challenge at the best of times."

But why is Student Castle fifty shades of grey, a pantone of muted tones?

"The client was interested in bright colours but we wanted to make it a lot more contextual," says Hodder. "The colours are of the Manchester sky but given variety and texture, just like the real thing."

Skyscrapers divide people like no other buildings.

For some they symbolise humanity's optimism and verve, for others they are egocentric phalluses displaying the worst side of mankind's bruisingly competitive character. 

Personally I love them.

I'd like Manchester to have more of them. I think people who complain about skyscrapers would have us all still living in caves.

The lost Maths TowerThe lost Maths TowerThe CIS Tower and City Tower are classics, the loss of the Maths Tower by Scherrer and Hicks, in the last decade at the University was a city disgrace. 

Look at Student Castle, look at the Maths Tower, and you have to wonder if in profile Hodder+Partners haven't given us something of the latter back.

Either way Student Castle boosts the south side of the city centre. It is a gentle and elegant presence but a welcome one. It's good for Manchester's skyline. Hodder + Partners seem to have got it right. 

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield

Elegant presenceElegant presence

From the westFrom the west

From Great Marlborough Street - the baseFrom Great Marlborough Street - the base

Student Castle with the BBC building being demolishedStudent Castle with the former BBC building being demolished

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

AnonymousSeptember 26th 2012.

It fits in with the current Manchester skyline......grey and depressing. I guarantee it'll be demolished within the next 30 - 40 years. More quality is needed please!

1 Response: Reply To This...
Jonathan SchofieldSeptember 26th 2012.

Back those comments up Anon. What's wrong with the quality? Or maybe you just don't like change.

SmittySeptember 26th 2012.

Agree that it looks great. I'd love to see more to help give the city more of a defined skyline. This is starting to happen with smaller impressive buildings like the new Co-op, but the height is needed. This sort of puts you in mind of the Sears Tower. Sort of.

Geoff BeaconSeptember 26th 2012.

An educated guess ... This building created more than 10,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide as a result of it's construction and more than 20 tonnes per resident. Anyone done the sums?

Government targets aim at 2 tonnes per person per year for EVERYTHING. If it is 20 tonnes CO2 per resident, that's probably 100s of years of what you should spend on your budget for the fabric of your dwelling.

Alternatives? Try Can your children afford to live in York? at www.yorkmix.com/…/…

8 Responses: Reply To This...
Ghostly TomSeptember 26th 2012.

Shall we all stop breathing? Will that help? Should we all move back into the caves mentioned in the article?

AnonymousSeptember 26th 2012.

geoff has a good point. The only thing you can object to with any possibility of success is sustainability since is the limitation on the Govs and City Policy of building everything anywhere. But you need a proper calculation of lifetime consumption.

Geoff BeaconSeptember 26th 2012.

Ghostly Tom ...

Living in "park homes" is what many people want to do. It can be cheap and beautiful if they are well designed. They can also store carbon. For some reason planning rules are often in place to make life difficult for the residents.

Long Tall SallySeptember 26th 2012.

Geoff, so what are we doing about the buildings in China, India, Dubai? These are statements of confidence, yours is a statement of miserableness. Humans are dreamers, for better or worse, clearly better, we dream big.

Geoff BeaconSeptember 26th 2012.

Long Tall Sally

"What are we doing?" Not much. We haven't yet pressured China, India or Dubai because "we" (i.e. our government or the EU) are trying to hide the problem (See http://bkuk.com/eu).

China and India will suffer severe consequences of climate change. And the Chinese Government has shown some signs of taking the problem seriously. I believe Dubai is beginning to realise too.

If you want to see some beautiful park homes see http://inhabitat.com/top-5-tiniest-tiny-houses/

AnonymousSeptember 26th 2012.

Those houses are lovely, Geoff, but on which planet is there enough parkland to house everyone at such a low density? Also consider the impact of any travelling that will need to be done to get to the commercial centres.

AnonymousSeptember 26th 2012.

Have checked out the houses. They look nice. But within a few years there will be 70,000,000 in this country. That kind of home will cover the UK with development, the city sprawl would be dreadful. Well designed towers in the existing cities are the way forward, not the nasty things put up in the 60s but well designed ones where people will have access to good facilities. Stand alone houses are a waste of resources and space. We are still building them but they are getting smaller and smaller.

Calum McGOctober 3rd 2012.

Yeah, but short buildings are boring as ****. Build higher. YEAH!!!

DavidSeptember 26th 2012.

I observed this building being built and I think that it is great.For tall buildings to be loved,I think that they need to be presented as postcard images of the city,as defining images of Manchester.

I love tall buildings.I could gaze at the twin towes in kL for hours at night,even from miles away.Also the office buildings of Hong Kong island,are really beautiful,when you cross on the ferry at night.

Also in Manchester you rarely get to observe the city from a very high vantage point,when you do you get a completely different perspective of what is attractive.So I would like to see more rooftop restaurants and gardens.

Also this excellent building has been built by a private company to house students,in contrast seemingly everything built by either of the two universities in modern times is horrible and totally disengages from the city around it.It just screams private space,as if they are embarrassed to be in Manchester.And yet it is the vibrancy of this city,as opposed to their academic record,which has been the biggest driver of students to come here.

Jon BlackSeptember 26th 2012.

Think I must be missing something... I don't object to skyscrapers, some I like, some I dont, and appreciate we all, even students, need to live somewhere, but please: "cunning yet gentle"?.. "an elegant presence"?

It's as elegant as a fart at a dinner party. Are we looking at the same building? Is that it finished now? It genuinely looks the designers lost interest right above the saw toothed windows. Not sure if we're supposed to be reading between the lines here, but I imagine this was possibly the point at which the project moved from being plush resi pads to more affordable student digs.

Agreed it's street relevant - in that it looks like a street - ie if it were laid on its side you'd drive your car down the middle of it and not bat an eyelid. Being in the centre of Manchester though they have missed one important detail, it just needs a couple of yellow lines running up the left hand side.

I love Beetham Tower and the fact that it reflects the albeit usually miserable skies over our brilliant city back at us. It truly and subtly blends. This does not. I'm not building-bashing, but it looks like it fell from the ugly tree and hit every branch!

I should probably head back to my cave now!

2 Responses: Reply To This...
VictoriaSeptember 26th 2012.

Thank god someone reading this article is sane! I couldn't agree more

Edward RobertsSeptember 27th 2012.

Could not agree more. This building looks like it's attempted to fit in with the Manchester architectural theme, but is about as aesthetically successful as Primark's attempt at trendy clothing.

It just doesn't work. The logo is hideous. And it's not even started to get dirty.

In a few years we will look upon this building like we do now to the oh-so-modern-at-the-time high rises of the 60's...

DavidSeptember 26th 2012.

Beauty is not very objective.Having seen the Shard in London recently and I think that this is better,I really don't like the Shard.I enjoy looking at Student Castle a lot more than Beetham Tower.In fact I will sit in Starbucks on Oxford Road just to gaze at it.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Raymonf WeilSeptember 26th 2012.

dialling 999

Ghostly TomSeptember 26th 2012.

I really like this tower. Especially the view from under the marquee of the Palace Theatre. It's a good addition to the skyline. I have been following its construction on my blog. I've been amazed at how they have managed to build such a big building on such a tiny site without causing problems for the surrounding businesses.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Calum McGOctober 3rd 2012.

It's gone up quickly without much construction fuss (tho of course I don't live right next to it).

AnonymousSeptember 26th 2012.

Manchester has no tall building policy and the result is not going to be New York In fact Manchester as no area plan for the city centre at all. But further why new sites when the approved tall building plans on existing site are not being built.

Actually the main issue for the Student Castle is social. I was told it was supposed to be for post grads rather than 18 yo because that it what Man Uni want to get. But financing post grads is in the melting pot (including the immigrant aspects). Student numbers are falling anyway so maybe apprentices next for student tower

4 Responses: Reply To This...
DavidSeptember 26th 2012.

Manchester is Mecca for overseas student.Many are much much richer than Uk students.You have got the mega rich,and party top brass in China sending their kids to study in UK.Money is no problem for these people,they have no economic down turn.

Geoff BeaconSeptember 26th 2012.

Tall buildings are bad for the environment. See http://nohighbuildings.org.uk

SmittySeptember 26th 2012.

No strategy for the city centre, Anon? Where do you think Spinningfields came from? The council and cityco published a city centre strategy in 2009 cityco.com/…/2_City_Centre_Strategic_Plan_0.pdf… The council has also just published its core strategy a very meaty document about planning across the city. www.manchester.gov.uk/…/final_core_strategy…

AnonymousSeptember 28th 2012.

The Core Strategy is something every metropolitan council has to produce and little more than a broad brush spatial strategy. As such a deeply uninteresting document.

Jill JillianSeptember 26th 2012.

Hodder 1 Simpson 0

Long Tall SallySeptember 26th 2012.

The picture called elegant presence above really does the job in showing the building off. Well done Hodder.

AnonymousSeptember 26th 2012.

Geoff, the students are going to have to live somewhere, so surely it's better spending the CO2 right next to the university instead of further out where the same amount of CO2 would be spent building the place added to the CO2 generated by then having to travel into the city centre every day.
Higher density is also better for the environment as a whole.

VictoriaSeptember 26th 2012.

Are people on this thread serious? this building in monstrous in every conceivable way. The cladding and finish is ugly, that tacky logo they've slapped on the side of it is hideous and ruins what little elegance the facade had. It is completely out of scale with the surrounding area, yet is not wild and shocking enough to provide an interesting counterpoint or juxtaposition. It's shape is unimaginative and overall its just a shitty, dull grey tower. I'm sure the developers will make a killing and in terms of sustainable location its great but why oh why did it have to be so bloody ugly? it offends my eyes and heart. It saddens me that this will now serve as a point of legibility, you can see it EVERYWHERE

AnonymousSeptember 26th 2012.

A well considered and attractive building.

I disagree with the comparisons to the Maths tower however. To me it bears more resemblance to the maths and social science tower on the old UMIST campus. The fenestration and massing and some of the proportions are strikingly similar.

JonSeptember 26th 2012.

This is a hideous building. Good architecture is all about the quality of materials, and this building looks cheap because it is. That is a lesson we should have learned from the 70s. Beautiful Glass Gherkin £130M, ugly grey tower £28M. You get what you (are prepared to) pay for!

Manchester has lost the plot recently. 10-15 years ago we had No1 Deansgate, Great Northern, Urbis, Royal Exchange. Now we have hideous a blot on the GMex and this rubbish. Soon we get to enjoy the glass corner-theatre formless blob; and it's all downhill from there...

crisbySeptember 27th 2012.

It's OK. It has an interesting profile and it tries (largely successfully) to engage with the street. But, like so many buildings put up in the last few years, one worries about the materials. Are we going 'back to the sixties'? Remember how places like the Precinct Centre had to be completely re-faced after a few years with cladding that stayed on?

As for the city centre skyline: forget it! The chance has been missed to have a plan for Manchester to have a distinctive skyline - the 'planners' didn't think it was important. What we have is chaos, and that's all we're ever likely to have.

Jon; spot on! It's a shame we can't have more buildings that look either 'iconic' - sorry for the word, or, to complement them, Mancunian. Most of what we get these days is bland, corporate anyplace architecture.

Jonathan SchofieldSeptember 27th 2012.

Hey Jon, don't be so downcast.

I was taking seventeen Swiss architects around over the weekend and they thoroughly enjoyed the city. They loved the variety, the freedom of form and the blend of old and new.

As for skyscrapers they adored the CIS, City Tower and Student Castle but hated Beetham Tower. Fortunately I didn't show them the worst of all, the utterly hideous Great Northern Tower. But they swooned at the Civil Justice Centre in admiration.

The views of others from overseas is important. You need a third party assessment, that perspective, to get an accurate appraisal of the city and the architecture.

I don't understand why you are so downbeat, take a walk, look up and around and love thy city.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Jill JillianSeptember 27th 2012.

What did they think of the rusty buildings.

Ghostly TomSeptember 27th 2012.

I have to admit I prefer the Great Northern Tower to No. 1 Deansgate. I always think that the latter was a first attempt at getting the former right. I like No 1 but not as much as GNT. Glad the Swiss people enjoyed the city. the Civil Justice Centre is a stunner and they liked the city for the same reasons I do. And I do like the way the Hilton Tower finishes off and compliments Deansgate. A long horizontal contrasts the a tall vertical. Perfect geometry.

AnonymousSeptember 27th 2012.

I hate high rise living.

I did it in Leeds for 3 years in a council block which was well maintained with no problems with neighbours.

I like living like a caveman in the suburbs. My semi in Altrincham is my cave and I have a garden and the countryside on my doorstep.

Like a caveman I don't stay in much but roam my unspoiled surroundings.

AnonymousSeptember 27th 2012.

I hate high rise living.

I did it in Leeds for 3 years in a council block which was well maintained with no problems with neighbours.

I like living like a caveman in the suburbs. My semi in Altrincham is my cave and I have a garden and the countryside on my doorstep.

Like a caveman I don't stay in much but roam my unspoiled surroundings.

Steven Hales-OwenSeptember 27th 2012.

Tiny,tiny "studio" apartments that are smaller than many peoples living rooms but at very large rents - I hope the Chinese students who are likely to be the ones living in this dull place will feel entirely at home.Beijing comes to Manchester.

PankellSeptember 29th 2012.

It looks good on the skyline and is a valuable addition to the Manchester streetscene

RIVEROctober 1st 2012.

It was built for only one reason, to make money.That was to house as many people on the smallest possible site. It has no reation on the buildings near to it and in fact detracts for the Old Refuge Tower nearby. In confirms that the city planners have learned nothing from the mistakes of the sixties in that respect its only one example of many.

Poster BoyOctober 1st 2012.

It's dull, dreary and out of context. Would JS be so impressed if it wasn't the work of Hodder? There's no critique in the article, merely Hodder spoon feeding his usual RIBA presentation of his 'vision'...no doubt over a cosy coffee.
It's good that Manchester-based architects are being given the opportunity to produce some of Manchester's most prominent buildings, but my fear is that ultimately the era will be judged as a lost opportunity and be seen as too provincial in ideas, and execution.

Lancashire Eccles CakeOctober 1st 2012.

River, gosh, no? They want to make money from it? The dirty beastly chaps.

Chris BamfordOctober 4th 2012.

It is a tiny bit dull to be honest, in my humble opinion. A shame that those outrageous (some might say hideous) graphics couldn't somehow have been translated onto the articulation of the glazed elevation. Or at least in the massive expanse of never ending grey tiles. It would have been absolutely fantastic with a massive splash of lime green somewhere wouldn't it...

Don AllwrightOctober 4th 2012.

I know I've said this at least twice before but I don't know why the Moderators post 'Anonymous' comments!

By the way, the Student Castle is a cracker!

Theresa EvansOctober 11th 2012.

I know 50 shades of grey is fashionable at the moment but please can we have less of it?

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