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REVEALED: £6m Revamp For Contact Theatre

Sheppard Robson architects to remodel the Oxford Road arts centre

Written by . Published on February 4th 2015.

REVEALED: £6m Revamp For Contact Theatre

CONTACT Theatre have appointed Sheppard Robson architects to undertake a £6m remodelling of the youth arts venue.

The 40,000 sq ft project cost £3.4m and was constructed from 1997 to 1999, winning the RIBA award in 2000.

Sheppard Robson - the practice behind Oxford Road's new RICS-shortlisted CityLabs, MMU's Birley Fields campus and Siemens' new Middle East HQ in Abu Dhabi - will increase the capacity and flexibility of the performance and media spaces, redesign the public areas, and overhaul the back of house and new build elements to increase the capacity of the venue by 300 sq m.

According to the architects, Alan Short & Associate's highly distinctive exterior structure (completed in 1999) 'will be fully retained'.

Contact - Alan Short & Associates 1999Contact - designed by Alan Short & Associates (1999)

Arts Council England have earmarked nearly £4m for the project, with the University of Manchester and Bruntwood (partners in the 'Corridor Manchester' initiative) committing 'in-kind' development and project management support.

James Jones, associate partner at Sheppard Robson, said: “The team’s ambitions are to significantly improve the experiences of visitors, performers and staff whilst also looking at how Contact can make the most of its setting along Corridor Manchester, which is quickly becoming the commercial, educational and cultural spine of the city."


In 1993, University Professor of Architecture, Roger Stonehouse, put together a shortlist of 32 architects to redesign the dated Contact - where an unfit-for-purpose 300-seat theatre had stood since 1965

The panel chose the only architect who'd never before designed a theatre, Alan Short.

The 40,000 sq ft project cost £3.4m and was constructed from 1997 to 1999, winning the RIBA award in 2000. The judges said:

“The project has a strong environmental agenda made manifest in the strong root forms of the natural ventilation system: these combine with a zinc ‘curtain’ at the entrance to create a highly theatrical effect, with references to Gaudi and the castles of southern Germany, in some way architecture as stage set. The theatre has an uplifting atmosphere and this is unquestionably an exciting and eccentric addition to the Manchester scene.”



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

AnonymousFebruary 4th 2015.

Thank goodness, because that's an ugly building.

1 Response: Reply To This...
SquirrelitoFebruary 4th 2015.

they aren't changing the outside

AnonymousFebruary 4th 2015.

This is an incredibly striking building, one of my favourite in Manchester. I believe those castle turrets also serve as a natural ventilation system too. If this wasn't set back so far from the road I reckon it'd be much better known and appreciated by people.

Peter PeaheadFebruary 4th 2015.

I always thought the outside had been designed by a child, a bit like a Blue Peter competition. I cant believe it won an RIBA award!

4 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousFebruary 4th 2015.

It's a venue for youth theatre and so the castle-like theme is appropriately playful and really well executed. Its quite beautiful.

AnonymousFebruary 4th 2015.

Exactly, Peter. No award should have been given. The outside is dreadful. The fact that it won an award and now it's been updated says it all!

David SmithFebruary 5th 2015.

It really is a Marmite building. I don't like it but those that love it really do. As for RIBA....it's architects giving other architects awards for architecture. A non-award in my book.

AnonymousFebruary 5th 2015.

It looks temporary. It reminds me of something off 'It's a knockout'.

AlexFebruary 5th 2015.

playful...beautiful...where are you talking about?! Certainly not the really ugly & unwelcoming Contact theatre.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousFebruary 5th 2015.

I'm really astonished by these comments. Are we looking at the same building? I could imagine this building sitting comfortably in almost any European city. Almost gaudi-esque wouldn't you say?

almondcroissantFebruary 5th 2015.

I don't like the design - I think it was a waste of Lottery money, but more telling has been the complete lack of anything worth going to see there since the revamp. In the 1980s there was a regular stream of good productions on there. (Plays by Dario Fo, childrens productions etc) Since the revamp I have been once and that was in 2000 when they did a Jeff Noon adaptation

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousFebruary 5th 2015.

I agree the programme has sometimes been a bit sparse at times, but nothing of 'worth'? Come off it.

AnonymousFebruary 5th 2015.

Some of these comments simply highlight the ignorance many people about architecture. Good architecture doesn't *have* to be aesthetically pleasing. I've seen plenty of buildings that may be considered 'ugly' yet are very striking with bags of character. Despite its age, the Contract theater still retains a striking element, which to me suggests good architecture. As for claiming it shows nothing of worth - you're probably not their target audience, but don't let that stop you making a sweeping generalisation.

AnonymousFebruary 5th 2015.

In these difficult times I can think of many better uses for £4 million of public money. Time to cut the Arts Council's funding.

4 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousFebruary 5th 2015.

There are always 'difficult times'. Doesn't mean you should stop doing things like this.

AnonymousFebruary 5th 2015.

£4 million would buy a lot of food for food banks, or pay for quite a few 15 minute/£1.60 waged care visits for the elderly. That's got to be abetter use of the money than the refurbishment of a fairly modern theatre which hardly anyone in Manchester is interested in.

AnonymousFebruary 5th 2015.

That 'theatre hardly anyone is interested in' offers something for the younger generation to be involved in. Without it many of those involved would instead be out getting into trouble/crime etc. But hey that's not important either. As someone mentioned earlier, you're probably not their target audience so you're not likely to understand what they're about. Just because YOU don't think it's a viable cause that doesn't mean it isn't

AnonymousFebruary 8th 2015.

Perhaps if Salford had a youth theatre, those feral scrotes wouldn't have trashed the city in August 2011.

AnonymousFebruary 5th 2015.

There are some amazing before-and-after shots and some fascinating detail on the project on the architect's website www.shortandassociates.co.uk/page.asp…

AnonymousFebruary 11th 2015.

Really needed? The theatre most of us locals rarely go to & it was done up NOT too long ago...

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