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Most Extraordinary New Building In Manchester?

Karen Regn tours a building in Ancoats with real meaning for charity 42nd Street

Written by . Published on February 28th 2012.

Most Extraordinary New Building In Manchester?

SEVEN tonne steel sentinels, pathways leading nowhere, secret rooms, slanted walls… 

Manchester’s architectural portfolio just got a bit more individual with the opening of youth mental health charity 42nd Street’s new headquarters.

The dramatic white steel gates visible from Great Ancoats Street only hint at the full measure of architect Maurice Shapero’s symbolic design, which is remarkable throughout, functional but fantastic, rational but bizarre. 

Details like wardrobe doors leading to counseling rooms a la CS Lewis and stairwells with leaning walls give a sense that the building is unique, uncanny, inexplicable, safe– a space that’s different from the outside world, but mirrors it. 

Starting with the idea of two cubes, i.e. the two main buildings, Shapero divided them with a sharply-angled series of windows, slicing a space to let the light through. Think Leonard Cohen, he told me, and quoted: “There’s a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.”

The cubes symbolise the duality of needs for young people: stability and control in the world, contrasted with the ability to break out, to be different, original and a bit unpredictable. 

Windows are scattered to give a collage of different views from the inside, and 3mm brushed aluminium sheets covering the outside give it a science fiction aesthetic. Details like wardrobe doors leading to counseling rooms a la CS Lewis and stairwells with leaning walls give a sense that the building is unique, uncanny, inexplicable, safe – a space that’s different from the outside world, but mirrors it. 

Photo by Beccy LanePhoto by Beccy Lane

“I was able to bring ideas that have been brewing in my head for years into reality,” said Mr Shapero, who planned the many aspects of the new building in one night’s rush of inspiration.

Mr Shapero is firmly associated with Manchester’s architectural firsts. Formerly of inaugural Stirling prize winning architects Hodder Associates, he was the lead designer for CUBE (Centre for the Understanding of the Built Environment) and the National Wildflower Centre, just outside Liverpool. Plus the extraordinary suburban intrusion of the ex-Palmiro restaurant in Whalley Range - now Nip and Tipple.

He was brought onto this project because he would be able to appreciate, interpret and build on the wishes of the charity, while still operating within a tight budget of around £750K and the constraint of an awkward T-shaped site.

Photo by Beccy LanePhoto by Beccy Lane

Working together with Bolton-based construction consultants Bradshaw Gass and Hope, and the charity’s business advisor, chartered surveyor Peter Buglass, 42nd Street asked the young people involved with the charity as well as the staff to form an idea of their ideal space. 

“It’s amazing. Our young people absolutely love it,” said 42nd Street director Vera Martins. “They wanted something that was different, something out of Dr Who or Alice and Wonderland."

The charity offers counseling services and support to young people aged 13 to 25 who live in Manchester, Salford or Trafford who are stressed, depressed, having problems with relationships or with their families, having image issues or are self-harming.

42nd Street reach people primarily through referral, and are counting on the new building to raise their profile in the community. They have already seen a 25% increase in interest in their services and are anticipating a surge of new young people this year. They expect the heightened interest to test their capacity, but they are determined to grow with the challenges and use their new space to meet the demand.

The purchase of the site included ownership of a small Victorian shop on the corner. In future, the charity hopes to convert the interior into an art space for fun and for therapy, and to convert the upstairs area into a co-op for burgeoning artists. 

The Victorian shop will keep its historic exterior, which the charity and architect feel is right for the conservation area. The futuristic aluminium façade and steel gates of the main building were criticised by some early on in the planning stages, but those initial complaints died down quickly and the charity hopes that the construction will become embedded in the community and be embraced by it.

“There are always going to be people who just don’t get it and see it as being a bit of an odd thing,” said Ms Martins. “But the local residents who have looked around have been really positive.  Some have said that though they aren’t fans of modern architecture, they see how we plan to blend the old and the new.”

Maurice ShaperoMaurice Shapero on his way into Narnia

The show-stealing feature - aside from the wardrobe doors  is authenticity. The building was styled to its purpose like a well-thought-out gift. 

“When I explain the background, people get it,” said Mr Shapero. “It’s quite a poetic notion.”

42nd Street are planning an official reception to celebrate their opening, but welcome anyone curious about the building to come down and have a look at any time. 

Go, look, photograph, and marvel at the achievement of this quirky statement. 

And whether you ‘get it’ or not, the most important thing is that, for the sake of troubled youth of the community, they are changing more than just the landscape.

42nd Street is at the SPACE, 87-91 Great Ancoats Street, Manchester
M4 5AG

42nd Street, Ancoats42nd Street, Ancoats

42nd Street, Ancoats42nd Street, Ancoats

42nd Street, Ancoats42nd Street, Ancoats


42nd Street, Ancoats42nd Street, Ancoats

42nd Street, Ancoat42nd Street, Ancoats

42nd Street, Ancoat42nd Street, Ancoats

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

EugeneFebruary 28th 2012.

Got it? LOVE it.

Fantastic contribution to a great area of hugely appealing architecture- well done all.

DavidFebruary 28th 2012.

On this evidence,Manchester has a future architecture star.Lets hope he gets to do a lot more work in the city.

Christopher KnowlesFebruary 28th 2012.

The architect was kind enough to explain his vision for this new building to residents in the adjoining MM2 building prior to it's construction.

We said, that sounds lovely and all but could you possibly find somewhere else? We've just put a lot of work into getting the previous building that was on this piece of land removed and now we rather like the open space and opportunity for more much needed resident parking.

He ignored it and built a big silver box which creates a horrible blind corner for traffic coming to MM2 and creates unwanted footfall in what was a previously quiet little oasis away from Great Ancoats Street.

I'm all for innovative architecture but when you are innovating because you need to force it into an awkward space perhaps it wasn't a particularly well-thought out location choice to begin with?

8 Responses: Reply To This...
ShuttyFebruary 28th 2012.

It's a great building and if it clashes with MM2, then that's more to do with the bright 'Tango' orange bricks than the brushed aluminium.

Perhaps the lack of car parking is more an issue for your management company? And you're the first person that I have ever heard describe Great Ancoats Street as an oasis. I would have thought the half built, neighbouring 'Nuovo', might be something worth complaining about, but this?!

You live in a city: Things get built. Surely this isn't a massive surprise? On the plus side, because you live in a city, New Islington project with a new park, canal basin and toe paths is being developed. Perhaps this can offer a small crumb of comfort?

CrankyAcidFebruary 28th 2012.

I can understand the desire to create a park space, what inner city area wouldn't benefit from it, but this plot was never realistically going to be set aside for the benefit of MM2 residents, and the idea of simply making the plot into a car park if frankly appalling.

This is Ancoats, the worlds first industrial estate. It was never meant to be a little patch of suburban tranquility.

Of course in granting planning to allow residential buildings in the area thought must be given to facilities but I think this plot was never a battle you were going to win for a park. Less so for a bloody car park.

This is a gem and its worst feature is how it throws light onto some of the lazy, unimaginative architecture thrown up elsewhere.

gimboidFebruary 29th 2012.

Yeah, a surface car park fronting is just what a major thoroughfare like Great Ancoats Street needs. That would've been much better than a bit of iconic, innovative architecture.
'Unwanted footfall'?? Move to the countryside! Selfish, selfish, pure NIMBYism.

AnonymousFebruary 29th 2012.

The flaw in your argument Mr Knowles is that the architect works for their client, who likely owns the land upon which the building is built; not a bunch of cranky NIMBYs who don't.

And the point about cities is that they work precisely because of the concentration of many different interests and activities and the inherent accessibility of services to a greater number of people. This means people have to negotiate and compromise. To advocate clearing a building to make a few extra parking spaces, particularly at the expense of a charity is selfish, shortsighted and only ever likely to be a temporary use for valuable land.

Calum McGFebruary 29th 2012.

Wonderful building and frankly, great location. Little patches of un-used land in a city just look a mess and parking in cities should either be underground or multi-storey. Wasting a plot of land for parking is a waste - and an eyesore. This building is simply awesome, brave and the way it uses this constrained site is brilliant.

tomegranateFebruary 29th 2012.

Perhaps Mr Knowles has been reading from the Alan Partridge manual of self-righteous property owners: http://youtu.be/jcpu9WnA6go?t=2m36s

Christopher KnowlesMarch 2nd 2012.


No, I wanted the newly opened up space, which nobody was interested in until we campaigned to get the existing eyesore removed, to remain open.

I'm not looking to turn my backyard into surburbia and I do understand that cities will always change and evolve, that's why I choose to live in one, but this building is a very square peg in a round hole.

Sometimes the presence of absence is as beautiful as design.

To throw NIMBY insults at me to devalue my point suggests that I would have rejected anything that was suggested for this plot of land which isn't the case, I simply think this was not the best choice.


AnonymousMarch 2nd 2012.

Funny how all you lot are sticking up for a building built last year. Shame you all werent around to say the old Ancoats Hospital! With you lot on side maybe Urban Splash would have found the money to svae it!

CheesemanFebruary 28th 2012.

Christopher Knowles I hate things being built in my back yard. I always say, 'Not'.

TidyFebruary 28th 2012.

I wish somebody like the architect above had tried harder with MM2, it's a very poor design externally and the very much the wrong colour fake brick for Manchester. This new place will give me a lunchtime walk tomorrow, to see how it looks in reality.

Simon SmithFebruary 28th 2012.

The charity can't be short of a few bob if it can afford fancy architects fees and unconventional buildings.

4 Responses: Reply To This...
CorbieFebruary 28th 2012.

That's the right way to look at things Simon. We should all live in very cheap ergonomic cubes shouldn't we?

Don MurphyFebruary 29th 2012.

Yeah Simon, your dream is everyone wearing grey, riding the grey bus, and eating grey sludge, that's your dream.

Simon SmithMarch 1st 2012.

Well, if you give to a charity do you want your cash going on charitable works or on a flash headquarters for the charity with some of the money ending up in the pockets of architects?

I'm not sure why the charity needs anything other than a conventional building.

tomegranateMarch 1st 2012.

I've not problem at all if a charity, especially one that does incredibly worthwhile work with challenging clients, has a really nice place to do their work. Money going into an architects pocket is a bizarre comment... even a conventional building would require an architect. Have you any proof the fees for this were particularly high?

Dave SilverFebruary 28th 2012.

Couldn't they knock that orange thing down behind it, maybe turn it into a car park or something?

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousMarch 5th 2012.

Hope you have enough space for the residents and the contents of 93 apartments in your home if you are planning to demolish it!

Dave RobinsonFebruary 29th 2012.

Brilliant building + perhaps to be seen as a "gateway" to Ancoats' general kookiness + idiosyncratic nature!

JohnFebruary 29th 2012.

Love it

PavraoFebruary 29th 2012.

It looks wonderful when you walk past. and the intent of the building in helping the young generation makes it a super building. Hopefully more innovative and useful architecture makes its way into the city while preserving the surrounding heritage.

AnonymousFebruary 29th 2012.

Not really a fan of the facade, be interesting to see what colour it ends up in 12 months but the whole project has to be applauded for it's individuality. The back of the building is smart, love the cladding and as for green spaces you have New Islington Marina right next to it so not all bad.

Calum McGFebruary 29th 2012.

People who don't like stuff built often fall into one of three categories. NIMBY: Not in my back yard. NOTE: Not over there, either. BANANA: Build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything. And here endeth today's planning lesson. Good bye!

urbanbubbleFebruary 29th 2012.

absolutely love it and contrasts with ancoats really well - shame its upset the neighbours and hope UK land and property get Nuovo up and running soon.

AnonymousFebruary 29th 2012.

That building looks mental!

Vicky WalkerFebruary 29th 2012.

Hmmmm, a touch of plagiarism afoot here! At least credit your sources Mr Shapero. I have a picture of an almost identical (but much more warped ) building in Las Vegas which is also something related to Mental Health. I have pictures to proove it.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Maurice ShaperoFebruary 29th 2012.

Thanks Vicky for pointing me to this, it's probably the only frank gehry building I've not see before. I agree It could look like an extreme version of mine! But rather than plagiarism this is the zeitgeist at work, frank and i must be tapping into the same source! Although I had £750k to play with.....franks building cost $100 million!

HartberFebruary 29th 2012.

Er...Vicky, architecture is the story of people influencing other people who influence other people. You could say the same about the CIS Tower, Manchester Town Hall and Art Gallery. Ludicrous thing to say that.

Simon SmithMarch 1st 2012.

'2010-11 has been a challenging year and this is not unique to
42nd Street. Everyone has had to work at balancing their books,
have lost projects and funding, trying to survive in a hostile
environment, seeing competition as a ‘reality’ and expansion
as the answer.'

So the charity is having a hard time financially but can still afford a shiny new building.

This becomes easier to understand when you look at who funds 42nd Street. It is mainly supported by the taxpayer via payments from public sector bodies.

It's one of those charities which are really funded agencies of the state, not what most people think of as a charity.

4 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousMarch 1st 2012.

You clearly understand nothing about architecture or the concept of value added then Simon. Two quick lessons then:

1. Unconventional buildings do not necessarily cost more than conventional buildings

2. Buildings are more than just utilitarian objects. They have social, cultural and economic functions too. Its not rocket science to understand that people respond to and are to an extent shaped by their environment. Therefore for an organisation that seeks to improve the lives of marginalised, fragile and vulnerable individuals it is entirely appropriate for it to procure a building that helps its "customers" feel safe, welcome, uplifted and inspired; and that is clearly the intent behind the architecture here.

Vera MartinsMarch 1st 2012.

Mr. Smith you need to do your research more thoroughly - why don't you come and visit us and maybe just maybe you'll get what we are about .....

Simon SmithMarch 2nd 2012.

I've never questioned what you are about Vera.

I'm not in a position to question it.

I'm just saying that you do seem to get lots of taxpayer funding and perhaps that's why your organisation can afford a new building at all, never mind one with such a lot of architect input.

Or were the architects working for free as it's for a charity?

Simon SmithMarch 2nd 2012.

Anonymous says

'1. Unconventional buildings do not necessarily cost more than conventional buildings'

We've heard that one before!

I'm old enough to remember the Hulme Cresents being built.

AnonymousMarch 1st 2012.

I just went to veiw the planning documents but but curiously theyare not there!!

Chris BamfordMarch 1st 2012.

Shapero is to be applauded for delivering value for money and for the stunning architecture. Thank you Maurice, I love it.

Vera MartinsMarch 1st 2012.

To those of you who have had a rant about 42nd Street being a charity with a lot of dosh - this is the exact opposite to our reality. We have spent 6 years working on this project - obtaining grants and a mortgage to pay for this quirky building - we are a small local charity and have been providing services to young people under stress for 30 years and have always rented accommodation in the City Centre - with rents becoming more and more prohibitive it was more economical to go down the road of purchasing our own building and leaving a legacy to young people in the city - what better site than the area which historically had the first University Settlement..so are we rich financially- NO - are we rich in aspirations and vision and dreams - YES - and we do not make any apologies for this.
Chief Executive - 42nd Street

5 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousMarch 1st 2012.

Bravo for sticking up for yourself!

Maurice ShaperoMarch 1st 2012.

....Isn't it ace and so rare - when you can wholeheartedly, within the light of absolute truth, support and defend an incredible group of people who are led by Vera, who happens to be a living saint.

AnonymousMarch 2nd 2012.

We'll vouch for that Maurice :)

Sally-Anne BeesleyMarch 2nd 2012.

We'll vouch for that Maurice :)

user1770March 3rd 2012.

I feel that in the talk of money, people have somewhat missed the psychological impact the building on it's users, which may well be priceless.

Phil MurphyMarch 1st 2012.

An iconic structure that I can imagine will actually engage young people and in that respect, given the role of the charity, it could prove to be priceless.
I really think the young people that the occupants serve will like this building, on that basis I congratulate the architect and the charity.
Imagine not building it because cars need somewhere to park or drivers might have to slow down for a blind bend? That would be ludicrous.
The charity has a tough job to do. It and the architect have been brave and I think their gamble will pay off.
Well done and thank you to 42nd St and Mr Shapero.

AnonymousMarch 2nd 2012.

I live just behind the new building and was intrigued during construction. The results are a positive to mixed bag. The back with the aluminium 'boxes' and glass is beautiful and a fantastic addition to the area. The new meets the old perfectly in my opinion and I'm delighted to see such development, particularly given the mess that's been made of Nuovo.

However, the facade has been completely ruined by the awful steel 'gates' at the front. The aluminium 'fin' and glass doors looked fantastic from the street and had wonderful potential but was destroyed when the steelwork went up. Even this could have been made to 'work' but the appalling colour looks rough now after a few short months so will look terrible in a year or two. The 'bright and shiny' photos in this artice bear no resemblance to the reality on inspection every day, particularly when the gates are closed as they are for the vast majority of the time. Such a terrible shame for a great design to be hidden away and tainted by a very disappointing addition.

Also, now it has become clear that the charity has responsibility for the adorable little shop on the corner, they really need to do something to repair the damage caused shortly before construction ended. The ripped down shutters and damage to the window/door frames looks awful and needs to be repaired. Surely this must be in some way protected due to the building's age?! Simply boarding up the windows and turning a blind eye to awful Sankey's flyposting is not good enough if the charity want to be seen as a welcome addition to the area. If the money was found to spend £750k on the project, the money should be found to clear up the mess made afterwards and maintain these beautiful buildings.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Liz BattisonMarch 2nd 2012.

Yes, we were really upset when the accident happened at the shop just after we moved in. I can assure you that when we have funds available the shop will be restored, so if you have any spare money please feel free to call in and donate, we will welcome you with open arms.

Chris Bamford shared this on Facebook on March 2nd 2012.
AnonymousMarch 2nd 2012.

As another MM2 resident I can honestly say that I was apposed to this building being built. As residents we were concerned not about only about the buildings use but about the lack of light into the adjoining apartments, the silver walls being a target for vandalism, young people loitering around our cars but how this would effect the prices of our apartments.

We were invited to meet with the architect before the plans had been approved by MCC but the clients never made any connection with us at all which I personally think was a major flaw in the consultation process. A number of residents attended this meeting but none of our suggestions were taken on board.

A number of you seem to be very upset by an earlier comment about extra parking. There were already 3 spaces belonging to Coats School (I think) so a number of us were hoping that the space where the ‘butty bar’ had been would be turned into a few extra spaces for residents. This would not have been visible from Great Ancoats street and after years of seeing the disused building that was all we could possibly hope for.

I agree with the above post that it is positive that the chairty have taken on the corner plot as planned and will turn it into a shop for Ancoats Urban Village. I think this will be a great addition to the area!

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousMarch 10th 2012.

how depressing that people automatically equate the vulnerable young people this charity supports with crime and anti social behaviour. Have we become so scared and cynical as a society?

It does rather reinforce the impression that the objections to this building from the residents in MM2 were motivated by petty snobbery and selfishness. I would be fascinated to know what sort of "suggestions" the residents made about the design of the building........? I rather suspect they were along the lines of 'we don't own the land but Not In My Back Yard please'; or 'none of the new fangled metal cladding - bright orange brick only please' or 'what about my car?'.

ClariceMarch 4th 2012.

Congratulations on this wonderful achievement-all thanks to the architect, staff and committee for their dedication and hard work and using the initiative to utilise funds in buying instead of wasting on renting.
A truly worthwhile project that lights up the Manchester city centre.

Patrick MartinsMarch 5th 2012.

It's interesting to note that ONLY when you have a work of art, debate as to merits of design and art form flow in several directions... as an expression of sensitivities that encompass the individuals being. Were this a mundane project ... it would possibly be accompanied by "no comment". This is not only a home that will embellish that aspect of pride by association for those that work and "play" in it, but more importantly provides youth a symbolic beacon and statement of how hard work, conviction and determination ensures success. 42nd Steet is now a permanent asset and with the vision that it protray can only rise to greater heights. Keep up the Good Work and onward ALL that halp make tomorrow better!!!

AnonymousMarch 12th 2012.

Top job Maurice. We need some challenging buildings in the city, from the city.

AnonymousMarch 12th 2012.

MM2 residents you need to listen to yourselves...

ljmpoolMarch 13th 2012.

well it looks great!

Ghostly TomMarch 31st 2012.

This is a great little building, interesting from which ever way you approach it. I really like the way is contrasts but fits in with the surrounding buildings.

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