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Nautical, but nice

aj building study

Glenn Howells Architects' Timber Wharf housing in Manchester for Urban Splash draws on docklands traditions to deliver dense, contemporary housing

Having devoted most of a decade to inner urban redevelopment based on converting old redundant buildings, Urban Splash has completed its first new build housing project. That history of conversion, much of it for housing, has convinced the developer that there is a big market for alternative forms and styles of living outside the volume housebuilders' perceptions of desirable housing. As a developer avowedly 'proud of the work we are undertaking in promoting design excellence and sustainable development', Urban Splash's 1998 competition brief for Timber Wharf included: linnovative contemporary design below a budget of £600/m 2, ideally considerably below this figure;

the possibility of new construction techniques that offer a visually interesting solution and cost-effective construction;

creative solutions to the internal planning of flats to offer maximum flexibility of layout;

scope for adaptation leading to mass production of a dwelling type for application on this or other sites;

energy efficiency, environmentally sound materials; and lthe fact that the market lies mainly in twobed accommodation - ranging from 60-100m 2- with maximum penthouse size in the region of 250m 2.The competition was won by Glenn Howells Architects, which was appointed in April 1999. The site borders the Bridgewater Canal at Castlefield and is part of the Britannia Basin old industrial site that already contains two recent Urban Splash conversion projects, mainly for housing - Britannia Mills and The Box Works. Timber Wharf runs parallel to Worsley Street (currently unadopted) at the front, leaving a triangular garden plot between the building and the canal at the rear. While there is evident potential in the remaining old industrial buildings and gap sites in the Basin, the new projects are as yet in the minority.

The prospect south over the Basin from Timber Wharf is thus today a 'pioneering' one, and to the north beyond the canal to the railway and other yet-to-be developed sites.

The council has not pushed for any shared equity or affordable units in Timber Wharf, instead seeking a high-quality scheme that will act as a catalyst for regeneration of the area. It is an area now confidently on the up.

As an inner urban building, transport is a definite plus, with the metro and bus services nearby and the canal towpath leading to the centre of Manchester. There is also about one car parking space per unit beneath the garden and in two levels of the basement.

Within this context, Timber Wharf is an imposing building, rising nine floors from the ground. Crosswall concrete construction and continuous balconies with storeyheight glazing set up a simple layered rhythm, interrupted off centre of the building by a full-height circulation core. The clean lines and the simple palette of concrete and glass in metal-framed openings fits with the robust existing buildings, that sometimes too have refined details.

The unexpected degree of transparency for a housing project and the focus on light continues into the circulation core, perhaps better described using the architect's term of atrium. While its prosaic function is simply to house stair and lift plus connect the two halves of the building at each level, it is a striking space that feels like one continuous volume from ground to roof, achieved by paring down the presence of the built elements. The lifts are glass backed. The stair is reduced in bulk - steel-framed with open concrete treads and glass balustrades. At each level the link between half-floors, picking up the lift and staircase, is a concrete bridge with glass balustrades, following the line and width of the corridor. Some may find these perches vertiginous, but there is no denying the drama of this volume, fully glazed on both sides of the building.

We become even more conscious here than outside of the architect's focus on the touch and look of materials. The palette is a simple, basic one - concrete, metal, glass, stone, and wood. Glenn Howells cites as one precedent the US Case Study Houses programme of the 1940s, having 'a similar agenda to produce out-of-the-ordinary residential buildings by adapting and refining readily available materials and constructional systems'. As with the neighbouring industrial buildings, there is no artifice of veneers and other finishing layers. Throughout, the concrete is fair-faced - very fair.

A formal partnering agreement between Histon Concrete Structures and project manager Urban Splash Projects allowed early involvement of this specialist contractor, essential for fast-tracking the concrete crosswall structure, which also provides the wall finish, unadorned in shared spaces and in apartments. These, plus requirements of the concrete for structural stability, sound insulation and fire resistance, required extensive research and the construction of numerous test panels. Care in casting the units in metal moulds and an acid-etch finish provide an animated surface. The first occupants are reported to have been happy to live with these surfaces rather than take up the developer's offer of painting them at no extra cost.

Other packages were often on a two-stage tender to allow early involvement of the manufacturer, too. The glazed screens, with their sliding opening doors, were a particular focus. The architect could not find anything suitable in the UK, but managed to orchestrate cooperation between Danish MAG Hansen and Germany's Schüco to create nine differing bespoke units, 6m x 3m, delivered to site as large units.

It is unusual in any account of a building to enthuse about corridors.Here the architect has carried the openness and palette of the atrium through to the corridors with an indoor-outdoor feel. Corridor walls adjacent to the core provide bracing, giving a sense of opening out beyond rather than convergence.

Floors are uncarpeted, with margins of loose slate fragments, crossed by small timber 'bridges' at front doors. A central drop ceiling allows corridors to be indirectly well-lit but not glaring. Freestanding columns punctuate the length and their detachment from the walls increases apparent width. The corridors are distinct places within the building.

Through the front doors there are nine unit types among the 182 units. On the ground and first floor are live/work duplexes, some taken by Urban Splash, some by retailers (selling blinds could be big business), some being considered for residential use. These units open directly from the front of the building; given a little privacy on Worsley Street by a deep margin of external decking along the face of the building.

Above these units there are five floors, each with an identical mix of one-bed and two- to three-bed units facing either north or south.

On the floor above, these types continue on the north-facing (canal) side. The south comprises the lower floors of penthouse duplexes which also occupy the entire top floor; each penthouse there facing in both directions. (There are variants on some of these at the ends of the building with their panoramic views. ) There is a loft-like feel, particularly in the duplexes, but elsewhere, too, with their unadorned materials, 2,650mm ceiling heights and storey-height doors. Bedrooms and living rooms all have balconies. The smaller units, of 60-100m 2, have simple interiors and begin at a modest £80,000 for one bedroom. Electrical sockets are mostly in the floor; heating is by large convectors, which today would be substituted with underfloor heating. Penthouses range up to 250m 2, aimed at a different market, with high-spec fittings, iroko and slate floors, granite worktops and Starck sanitaryware. Even so, there is no inconsistency of underlying feel. For example, in the penthouses at the ends of the building, where standard concrete crosswalls give way to steel framing to open up views, the steelwork is left exposed.

Views across the surrounding area are spectacular, although on Worsley Street they will eventually be hedged in at lower levels by other buildings. The canal side will remain open, and people can look down on an enclosed garden designed in a complementary, contemporary idiom. The garden's narrow length is punctuated by terracing as it responds to the marked fall across the site.

Whether plants will conform to the required regimentation remains to be seen. But it is elegantly done, and includes a fair-faced concrete table-tennis table and chessboard pattern-topped tables. Intended for individual use or for communal events should these develop, the garden is shared by all occupants of Timber Wharf and the adjoining Box Works.

Apartments are being sold to individual occupiers or sold for letting, either to individuals or block purchase by investors.

Prices are said to be comparable to volume house building. Annual service charges are about £1/ft 2.There are 999-year leases, with the freehold held in common, as the Timber Wharf Management Company. Ground rent is one grain of sand.

Approaching Timber Wharf you are tempted to ask, is it housing? Yes it is - challenging, and winning.


We first became involved at competition stage as part of the technical assessment team providing support to the judging panel. From the outset, Urban Splash made it clear that the main aim of the competition was for the designers to explore the use of volume building techniques applied to the production of high-quality and individual apartments.

The Glenn Howells' scheme, with its rational structural grid of exposed precast concrete walls, directly addressed this key requirement.

We took the competition concept and worked closely with Glenn Howells' team to refine and deliver the purity of the architectural form. Given the clarity of the architectural form, the structural approach was straightforward in principle - the main structure comprises precast, reinforced concrete walls and floors supported by an in situ reinforced concrete car park and substructure. The building is founded directly onto the natural rock.

As with all pre-manufactured then assemble-on-site solutions, the design team had to pay particular attention to the detail of the precast units; balancing the manufacturing need for repetition of elements with the wider demands of the overall building design. This involved working very closely alongside the precast concrete subcontractor to see that the quality and detail of the finished flats was not lost in the manufacturing process.

Urban Splash's in-house construction management approach aims to remove unnecessary costs and wasted effort by avoiding conflict and seeing that all parties are able to remain focused on the quality and cost-effectiveness of the finished building. Construction methods and buildability were discussed directly with the construction team and ideas incorporated into the design. The Construction Management Team provided a clear communication route to the individual subcontractors and managed the flow and programme of construction information between design team and subcontractors.

Martin Stockley, Martin Stockley Associates


Analysis based on a combination of tender sum and final account

SUBSTRUCTURE FOUNDATIONS/SLABS £81.68/m 2 Substructure, basement car park

SUPERSTRUCTURE FRAME £75.63/m 2Precast concrete crosswalls (grey and white), steel

UPPER FLOORS £32.94/m 2Precast concrete floor units, steel grilles, balcony units

ROOF £14.42/m 2 Roof finishes, timber structure, balcony waterproofing

STAIRCASES £11.50/m 2Atrium stairs, apartment stairs

EXTERNAL WALLS £7.02/m 2 Aluminium and timber cladding

WINDOWS, EXTERNAL DOORS £73.68/m 2 Glazing, sliding doors, external doors, car park roller

shutter INTERNAL WALLS AND PARTITIONS £33.14/m 2Excludes concrete crosswalls

INTERNAL DOORS £16.76/m 2Doors, frames, ironmongery 32

INTERNAL FINISHES WALL FINISHES £12.48/m 2Ceramic wall tiling, painting, cladding

FLOOR FINISHES £12.28/m 2 Timber, carpet, linoleum, concrete pavings, decking

CEILING FINISHES £14.81/m 2Plasterboard, painting, joinery

FITTINGS AND FURNISHINGS FURNITURE £26.90/m 2 Kitchen fittings, white goods, refuse chute, signage, post box installation

SERVICES SANITARY APPLIANCES £11.11/m 2 Supply and fit

ELECTRICAL SERVICES, HEATING, COMMS £82.07/m 2Small power, heating, lighting, mechanical installation, CCTV, intercom, intruder alarm, statutory connections

LIFT INSTALLATION £3.12/m 2 Atrium lift

BUILDERS'WORK IN CONNECTION £2.92/m 2Holes, plinths etc




Urban Splash www. urbansplash. co. uk

Glenn Howells Architects www. glennhowells. co. uk

Simon Fenton Partnership www. sfp-mcr. co. uk

Martin Stockley Associates www. martinstockleyassociates. co. uk

Buro Happold/FEDRA www. burohappold. com

Dewhurst McFarlane and Partners www. dewmac. com

Landscape Projects www. landscapeprojects. co. uk

Faber Maunsell www. fabermaunsell. com

Wintech www. wintech-group. co. uk

WSP development www. wspgroup. com/uk


TENDER DATE Packages procured May 2000 to October 2001



GROSS EXTERNAL FLOOR AREA 25,650m 2 (including car park)

CONTRACT/ PROCUREMENT Management Form of Contract/work contract packages

TOTAL COST £14,800,000

CLIENT Urban Splash

ARCHITECT Glenn Howells Architects: Bob Ghosh, Glenn Howells, Darren Barbier, Nicola Hopwood, Martin Pain, Ben Parsons, Naomi Fisher, Giovanna Daldello


QUANTITY SURVEYOR Simon Fenton Partnership

STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Martin Stockley Associates



GLASS DESIGN ENGINEER Dewhurst McFarlane and Partners

LANDSCAPE CONSULTANTS Hyland Edgar Driver Landscape Projects

FIRE ENGINEERS Buro Happold FEDRA Faber Maunsell



SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS Structural frame, cladding Histon Concrete Structures; glazingMAG Hansen, Schüco; electrical Cegelec; mechanical Alan Mechanical Services, Adana; timber cladding Carlton Smith; lift Oakland Elevators; metalwork F&J Hauck, Europa Engineering, Drawn Metal;

metalwork/balustrading Design and Fabricate; specialist atrium steelwork Tubemasters; lighting Erco, Concord: Marlin; internal partitions, plasterboard linings Derbyshire Dry Lining; paving JPN Cast Stone; roofing Carlton, MAC Roofing;ironmongery Thews; carpets Desso Esco; kitchens Luxwell; sanitaryware CP Hart; joinery SJS; timber flooring Glenwood Flooring; slate flooring Kirkstone; linoleum flooring PCS Flooring; external timber louvres Colman Moducel; signage Pearce Signs, PPE Services

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