Winner: ABK Architects
Runners-up: Brisac Gonzalez Architecture Bucholz McEvoy Architects
What do you do with an off-centre site dominated as much by an ungainly 1970s municipal office behemoth as by the elegant Edwardian wedding cake town hall? The answer for ABK, winner of this part of the competition, is to maximise the impact of the public space by enclosing it with a giant translucent/transparent roof, and to provide new and improved town hall facilities in a discrete building - a building within an enclosure.
Replacement office buildings developed on a phased basis would allow all council office uses to be brought to this one site.
The architects argued that the relationship of the 'one-stop shop' town hall facility to its site should act as a parallel to that between the site as a whole and Stockport itself; the site and its contents should act as a destination rather than as a little-used through route. The whole would take on a sense of theatre as a public space to be inhabited and used for a variety of purposes - a 'public realm for the English climate'.
The glazed council chamber building would have a roof garden on the top - a fixed point in an otherwise flexible scheme. The chamber itself would have a circular configuration, but with a flat floor capable of adaptation for various uses.Visitors would be able to view council proceedings (though formal meetings take place rarely) from above as well as in the chamber itself.
Though the model of the scheme suggested a glazed roof, the report spells out that it would probably be a lightweight steel structure with 'inflated pillow-like membranes' filling in the diagonal grid - shades of the Eden Project. The proposal appeared to work well in sustainability terms (most of the project is naturally ventilated), with glazed openings allowing excess heat to escape from the enclosed space in hot weather.
Rainwater would be saved from the plaza roof and used for grey-water uses within the complex.
The architects acknowledged that they had envisaged more in the proposal than was strictly required by the brief; in the client's view this was not a problem, sine the scheme, like the other winners, would be the basis for further detailed consultation about scope and programme. Unlike the other two sites, this one is often visited by the public, not to observe local democracy in action, but to take part in various events staged in the ballroom adjacent to the rather magnificent town hall. That presents an additional challenge to the competition site, since unless it were to be the occasion for some large-scale 'external'event, there is little chance that anybody would want to visit. The huge sloping roof is an answer which requires two-stage construction. Its completion as currently envisaged would need the demolition and replacement of existing buildings on the site.The size of the prize, and the advantages of the proposal, make this something the client is prepared to contemplate. The first phase would comprise the requirements of the brief to date, with a portion of the roof.
New buildings and the remainder of the roof would follow.
Brisac Gonzalez went for what it calls a radical measure, transferring an existing car park to an adjacent site to get a 'clean slate'. It designed several flat plates onto the sloping land, with a civic level - and glazed council chamber - 'carved' from the landscape, a sloping grass lawn that acts as the council chamber roof. And it wanted a new town hall that was 'soft and porous'at its edges, with engaging and entertaining surfaces, capable of transmitting information. It was one of the few schemes to explore lighting design.