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Critics hit out at Ian Simpson's St Peters Square office plans

Ian Simpson Architects’ proposed 11-storey office building in St Peter’s Square, Manchester has been attacked by conservation groups

The £80 million scheme for Mosley Street Ventures, which has just been submitted for planning, will see the demolition of the 1930s Century House as well as Sussex House, Bennett House and Clarendon House.

Housing 15,000m² of office space and 460m² of retail space, the No2 St Peter’s Square development will sit next to Glenn Howells Architects’ £50 million One St Peter’s Square project which is currently under construction (AJ 16.02.2010).

However a concerned Twentieth Century Society told the AJ it would be objecting to the application arguing that the stone-fronted Century House, although not listable, was of ‘architectural merit’ and made ‘a positive contribution’ to the conservation area.

Eddy Rhead of the Manchester Modernist Society was also unhappy and said: ‘This is just another nail in the coffin of what was once a fine civic space and is further evidence that Manchester City Council seems intent on turning the area into a commercial space as bland and insipid as Spinningfields.

‘St Peter’s Square has a fine range of buildings of various styles and periods and the combination of Lutyens Cenotaph and Harris’ Central Library and Town Hall extension was one of the best inter-war ensembles in the country. With the desecration of the Cenotaph to make way for a tram line and the closing off of Library Walk this ensemble will be destroyed and the demolition of Century House and the inevitable loss of the former Odeon cinema will see the continuing loss of important heritage assets in this important conservation area.’

Rhead concluded: ‘This proposed building is of not high enough quality to justify the loss of Century House.’

Jonathan Schofield, writing for online magazine Manchester Confidential, had similar issues with the planned scheme. He wrote: ‘Let’s hope that the decorative screen is substantial and not paper-thin and tatty and tired in ten years. Let’s hope Ian Simpson Architects [does something] proper pretty with this and it doesn’t rust and look embarrassing.

He added: ‘The test is this. If a building replaces an existing one that carries street presence as Century House does, then the architect of the new building should make damned sure it’s as good as the one it replaces and capable of just as long a life.’

The objections to the Simpson scheme are unlikely to stop the developer from flattening the block. Darryl Lee, director of Mosley Street Ventures, said: ‘The developers have had lengthy and detailed discussions about their proposals with English Heritage and Manchester City Council, who have pronounced themselves happy with the scheme.’

An English Heritage spokesperson added: ‘Long before Century House was built, St Peter’s Square was envisaged as a grand civic space, and English Heritage feels that the Simpson scheme, taken with other developments which are under way, goes some way to realising that ambition. While we think that Century House makes a positive contribution to the conservation area, we feel that its loss is outweighed by the public benefits of the scheme.’

The square itself is being revamped by German landscape stars Latz + Partner which won the international competition to redesign the public space as part of the city council’s Town Hall Complex Transformation project in May last year (AJ 18.05.12).

Subject to planning the Ian Simpson project could complete in early 2016.

Architect’s view - Ian Simpson, of Ian Simpson Architects

‘From the beginning there was a desire to create a positive addition to the future aspirations for St Peter’s Square that would be a defining component in the regeneration of the City’s Civic Quarter. The contemporary exterior uses stone that bears a strong relationship to the locality and heritage architecture, and the decorative elevation will complement the staircase to the Town Hall Extension, creating visual cohesion within the site.’

 

 

 

 

 

Readers' comments (2)

  • The English Heritage statement is baffling. They are correct that St Peter's Square was envisaged as a grand civic space but that was a plan devised back in the 1930's and it included a large City Hall building - a public amenity. To use a unrealised idea from 80 years ago to justify a decision is just bonkers.
    Beside that - this isnt creating a civic space and 'realising that ambition'. This is just another unnecessary commercial development and i think English Heritage, MCC and Simpson really dont understand what is meant by 'civic space'. I also fail to see what 'public benefits' there are to yet another commercial development in a city which has acres of unlet office space - much of it just yards from St Peters Square.

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  • The erection of this huge anemic beige box does not justify the demolition of Century House. It will over power the Grade II* listed Library and Town Hall Extension and the Grade I Town Hall and the gimmicky 'petal leaf' decoration to the side is best left in the garden centre.

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