When the Grade II-listed public swimming baths in Blackfriars Road, Salford, was built in 1910 it was a finely detailed structure, with stained-glass windows set in red brick and terracotta walls, and a roof of carved timber trusses on gallows brackets, rising to a clerestory-glazed lantern at the ridge. The baths closed to the public in 1960; the pool was filled in, a new concrete upper floor inserted at the front and it was used as a light industrial warehouse.
But by the time it was acquired by the OMI Group in 2001, the fabric was suffering from extensive dry rot and structural failure.
In converting the former baths into four design studios, OMI Architects took on a huge project, particularly with respect to the roof: the truss ends were suffering from dry rot and the gallows brackets along one wall had to be replaced with a column-andbrace support system. The gallows brackets had also distorted a section of the external brick wall, which had to be rebuilt. Most of the roof timbers and the lantern were suffering from dry rot and needed replacing; it had to be reroofed with reclaimed slates; and a new roof glazing system had to be installed. Theses structural problems were resolved with the help of Anthony Hunt Associates.
Today the building has a new life: a group of vibrant contemporary studios - two on each floor - has been housed within the restored Edwardian shell. 'We wanted to create a counterpoint between the restored fabric of the original and the introduction of contemporary elements related to its new use, ' explains OMI's project architect. 'At the same time we are interested in subliminal things that influence the way people engage with buildings and develop a sense of belonging.' This is apparent the moment you enter the entrance foyer. A new staircase rises before you, but it is not just a means of getting from one floor to another; it widens at the base, animating the foyer and offering an opportunity to pause for a chat without being in the way of circulation traffic. The staircase and the adjoining wall panel - more than 5m wide and rising to 1,800mm above the first-fl oor landing - are made of 10mm steel plate, welded and painted in a dark, battleship grey. Together they act as a durable steel 'lining' that appears to float, as a final overlay, within the sculpted volume of the stairwell. This effect is achieved by extending the edges of the steel-plate panel beyond its fixings and closure strips.
The new stairwell opening rises to a restored clerestoryglazed lantern light at the ridge, passing exposed original concrete beams and roof trusses to give an opportunity to experience the height and nature of the original building. The landing on the way to OMI's new studio has walls containing shelves and alcoves, giving the impression that they are thick and sculptured; in fact, they are thin partitions of studwork and plasterboard. The studio, framed by the original roof trusses, is filled with light from overhead rooflights and clerestory-glazing.
The conversion has played a part in the regeneration of the area. On the other side of the road, hoardings are going up and cranes are being installed to build a major new mixed-use development. OMI is the architect for this new project - site supervision should not be too difficult.