Ian Simpson Architects' work with Manchester Museum over nearly 10 years has helped give it a new public face
Last month's 'reopening' of Manchester Museum was not an opening after closure so much as a celebration marking the completion of a major phase in its transformation.
In fact it remained as nearly fully open as possible over the period. The transformation is aimed at shifting the museum's role from being largely a university institution to being perceived much more as Manchester's museum, a major public resource. The buildings were in several ways ill-suited to this expanded role. Not to mention the lack of significant capital spending since 1927.
As often in the 19th century, the museum's origins were the collections of local societies, in this case the Manchester Society of Natural History (which at one stage had its own building) and the Manchester Geological and Mining Society. Despite Manchester's textile wealth, the societies, having merged, later became insolvent, and the collections were adopted by Manchester University in 1867. Though open to interested people outside the university, the collections became largely adjuncts of various related university departments.
In some ways the university did the collections proud. Alfred Waterhouse was commissioned to house the natural history collection in a building on Oxford Road, which opened in 1888. A sort of strippedGothic, today perhaps seen as hinting at a less-decorated architectural future. In 1912 this run of buildings was continued by his son, Paul Waterhouse, in a more conventional manner, mainly to house archaeological and Egyptological collections. In 1927, the next generation Michael Waterhouse was involved, though that extension looks like the implementation of a scheme his father had already envisaged - the 1912 and 1927 buildings combine into a symmetrical composition. Later the museum took over from the dental school the building immediately to the north, a contrasting Baroque design of 1908 by Charles Heathcote & Sons.
As a public face along Oxford Road, what Manchester got from the Waterhouses was near 100m of Gothic Revival in sombre gritstone, more grand than inviting. And though Oxford Road is a main route from the south into the city centre a mile away, this locale is essentially a major campus.
Years ago the bus conductors would shout 'College of Knowledge' and only university staff and students would get off. The continuing growth of the university, of the adjoining UMIST, the Manchester Metropolitan University and several other educational institutions is rapidly turning the area into a mono-functional, educational enclave.
Manchester as a city is big enough not to be dominated by this, but locally it is an area where many people feel they don't belong.
Thus, enticing people to the museum has been a major challenge - met partly by proactive outreach by the museum organisation, especially to schools, partly through changes to the buildings which have been designed by Ian Simpson Architects. The project so far has cost about £21 million, approximately half spent on construction works.
One of the main challenges has been to address how the buildings read externally and, along with that, specifically the siting and design of the entrance. Compromises with conservation authorities have made signage less prominent than the museum would have liked. There is a limited number ofbanners along the road mounted on simple steel masts that will add some welcome colour on a drizzly Manchester day; English Heritage was happy with more, the conservation officer would have preferred none.
The entrance and its marking also needed change. The public entrance comprised a few unobtrusive steps up to a small arch in the 1912 building leading to a limited reception area, nowhere near large enough to receive, say, two coach-loads of school students. Fortunately there is a large arched opening to a rear courtyard between the 1888 and 1912 buildings, which has become the new approach.Again the signage here is a bit understated, a horizontal beam cantilevering out from the arch over the pavement. Once into the courtyard, there has been extensive repaving to lead you round to a new entrance pavilion, unfortunately not visible from the street. There is a broad glazed storey, the floors above faced in lead panels. (The original entrance now contains a display case, a rare example of the collections being visible from the street. ) The pavilion's scale, openness and lightness is in strong and welcome contrast to the rather heavily wrought, dark-timbered galleries with their subdued lighting. As well as reception, the pavilion provides space for a shop, direct access to an education suite where students can handle replaceable exhibits (continued in the basement) and less-direct access to a new cafe in the Heathcote building - this can also be entered direct from the street without going into the museum and is well-used by the university community. At the rear of the pavilion are double doors leading to a temporary exhibition gallery, serviced to international environmental standards for accepting loans of objects.
As you enter the new pavilion there are an Egyptian column and some related stone objects that you can touch, symbolic of the new openness of the museum. There is also a line of four currently empty display cases, which are to be filled by artist Richard Wentworth, focusing on ideas he feels are raised by the collections. Wentworth is not, though, a late addition to the project - he has been with the design team from early 1998, with an open brief. Job architect Charlie Mackeith found this very stimulating, and it was often Wentworth who kept the focus on the big picture when the rest of the team were getting locked into the detail.
This pavilion and a few other new public realm interventions of addition and removal are the most evident new works, but they do not constitute the majority of the project.
Much of it is in support of the collections, with careful repair and refurbishment. For example, every gallery has been touched by reservicing, though the public are unlikely to notice.Most galleries have been redisplayed, but even simply dusting exhibits too sensitive to move has given a new freshness. And there has been an enormous amount of work creating renewed backstage spaces, mainly in the rest of the dental school building and in the Schuster Building, adjacent to the newly paved courtyard approach. For many curators this has, for the first time, brought their collections together in one place, in decent conditions, now stored much more accessibly on new shelving and rolling stacks. It has also housed the curators with their collections, not always achieved in the past. All this not only helps the staff but furthers the museum's wider role, making the collections more accessible also to researchers from outside the university.
The complex project process has also absorbed much effort, with committees of up to 60 keepers, the phasing of works, decanting and recanting. Some staff and objects are still moving in.
In the galleries few of the original Waterhouses' display cases have survived. Later ones did not cry out for preservation. The opportunity has been taken to renew the display cases and lighting in some galleries. The work by gallery designer Ivor Heal Design, eg in the archery and money galleries, is a very successful setting of modern objects - the display cases with their lighting - within the historic context of the existing gallery shells. It is hoped that the design vocabulary developed here will be taken up as other galleries are refurbished in years to come.
Circulation has been another key focus for Simpson. There is not much that can be done about the rather labyrnthine original layout without major rebuilding, but the entrance pavilion and a new steel and glass stair tower adjacent provide a key point of reference. The other main problem for the public, who have always used the museum, albeit in modest numbers, was that the arch now used as the entry point to the site connected the 1888 and 1912 buildings visually but not functionally. A sparkling steel and glass two-storey bridge has now been built behind the arch starting at first floor level (see Working Details, pages 40-41), flanked by new/renewed staircases in either building.Again Simpson makes a clear distinction between what is old and new, holding them clearly apart.
It is easy to focus on these headline interventions - the new approach and entrance pavilion, the cafe fit-out, the bridge and new staircases. Simpson, the architect of Urbis among others, is not well-known for reticence. But here some reticence has been appropriate, mixing the new elements that send out messages of renewed life and approachability with a respectful support for the collections, helping them to speak for themselves.
CREDITS FEASIBILITY START DATE 1994 INITIAL FUNDING APPLICATION 1995 START ON SITE DATE Phase 1: refurbishment of galleries, new stairs, lifts - 1999 Phase 2: new research collections and storage - 2000 Phase 3: extension and internal alterations - 2001 CONTRACT Phase 1: JCT 80.Phases 2 and 3:
JCT 98 TOTAL COST Phase 1: £3,500,000 Phase 2: £900,000 Phase 3: £7,000,000 CLIENT The Manchester Museum/The University of Manchester FUNDERS The Heritage Lottery Fund, European Regional Development Fund, Wellcome Trust, The Wolfson Foundation, The University of Manchester PROJECT MONITOR TO HERITAGE LOTTERY FUND Stanhope/Terry Doyle (Foresight) ARCHITECT Ian Simpson Architects: David Green, Rachel Haugh, Mayoor Jagjiwan, Ben Kabuye, Charlie MacKeith, Jacquie Milham, Dan Newport, Mark Savage, Ian Simpson, Jim Sloan, John Steventon, Michael Thomas, Patrick Thomas, Tim Wenham GALLERY DESIGNER Ivor Heal Design (Phases 1 and 3) MET Studio (Phase 2) PROJECT MANAGER Appleyard and Trew QUANTITY SURVEYOR Rex Proctor and Partners STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Faber Maunsell LIGHTING CONSULTANT Kevan Shaw Lighting Design SERVICES CONSULTANT Operon VISUAL ARTS CONSULTANT Bev Bytheway ARTIST/SCULPTOR Richard Wentworth ACCESS CONSULTANT Full Circle Arts MAIN CONTRACTOR Styles and Wood (Phases 1 and 3) Hayvern/Enterprise (Phase 2) MJ Gleeson Group (Phase 3) FIT-OUT CONTRACTOR (GALLERIES) Edwin Dyson and Sons SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS Terrazzo tiles Quiligotti Terrazzo;
terrazzo cast treads and planks A Andrews + Sons; linoleum Forbo-Nairn; oak flooring PCS;
microdiorite stone paving Hardscape; metalwork Dearnside Fabrications, ArcForm, Rileys (Metalwork), Warrington Fabrications; acoustic plaster ceilings British Gypsum; ceiling tiles Burgess Architectural Products; purpose-designed layin tiles CEP Ceilings; reception counters, timber acoustic linings, special doors Aliwood;
shop fit-out Pyramas; forming of oak handrail Timbmet Rochdale;
showcases Click Systems; display mounts Plowden + Smith;
stonework display plinths Warrington Fabrications;
benches Edwin Dyson and Sons, Vitra; kitchen system Ideal Time;
blinds Levolux; internal signage HB Sign Co; cantilevered beam, banner posts Alan Dawson Associates; banners, cafe sign Trafford Signs; signage post case Astra Group; lighting ERCO Lighting, Louis Poulsen UK, Whitecroft Lighting, Zumtobel Staff Lighting, Concord Marlin;
electrical services NG Bailey;
door furniture, ironmongery ASSA; window security films Filmtek;
fire-rated structural glazing Promat Fire Protection;
replacement cast-iron windows Don Barker; laboratory sinks GEC Anderson; laboratory extraction benches Astec Microflow; rolling rack storage Invicta Storage Systems; internal stone cleaning Maysand WEBLINKS The Manchester Museum www. museum. man. ac. uk Stanhope www. stanhopeplc. com Ian Simpson Architects www. iansimpsonarchitects. com Ivor Heal Design www. ivorhealdesign. co. uk MET Studio www. metstudio. com Appleyard and Trew www. appleyardandtrew. com Faber Maunsell www. fabermaunsell. com Kevan Shaw lighting Design www. kevan-shaw. com Operon www. operon. eu. com Full Circle Arts www. full-circle-arts. co. uk MJ Gleeson Group www. mjgleeson. com Edwin Dyson and Sons www. dysons. com