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Sheppard Robson to overhaul 'maverick' Alan Short-designed theatre

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Sheppard Robson has been appointed to revamp the ‘completely maverick’ late 1990s Contact theatre in Manchester by Alan Short and Associates

The existing structure of the ‘pale brick..ramble of a building’, will be fully retained under the £6million remodelling - although new landscaping and lighting will be added.

The work to the building, which opened in 1999, will also include improvements to the overall capacity of the public areas including the bar, café and box office spaces, as well as the overhaul of the back house areas, transforming the experience for visitors to the multi-disciplinary venue.

The revamp will increase space within the award-winning theatre by around 300m² and will ‘make the most of its setting along Corridor Manchester which, according to project lead at Sheppard Robson James Jones, is ‘quickly becoming the commercial, educational and cultural spine of the city’.

On the challenges of working with a well-known building, Jones said: ‘The project is in its very early stages and designs are still to be developed.

‘It’s clear that Contact is very proud of the building and we will soon be meeting with Alan Short and the Contact team to develop a complete understanding of his original design.’

Short told the AJ that he and the design team were ‘enormously proud and fond of the original building’ which was a ‘completely maverick design’, and he was excited about meeting the new designers next month.

He added that the building ‘combined energy efficiency with craft designs’, and said that the carbon savings turned out to have been ‘entirely justified’ reflecting sustainability concerns that ‘are now mainstream policy’.

Matt Fenton, artistic director and chief executive of Contact, said: ‘We’re delighted about the appointment of Sheppard Robson to lead the process of transforming Contact’s building. The project will cement our role as the leading arts organisation nationally focusing on young creativity and leadership, as well as delivering a state of the art production facility for innovative new performances and digital projects, for audiences in Greater Manchester, nationally and online’.

The redevelopment is being partly-funded by £3.85 million from Arts Council of England.


Eddy Rhead from Manchester Modernist Society: ‘Personally I never felt comfortable in the Short building and perhaps this revamp is needed.

‘Externally, it is exciting and original but once inside it was slightly confusing and I always felt a little claustrophobic. By the sounds of it Sheppard Robson aren’t planning any alterations to the exterior and this may just be a case of some well-needed TLC and reordering.

‘How they intend to improve its visibility, I am intrigued to learn. It already has a very distinctive presence, albeit slightly set back from the Oxford Road, but overall if this improves the facilities and increases Contact’s engagement that it can only be welcomed.’

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