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Manchester Charrette: Ollier Smurthwaite Architects

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Ollier Smurthwaite’s proposals for a new Airport City outside Manchester: New cottage industries at the Lost Hamlet of Heyhead

Ollier Smurthwaite Architects

Matt Ollier and Alaster Smurthwaite

Ollier Smurthwaite Architects was formed in 2007 and is currently working across a number of sectors on projects ranging from one-off houses to £200 million mixed-use masterplans. The practice creates unique buildings that draw on a site’s rich layers of history and respond to both context and function.


Design approach

Our proposals consider the site and wider masterplan, and convey to visitors on arrival Manchester’s unique history and qualities.

Manchester was the world’s first industrial city, saw the birth of the world’s first computer and was the place where Ernest Rutherford discovered how to split the atom. The modern world was invented in the workshops of Ancoats.

Manchester Airport is built on the hamlet of Heyhead. In 1800 it was peat bog, by 1839 it was farmland and by 1875 market gardens. In 1970 Heyhead was a small settlement with shops and cottages but by 2011 all of its buildings had vanished.

Ollier Smurthwaite

We split the masterplan into three zones: to the east, facing existing farmland, smaller local businesses; in the centre, more attractions that would generate activity throughout the day with event spaces and an aviation museum; and to the west, and facing the M56 motorway, larger multinational businesses. We wanted to draw visitors through the new masterplan from the edges. The parking, bus stops, taxi ranks and bike stores are located in linear buildings that form walls to the city’s core.

Our solution inverts the traditional notion of offices above retail: large office floorplates offer flexible, co-working community spaces located beneath a shared landscape, with retail cottages perched above to evoke the historic vernacular. Walk to work past grazing sheep where you can grow your lunch and roll down a hill.

This is an architecture of our essential humanity, which mediates our relations between nature, place and community – it’s an original modern city.

Crit notes

Ed Lister The bold landscape form is an interesting gesture, although I have my misgivings about the wall around the site. The idea to bring something like the Manchester aviation museum to the site is something we considered.

Phil Doyle It might not be the correct commercial proposition, but it does pose some interesting questions about what could happen.

Michel Mossessian You are shaping the void, but how do you bring light to the offices? It’s an interesting feature for the site – it could be a space like Xerox park. There is something to be said for this.

Ruairidh Jackson I’m trying to stop myself from saying ‘but there is no money there’. We have struggled to find any historic identity for the site; you have found the hook. The tension between the historic ideas of Manchester and the site and the ideas [concept?] of modernity and the airport is interesting.

Rory Olcayto There is a poetic desire here, punning on the idea of an office park. Using the brook is inspired.

60 seconds with Ollier Smurthwaite

What do you think of when you hear the words ‘business park’?
Generally, sadness, vacant spaces you drive there and away from. There is not a lot of life around it. Images of Milton Keynes spring to mind. Inhumane space.

And when you hear the words ‘airport city’?
I don’t have too many preconceived ideas. I’d never given any time to think what it meant. It’s not a city as we know. It gives the impression it is a city, not around the airport but integral to it. You can’t imagine a city without an airport.

What is the single most appealing aspect of the site and masterplan?
How do you differentiate the airport city? We have worked with the history of the site and the city. How do you address a sense of place, the sadness of business parks?  

In one sentence, sum up how you are bringing the site to life.
This is the lost hamlet of Heyhead – little cottage industries that return to the history of the site, drawing on the three ages of Manchester’s evolution.

Which Manchester pop song sums up your approach?
‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis.

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