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Bennetts' Manchester University proposals come under fire

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Bennetts Associates’ proposals to overhaul the University of Manchester’s north campus have been called ‘disastrous’ by opponents of the scheme, who claim it could destroy some of the city’s finest post-war architecture

The Twentieth Century Society has joined Manchester Modernist Society and its patron Johnny Marr in speaking out against a draft strategic regeneration framework (SRF) for the 11.8ha city centre site.

Among concerns is the future of the Grade II-listed Hollaway Wall, a 68m-long concrete wall designed by the artist Anthony Hollaway in 1968.

The campus, created for the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) in the 1960s, is situated near Manchester’s Piccadilly train station and Oxford Road. Many of its buildings will become redundant when the university’s Manchester Engineering Campus Development opens in 2021.

The SRF, published by Manchester City Council, anticipates the site could then provide facilities including a new technology, learning, research and development hub, between 1,000 and 2,500 new homes, 132,000m² of commercial office space, 13,000m² of retail and restaurant space, 400-500 hotel rooms, and serviced accommodation.

The proposals suggest Hollaway Wall ‘creates a physical barrier into the site’ and ‘compromises development opportunities’. It outlines three options: removing and relocating the wall, renovating and possibly shortening the wall and treating it as a piece of sculptural art, or shortening the wall and incorporating it into the base of a new building.

Twentieth Century Society director Catherine Croft said her organisation was concerned that a Grade II-listed sculpture was ‘being treated as a hindrance rather than celebrated as a valuable piece of public art’.

The city needs to protect what we have that makes us unique and make it work for the future, not destroy it

Johnny Marr, patron, Manchester Modernist Society

The framework also suggests removing the white concrete Renold Building’s podium to allow for a new residential block. Although not listed, the 1962 tower, designed by W Arthur Gibbon of Cruickshank & Seward, is lauded as the first academic building of its type in the country, with the entire building housing lecture theatres and seminar rooms.

Photograph taken after second stage of construction of the UMIST Campus, Manchester

Photograph taken after second stage of construction of the UMIST Campus, Manchester

Photograph taken after second stage of construction of the UMIST Campus, Manchester

‘The Renold Building with its bold faceted curtain wall is worthy of retention and sensitive adaptation,’ said Croft. ‘The UMIST site as a whole really warrants an in-depth conservation assessment before plans progress any further.’

Mancunian former Smiths guitarist Marr also criticised the proposals, calling the destruction of existing buildings ‘a huge mistake’.

He added: ‘In making the city look like everywhere else, Manchester will lose a part of its cultural heritage and identity. The city needs to protect what we have that makes us unique and make it work for the future, not destroy it.’

Jack Hale, also from Manchester Modernist Society, added that it was important to speak out against the ‘disastrous proposals’. He said: ‘For now we have a remarkable collection of post-war buildings grouped together in a way which is unique to our city, but it could all so easily change.’

Bennetts Associates director Simon Erridge said he welcomed people responding to the consultation. ‘The team has worked with heritage advisers to assess the significance of the existing buildings and open spaces and has proposed that that many existing elements may be integrated into the emerging scheme,’ he said.

He added that the practice had tried to strike the ‘difficult balance’ between recognising the significance of existing buildings with the needs and requirements for the site and ambitions of the university and council.

Draft north campus strategic regeneration framework January 2017, by Bennetts Associates

Draft north campus strategic regeneration framework January 2017, by Bennetts Associates

Draft north campus strategic regeneration framework January 2017, by Bennetts Associates

A Manchester City Council spokesperson said: ‘The North Campus Strategic Regeneration Framework document is a guide that will help inform any future regeneration and maximise the benefits of development in what is currently an underused area of the city centre.

‘However, the document is not intended to address specific detail and no definitive plans are in place for the north campus. At this stage, the framework simply outlines the massive potential of the area, and we would encourage interested parties to comment on the proposals.’

A spokesperson for the University of Manchester also stressed that the framework represented ‘a guide only for the future development of the site’.

Public consultation on the document closes on 14 February.

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