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Tadao Ando's only UK building set for demolition


Tadao Ando’s opinion-splitting Piccadilly Gardens pavilion in Manchester – the Japanese architect’s only building in the UK – is set to be torn down

The controversial 14-year-old concrete structure, compared by some locals to the Berlin Wall, will be replaced by restaurants and a coffee shop designed by Urban Edge Architecture as part of a wider £10 million overhaul of the square.

Project backers Legal & General Investment Management Real Assets (L&G) and Manchester City Council say the new scheme will be ‘more attractive and welcoming to families’ than the existing Ando building and will deter anti-social behaviour.

The existing pavilion, built in 2002 as part of major makeover of the gardens, has been widely criticised and was even blamed for Piccadilly Gardens being branded one of the city’s worst tourist attractions by TripAdvisor.  

In 2013, Osaka-based Ando agreed that plans to cover the building’s grey concrete in greenery and plant-life were an interesting idea and that he would support them.

However, those proposals were ditched and L&G proposed a pair of larger pavilions to increase the developer’s lease area and fund the improvements.

Former Urban Splash director Nick Johnson said: ‘[Ando’s building] was a classic example – and there are many in architecture – of falling in love with the intellect behind the plan while failing to acknowledge the realities of context and human behaviour.

‘Like a lot of “starchitecture”, it’s like Naomi Campbell: nicer to look at in glossy magazines than live with.’

But Eddy Rhead of the Manchester Modernist Society said: ‘The same Manchester politicians who first commissioned this scheme are now the same ones washing their hands of it.

‘They have given into to a vocal minority who have been whipped up by the local press, and a potentially world-class public space that has “failed” because of poor management by the city council is being further undermined. The loss of the Ando pavilion is a victory for anti-aesthetes. But the more worrying aspect of this is the further loss of public space to commercial development.

He added: ‘The council and the landowner are seemingly using the excuse that the pavilion was unloved to increase the commercial encroachment on what is supposed to be a public square with myopic town planning and banal architecture.’

A public consultation setting out the proposals in more detail will be held in the Town Hall extension on Friday 2 and Saturday 3 December.

Ando’s only other completed project in the UK is a 2011 water feature in Mount Street, Mayfair, London (AJ 06.07.11).

Csw photomontage piccadilly gardens urban edge

Csw photomontage piccadilly gardens urban edge

Key information about the new scheme:

Plans include removing the existing building and feature wall and replacing them with two new pavilion buildings linked by a covered area of new public space for year-round use.

The proposals aim to improve lighting and the ‘design of the current pavilion building and gardens’ to deter anti-social behaviour and improve natural surveillance.

The scheme features extra seating throughout the gardens, more ‘soft landscaping’, together with new shrubs and plants.


Roger Stephenson of stephenson STUDIO

’[The new proposal] looks like shopping-centre architecture, which will need changing again in a few years time. The Ando wall and everything that surrounds it has suffered from zero maintenance, so it has depressingly dirty concrete and bench seating, rotting from lack of oil. Why not refurbish the Ando wall? If necessary, give it a new finish, which is easier to maintain. A much cheaper solution.’

Annabelle Tugby of Annabelle Tugby Architects

’We’d really support a design for a city garden. Construction in the gardens 14 years ago vastly reduced the openness and saw a huge decline in the amount of soft landscaping in the city.

’[Now] we have another chance to green our city, and yet this is lawns again with commercial opportunism thrown in in the form of more development in the space. Has commercialism overtaken the city’s aspiration for a green attraction in the city?’

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Stephen Hodder of Hodder + Partners

’[The Ando building] was an important component for the renewal of Piccadilly Gardens and a buffer to all the traffic movements between the gardens and Piccadilly Plaza. But it disconnects Chinatown and, despite it being a symbol of the regeneration, it’s impermeability has been a challenge. As a consequence it has polarised opinion.’

Faheem Aftab of 3DReid

’George Ferguson, while president of the RIBA (2003-2005) on a visit to Manchester, spoke of his concern about the architectural seagulls who fly in and deposit their mark on the city, for others to clean up the mess they leave behind.’

Owen Hatherley, critic and AJ columnist

’The Ando building is a pretty awful piece of urban design, regardless of its provenance from an architect who should have known better. But it was also one of the least bad things about the travesty that is Piccadilly Gardens. As far as I can see, the new proposal replicates the structure of Ando’s “wall”, only making it a bit nicer or, rather, more ingratiating.

’But the mess made of the main square of England’s second most important city will almost certainly remain, so long as it remains a pseudo-public space, one part chainstore hinterland, one part bank forecourt, and one part tangled-up transport interchange.’



Readers' comments (4)

  • The Ando wall actually offers some serenity in its simplicity, and defines areas which people actually seem to enjoy. It's certainly not perfect, though as with all of Ando's best projects, it requires the contrast of decent soft landscaping. The surface treatments, and vacuous central "garden", and fountain (which is of interest for about 2 weeks of the year) is the real issue in this central public space, which is completely neglected by these proposals. I doubt that a new landscaping scheme would gain much traction with the council (as it would have to come out of their own pockets).
    The implication that the proposals would be somehow more "permeable", are nonsense, it's a solid, building, with more mass, more height and of greater scale - admittedly with a bigger hole in the middle - it's more poor commercial space at the end of the day, with little consideration for the human element in our civic realm.

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  • Marcel Ridyard

    There is no doubt that the current Tadao Ando designed gardens have been poorly maintained, however the design is, in my view, flawed. The concrete wall 'divides' rather than screens the space and the hard and soft landscaping, with it's (1990's style) rotated grid laboriously distributed over the entire square - even when broken by a passing road or tramway at the far extremities, is un-sophisticated.
    Does the new proposal rectify these issues? I am not sure. I hope that the full proposals, to be displayed in December, will address the current failings and take a wider view of the space.

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  • Waiting here one night last winter - and ignorant of Ando's gift to Manchester - the wall seemed to be giving tram users a very big cold shoulder, and it was only by walking along to the 'portal' that a traveller would realise what they were being isolated from.

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  • The main problem with the so called star architecture is that, more and more often these days, it plainly disregards it's environment, it's cities and culture, seeking to create this "signature", selfish, egotistical buildings rather than creating something for the users.

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