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Tadao Ando’s only UK building spared after Piccadilly Gardens rethink

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Plans to pull down Tadao Ando’s Piccadilly Gardens pavilion in Manchester – the Japanese architect’s only building in the UK – have been abandoned

In 2017 Legal & General Investment Management Real Assets (L&G) won approval to flatten the controversial 17-year-old structure, with its infamous concrete wall, and replace it with a leisure-led scheme masterminded by Urban Edge Architecture.

But the developer has backtracked over its proposal, saying the scheme, drawn up in partnership with Manchester City Council to help fund a wider £10 million overhaul of the square, was no longer financially viable (pictured bottom). 

Instead the council says it is planning to spend around £2 million of its own money to improve Piccadilly Gardens and turn a chunk of Ando’s building into a ‘living wall’ covered in greenery.

The pavilion and walled perimeter were built in 2002 during a major makeover of the gardens, but have been widely criticised and even blamed for Piccadilly Gardens being branded one of the city’s worst tourist attractions by TripAdvisor.  

In 2013, Osaka-based Ando agreed that a proposal to cover the building’s grey concrete in greenery and plant life was an interesting idea which he would support. The plan was ditched in 2016 when L&G proposed to build a pair of larger pavilions with restaurants and cafes, but now looks to be back on the cards.

Council leader Richard Leese said: ’We know that people have strong views about the need for improvements to Piccadilly Gardens. Indeed after begging, the gardens was the issue which was most raised in last year’s city centre review.’

‘We are determined to deliver those changes. While the scheme which was previously envisaged has not proved possible in its current form, it is not a case of back to square one.

‘The work which was done on that scheme, and the public consultation which established broad support for the principles behind it, will help shape the revised scheme and give us a sound basis to move forwards.’

He added: ‘As part of the council’s proposals for the gardens, we are looking to see the appearance of the concrete wall to the pavilion improved and softened.’

’[Our ambition] is to see it transformed into a green ‘living wall’ facing the bus and tram stations. We also propose to remove the free-standing part of the wall, which sits within our ownership.’

Meanwhile, Legal & General senior fund manager Mark Russell said: ‘We are pleased that Manchester City Council will be bringing forward proposals that build upon our own ambitions for Piccadilly Gardens and which will enhance the public realm.

‘[We] will continue to work in close collaboration with the council to deliver complementary improvements to the pavilion, further adding to the existing amenity of the space.’

New plans for the gardens are expected to be made public in the summer.

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

Comments

Catherine Croft, director of the Twentieth Century Society

The 2002 concrete feature wall and pavilion was designed by the architect Tadao Ando as part of the Piccadilly Gardens regeneration following the IRA bomb attack of 1996.

We were concerned that it wasn’t appreciated when proposals were developed. We knew that the success of Piccadilly Gardens as a public space was contested, but thought that greater consideration should have been given to its future heritage significance and architectural value.

The design and access statement made just one passing comment about the quality of the pavilion, describing it as ‘elevating the outdated garden in the heart of Manchester to a stylish and modernistic public space befitting the aspirations of the city’.

Given this very positive statement and the unique status of the wall as a work by a major international figure in 20th-century architecture, we thought that further research and detailed justification for its demolition in terms of heritage and public benefit would be appropriate before any decision regarding its demolition was made.

We are therefore pleased that it is going to be around for at least a little longer and hope that this means that an objective assessment of its merits and how it could be incorporated into a future scheme can be made. It wouldn’t be eligible for listing at Grade II until 2032, which is still a long way off, It’s not a major masterpiece, but it’s clearly of at least some value as the only Ando building in the UK.

Emma Curtin, architect and lecturer Liverpool School of Architecture, Manchester resident.

This has to be good news. The pavilion they were proposing to replace Ando’s wall was appalling. It was tragic that the same council leadership who had had the vision to appoint Ando by international competition 20 years ago seemed prepared to accept such rubbish.

The living wall might be an opportunity to bring a new lease of life to the structure that has become an object of hate. However, green walls need to be well maintained to be successful and maintenance has always been a big problem in Piccadilly Gardens. The lighting for the pavilion hasn’t worked for years and there has been a terrible record of broken fountains and damaged landscaping. Nonetheless, now the plans have changed I am much more optimistic about the future for this important public space.

Csw photomontage piccadilly gardens urban edge

 

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Calum Duncan

    Not Ando's finest hour but definitely worth working with, rather than starting again. However, a living wall is surely not the remedy. Instead it will only add another layer of maintenance requirements and pumping of water etc. This about assessing the real needs in terms of use and atmosphere, then responding to these simple requirements. Not more gimmicks, competitions or add ons. This is really not a difficult to make work with a good design team, decent consultation and a properly funded design process.

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  • Ando’s wall has always been a viable way of structuring the space here. Such a simple structure lends itself to some form of reinterpretation and the living wall is a good one. It can be loved by the people of Manchester.

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