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Work begins on Sheppard Robson’s £6.6m revamp of Short’s Manchester theatre

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Sheppard Robson has broken ground on a £6.6 million project to rework Manchester’s ‘maverick’ 1990s Contact Theatre, originally designed by Alan Short and Associates


The scheme in Oxford Road, which the AJ100 practice landed three years ago, will remodel the venue’s entrance, box office, café and bar, while adding a 300m² three-storey extension. 

The project will also provide additional performance and conference facilities, as well as new office accommodation and community space. 

The distinctive building was originally completed in 1999 by Alan Short, who is currently a professor or architecture at the University of Cambridge

Speaking about the exisitng theatre in 2015, 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’. 

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’.

Originally expected to finish this year, the scheme is now due to complete in summer 2019.  

Contact by Sheppard Robson

Contact by Sheppard Robson

Sheppard Robson’s transformation of the Contact Theatre in Manchester (new elements show in yellow)

Architect’s view 

Sheppard Robson’s proposals are designed to sit respectfully alongside the distinctive 1990s building designed by Alan Short and Associates, while providing an eye-catching addition to the south-facing elevation; this will make the building and the activities that take place inside it much more visible from Oxford Road. The new three-storey extension adopts a pitched roof form with individual elements of the new accommodation carefully articulated, and will be finished in pearlescent metal. This material will change in character, reflecting different qualities of light throughout the day. 

Corridor Manchester [Manchester’s ‘Innovation District’] is becoming the scientific, educational and cultural spine of the city. It is important that Contact, with its international reputation, is properly visible in this setting as an organisation uniquely able to bridge these activities and to provide access for young people and local communities. Our design for Contact seeks to build on the existing building’s distinctive character whilst providing better space for Contact’s artistic programme for years to come. 

The Contact Theatre

The Contact Theatre

Source: Joel Chester Fildes

Completed in 1999, the Contact Theatre was designed by Alan Short and Associates

Project data 

Location Manchester
Type of project Cultural, refurbishment
Client Contact Theatre
Architect Sheppard Robson
Theatre consultant Theatre Projects
Structural engineer Civic
M&E consultant Max Fordham
Acoustics Max Fordham
Quantity surveyor Simon Fenton Partnership
Planning supervisor Simon Fenton Partnership
Lighting consultant Max Fordham (theatre lighting and all theatre tech design is Theatre Projects)
Main contractor F Parkinson
Completion date Summer 2019
Form of contract JCT Standard Building Contract with Quantities 2011
Total cost £6.6 million 

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