Jonathan Schofield welcomes concrete signs of demolition and rebuild
IT should have disappeared years ago.
It should have disappeared after the 1996 IRA bomb and then it should have gone in 2008. And 2009.
But that huge lump of concrete hosting the Renaissance Hotel has proved as stubborn as a barnacle clinging to the keel of battleship.
Battleship is perhaps an appropriate analogy as there is something both defensive and offensive about the building. Certainly Shambles West (its official title) designed by Cruickshank and Seward and completed in 1972, is the least worthy example of that architectural fashion for Brutalism in Manchester back in the sixties and seventies.
Curiously, the Brutalist university work from the same architects around the same time, south of Granby Row, is wonderful. This building, however, designed as offices and then converted to a hotel, was always awful. It was somehow apt that one of the famous scenes from 1990s hit-drama Cracker starring Robbie Coltrane should have featured a suicide from the roof.
When the Arndale Centre first opened a few years after Shambles West, The Guardian noted it was so fortress-like it was hard to know whether to shop in it or lay siege to it. Shambles West has this quality. It’s an introverted building refusing to talk to Deansgate on one side and rising on stilts on the side of the River Irwell, as though lifting its skirts to avoid being muddied by the river.
The Irwell is relatively much cleaner, of course, than it was in 1972. With more gardens and landscaping planned around Manchester Cathedral and with the work done by Salford over the river in Greengate, it’s welcome news that Shambles West will finally bite the dust.
The developer will be Urban & Civic and they have said they are looking for ‘a mixed-use scheme, which is likely to include a new five star hotel, residential, retail and leisure’. There’s also talk of a new square.
Nothing particular startling there, but Urban & Civic have definitely chosen a good architectural practice, Glen Howells Architects, to come up with the replacement design. They're responsible for one of Manchester’s best recent buildings, One St Peter's Square, so let’s hope the same sharpness, crispness and flair can be brought to this extremely important location.
Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester council, has said: “The site brings excitement and challenge in equal measure, but the outcome will revitalise the area and be a tremendous boost to the medieval core of the city. We absolutely welcome the commitment of Urban & Civic to ensure the development goes ahead and believe in the huge potential of the site.”
It will be particularly interesting to see how Glen Howells Architects deals with the riverside. Engagement with the Irwell must be seen as central to the new scheme. At last, we may get a building that contributes to this busy part of Manchester rather than shunning it.
A detailed planning application is expected in 2018.