Jonathan Schofield and a desperate attempt to "complement" a classic

I confess I laughed, did one of those mental double-takes, while voicing out loud to no-one, “Really?” If I could have done that Bond-thing with one raised eyebrow, I would have. 

The simple scale of the tower can never “complement” the historic building next to it.

So Arrowsmith Investments, employing long-running Manchester architects Leach Rhodes Walker, have come up with a 26-storey apartment building, called Apex Tower, on a tiny plot of land next to the Britons Protection pub in the city centre. The boozer has a couple of centuries and more under its belt and rises to a mighty three stories. The height contrast in the published images is simply farcical.

On the other side of the Britons there’s a tiny room-sized gap between the pub and Jury’s Inn. Another infill building will go here, a mix of residential and commercial, but sensibly matching the height of the hotel at seven storeys. Apparently Arrowsmith will use 2,700 sq ft of this building as their head office.

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View of the beer garden behind the Britons Protection, with the tiny areas on each side hosts to the planned developments Image: Confidentials

Anyway, back to the bloated baby next to the Britons Protection with its 72 two-bedroom apartments. Firstly, how high is 26-storeys in metres and feet? Axis Tower, with its large screen, a couple of minutes’ walk down Albion Street, is the guide

That’s 28-storeys and 93m (305ft). If Apex Tower is just a little smaller it will still be much taller than Manchester Town Hall tower and spire, and all this rammed against a precious pub with maybe a 10-12m height.

The one positive point is the cracking beer garden behind the Britons Protection isn’t being snaffled by the development. Then again, speaking of protection, the new tower will offer total protection against any late afternoon and early evening sunshine for that garden. It will put the old guy next door permanently in the shade. 

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The Britons Protection pub crushed by the scale of the proposed tower on Albion Street Image: Arrowsmith Investments

Leach Rhodes Walker and the developer in the consultation say the tower is “carefully designed to retain and enhance the existing Britons Protection public house.” You have to wonder if they looked at their own images before saying this. 

True, the designers have cut back the part closest to the pub to show-off its side, the least attractive bit. This is an obvious ruse to soften the impact on the older building during the public consultation. In practical terms the cutback is ridiculous and would clearly end up a needless sheltered void, a target for anti-social behaviour, vapers and so on. The homeless will have a new place to occupy and who could blame them. 

The materials to be used on the tower are terracotta, as a sop to traditional building materials, “old stuff” in other words, and “a glassy sweeping curve”, the “new stuff”. In truth the materials are, well, immaterial, the cold water dashed in the face here is the simple scale of the tower, which can never “complement”, as the developers describe, the historic building next to it.

Britons Protection The Public Realm And Footprint Of The Proposed Apex Tower
Briton's Protection, Manchester, the public realm and footprint of the proposed Apex Tower Image: Arrowsmith Investments

Instead of talking about the tower’s relation to the Britons Protection you’d rather Arrowsmith were bolder and justified Apex on its own merits and on the proposed, if marginal, public realm enhancements. 

Nobody will buy the argument the tower will be anything but a massive intrusion on a well-loved and well-used Manchester drinking institution. The Britons Protection is being mugged. Buildings such as these are a reminder of the earlier city, one of those places which gives joy to the eye, context to the urban scene and, in this case, refreshment to the palate. 

You can view and take part in the consultation for Apex Tower here.

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