Jonathan Schofield on the rise and rise of SimpsonHaughville

Manchester's rump planning committee of Joanne Roney, Manchester chief executive, and councillors Nasrin Ali and Basil Curley - with guidance from head of planning Julie Roscoe - have granted planning permission for yet another tower at the southern end of Deansgate. The full planning committee will start remote meeting in late July.

The new tower will be 22 storeys tall and designed by architects SimpsonHaugh for Ask Real Estate. 

The new tower will hang over the Deansgate pub like a bat

The end use will be as a Staycity aparthotel containing 300 rooms built on a postage stamp space between Beetham Tower and Deansgate-Castlefield Metrolink Station. It will hang over the early twentieth century facades of the Deansgate pub like a bat. The sweet pub terrace will have to keep the lights on all year round as a cliff of glass and concrete will reach for the stars on the sunny south - although what the application actually says is that that elevation will have a 'griddled effect with a recessed concrete reveal and aluminium cills.'

The images in the planning application are very dull. Beyond dull. Let’s hope the finished structure is ‘worked-up’ to provide something which has appeal rather than being one of those new buildings which nobody really notices but instead just nags away like the beginnings of a headache: not bad enough to really bother you, just annoying. Particularly baffling is the Deansgate facade which will sit on the to-be-demolished former kitchen showroom.

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The approved Staycity Aparthotel facade on Deansgate - are the trees there to hide it?

Despite misgivings from people, as registered during the planning process, about the building bullying the heritage assets in Castlefield, that probably isn’t the case. Or if it were the case, that horse bolted long ago with the 169m Beetham Tower and recently the Deansgate Square massif with the highest tower at 201m.

This new building will be much much smaller, 22 storeys tall. That is still tall though. 

Twenty storeys is the established definition of a tall building, around 100m or a chunk over 300ft. For comparison, Axis Tower, a couple of hundred metres to the east, is 28 storeys, while in Spinningfields the 20 Stories restaurant building, No 1 Spinningfields, is 19 storeys.

Axis has been much criticised. Here's what we thought. But in contrast to Staycity’s proposed new home in the images we have, it has presence and verve. 

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The view of the new building with Axis Tower in the foreground
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Axis tower and a tram

There is no doubting the technical prowess needed on this new site to cantilever the building over the existing and listed nineteenth century viaducts. The parcel of land where the Staycity Aparthotel will touch down is 0.6 acres, in other words a bit more than the penalty area at Old Trafford or the Etihad, and that takes some handling too. 

This scheme is all part of the Deansgate ‘cluster.’ People who hate tall towers, sometimes for valid reasons and sometimes for spurious ones, prefer to call this a ‘cluster-fuck’ but that’s wrong. The Deansgate Square cluster, for example, looks very good; the elegance of the forms, with that recessed element on each of the four sides on each of the four towers, is expressive, catching the light beautifully. 

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The Deansgate Cluster dominates the new city skyline. This picture taken from Tandle Hill Country Park, north east of the city centre
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Catching the light beautifully: Deansgate Square

What does seem strange though, is that almost all these tall buildings of our Deansgate mini-Manhattan are being designed by one single practice - SimpsonHaugh. And we've not finished. There's the Crown Street development next to Deansgate Square (five buildings, the highest of which is 51 storeys) and bang between Staycity and Axis, the Viadux buildings of 43 and 14 storeys, are on their way. Again, these are by SimpsonHaugh.

This practice can be exceptional: we've mentioned Deansgate Square and, as another local example, the Deansgate-Castlefield Metrolink Station is superb. However, Manchester is the second-city for design practices and, then, beyond Manchester there is a whole world of architects. This endless commissioning of SimpsonHaugh for buildings that are defining Manchester's skyline for generations is bewildering. 

Of course SimpsonHaugh know what they are doing (despite the dull design for Staycity) and, given this, they are a safe pair of hands, but weren’t we all taught variety is the spice of life?