Jonathan Schofield looks at proposals for another tower tacked onto an old building
It’s one of the best buildings on Piccadilly and it’s a wreck. Percy Scott Worthington’s sharp, handsome Classical design for the Union Bank dates from 1911. If new proposals are realised the wreck might be resurrected as part of a towering hotel scheme.
These plans and ideas seem likely to deliver a very good, if tall, addition to the city centre
The building packs a punch on two sides lending dignity and elegance to the humdrum activity of a bank. There’s the bold cornice which helps knit the four floors of the building together; there’s the clever chamfered corner that helps swing the building gracefully round from Piccadilly into Chatham Street; there’s the rhythm of the first-floor windows with their breezy pediments and balconies.
The first-floor arrangement of the window on the chamfered corner brings variety without breaking the rhythm. This one has no pediment instead there's a flamboyant arch bearing in the tympanum the Manchester coat of arms, but with a difference. This has the seven bees on the globe, the ship and the three bars on the shield but it also bears a pair of sturdy shaking hands. This was the Union Bank of Manchester and what better image to portray that message of union than the human touch.
The Roman typeface under the cornice is heroic, wrapping round two main sides and proclaiming: UNION BANK OF MANCHESTER LD / MDCCCCXI / ESTABLISHED ANNO DOMINI MDCCCXXXVI. Typeface on buildings is always good.
The Union Bank of Manchester was founded in 1836 and was swallowed by Barclays Bank in 1919 but retained its name until 1940 when the branches were rebranded as Barclays. After banks decided they didn’t want to meet customers face to face the building’s had various occupants, the last being a discount clothing shop, called Pound Empire; given the vaults contained tens of thousand of pounds this always seemed faintly ironic, or sad.
For the last few years the building's been abandoned and shuttered up, just another on the stretch from Piccadilly Station to Piccadilly Gardens shaming the city. In this instance there’s been the added embarrassment of an empty and fenced off plot of land smack up against the Union Bank with the Waldorf pub on the other side.
That is about to change.
The Grade II listed Union Bank is going to be brought back to vivid life with a proposal from Lamington Group and a design by Bennetts Associates. The consultation document gives all the details of the proposals. There will be a 251-bedroom hotel on the empty plot with the Union Bank providing extra space for some of those rooms.
There is existing planning permission for the hotel to take the form of a tower. This was for a 23-storey tower. Lamington and Bennetts are smashing that one, they want 31-storeys (about 90m (300ft) perhaps?). For comparison 111 Piccadilly, the 1966 tower, over the road and opposite the Malmaison Hotel, is 18 storeys tall.
There will, of course, be a rooftop restaurant. There will be trees, again of course, at the same level as the rooftop restaurant. The new building aims to be the ‘best reviewed hotel in the UK and the country’s first net zero tower’.
The design proposals are determinedly worthy with some of the language employed sounding plain sanctimonious.
‘The ambition is for a landmark building, achieving Whole Life Net Zero Carbon…demonstrating leadership and inspiring action to create a sustainable future.’
Within the building there will be a ‘resource space to help disseminate net-zero research and help members of the community to reduce their carbon emissions’. Will the resource space have a bar in which to drown our sorrows about the climate crisis and how we're all going to hell in a handcart?
Still, carping aside, the proposals look exciting and have been carefully conceived. The lowest part of the building will tie-in with the Union Bank by matching its rustication (those deep incisions in the stonework). There’s a clear break at the level of many of the buildings along Piccadilly from which the main tower leaps upwards.
The top of the building is angled south east and for people who like variety with their tall buildings it isn’t a typically squared off termination to the tower. This is where our trees will be along with areas for edible planting for use in the restaurants. The stepped back terraces here will variously hold a restaurant (130 covers), a bar (184 covers) and an events space.
The hotel operator is a group called Room2 with hotels in London, Southampton and one about to open in Belfast. The name of the hotel will be a bit cringey: Room2 Hometel. That sickly combination of home and hotel is intended to bring ‘you the best of hotels and Airbnb’.
There seems a mini-trend for the supertall jammed up gainst the old and the smaller. Most dramatically this can be seen with the Glassworks tower next to the Lower Turks Head on Shudehill and the ludicrous suggestion for a tower next to the Briton's Protection.
However, each case has to be judged on its own merits. All in all, these plans and ideas from Bennetts Associates seem likely to deliver a very good addition to the city centre if the quality outlined in the proposals is carried through to completion. Piccadilly is crying out for development and if this eyesore site gets sorted then let's hope the other disasters at the junction with both Newton Street and Lever Street get sorted. It'll good to see life returning to the Union Bank in any case.
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