Bricks & Mortar part 2 - a new type of property and planning round-up for Manchester

Property Confidential loves it. The Ordsall Chord viaduct is a stunning piece of truly epic engineering and has now won another gong. BDP Manchester studio and the practice’s Transport Architect Director, Peter Jenkins, is celebrating a RIBA National Award for the design role on the Ordsall Chord project in Manchester. 

As one of 54 national winners, it will now be considered for the RIBA Stirling Prize shortlist. Jenkins, who is also head of transport for the global firm which is headquartered in Manchester, says: “It is hugely satisfying to receive an architectural award for a project which combines bridges, viaducts, heritage restoration, public and urban design, but actually does not include a ‘traditional’ building.” The way ground zero of railway heritage has been respected and enhanced, this is the site of the oldest passenger railway system in the world, deserves huge praise. 

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The glorious Ordsall Chord wins more acclaim

Another winner with RIBA is the splendid Mustard Tree building in Ancoats. This OMI conversion of a couple of 1950s' buildings has a sharp-as-a-pin exterior and interior, and is the very apogee of the expression, ‘Less is more’. 

Mustard Tree is a charity working with homelessness and poverty. As RIBA says: ‘Throughout rigorous, simple adjustments to layout and careful cutting OMI have tailored the building while leaving room for further flexibility. This may be architecture with a small ‘a’, but it has a place at the table of the highest of architectural achievements.’ OMI are a Manchester practice capable of ballet dancing between the flashy and enormous Anaconda Cut and smaller projects such as Mustard Tree. 

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The sharp-as-a-pin Mustard Tree

Central Manchester and Salford are very much in love with towers. The Slate Yard project along the River Irwell, opposite St John’s and The Factory is to get a couple more towers of 23 storeys linked by a six storey podium. 

The English Cities-funded and Hawkins\Brown-designed scheme will feature two towers of 23 storeys joined by a six-storey podium. There will be 392 apartments, with 174 one-bedroom, 196 two-bedroom, and 22 three-bedroom flats. For those not renting there, new public realm will allow access to the riverside for a view of cormorants, herons and rowing clubs.

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More Slate Yard towers

People in Manchester are torn over towers, of course. Ask those interested in architecture and urban design in the city and the subject induces an almost Brexit-like conflict. 

The most controversial tower is the Jon Matthews’ designed 29 storey Axis tower on the corner of Albion Street and Whitworth Street West. The diagonal patterning and the advertising screen divides opinion. One person, described it to Property Confidential, as a ‘disastrous intrusion on the city scene’. We think it’s a remarkable building, the cantilevered engineering over Rochdale Canal is particularly noteworthy. One of the most boring complaints about Manchester’s new buildings is that its towers are boring. This one isn’t, it lends variety to the city skyline. There are 168, one, two, three bedroom apartments, starting at £270k.

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Axis tower, trams and sunshine

The name Axis doesn’t refer to the Central European allies led by Nazi Germany, although Property Confidential can’t think of anything else when the name crops up. Apparently Axis is all about ‘its unique and central location at the ‘axis’ point to this great city’s major transport links, Central Business District, famous shopping opportunities and key attractions’. Ha, ha, how ridiculous. We love marketing bollocks. There should be an annual award for utterly ridiculous marketing names for construction projects, although Circle Square would win every time. And Anaconda Cut would come second.

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Not a World War II enemy alliance, but a central location

Speaking of nonsense let’s introduce you to the word mumpsimus. This fine word is defined as a person or institution which ‘obstinately adheres to old customs or ideas in spite of evidence that they are wrong or unreasonable’. Another definition is Piccadilly Gardens

Thus, Manchester city council, instead of hard paving it and leaving trees and lots of benches, like every other major city square in Europe, is determined to spend lots and lots of cash on its fool lawns. This time they’re going for a ‘hybrid grass’ solution, which you’d think there was already enough of that in the benighted location. The trial will see ‘a small area next to the fountain undergoing work until Friday 5 July, after which the area will remain fenced off from the public to allow the grass to grow.’ Manchester City Council’s city centre spokesperson, Cllr Pat Karney said: “For a hard-working public space, we need a hard-wearing grass…blah, blah, blah…costing a fortune…Christmas markets…blah, blah, blah.” Or something like that.

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Mumpsimus Meadows and its permanent therapy

Manchester Jewish Museum is undergoing a a £5m extension, adding a two storey extension and restoring the Edward Solomans designed 1874 grade two-listed synagogue. There will be more that 4,900 extra square feet to play with and store the 30,000 items in the collection. There’s a shortfall in the funding which the museum is confident it will fill: the development requires a further £500,000. Museum boss Max Dunbar said: “We’re excited about the future, this project will enable us to showcase Manchester’s rich Jewish history in a brighter and more exciting fashion.” Let's hope he can find that extra dosh.

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How Manchester Jewish Museum will look

Meanwhile at St Mary’s Parsonage, a city centre penthouse flat was sold at an online auction this week. Landwood Property Auctions claim this is a ‘property first’. It isn’t, but it’s an intriguing notion. The two bedroom duplex apartment in the Century Building, St Mary’s Parsonage, had a guide price of £475,000, a ‘saving of more than a quarter of a million pounds on similar properties within the listed building’. There’s two bedrooms, three bathrooms (odd) and a private paved terrace with views over the River Irwell.

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Parsonage Gardens and the £475k auction

At St John’s there's a new building set to rise. This is designed by BDG architecture + design, split over eight floors to provide ‘collaborative and dynamic’ co-working area for various agencies, including advertising firm WPP, MediaCom, Wavemaker, Code Computer Love, Kinetic and Cheetham Bell.

Finally we've been enjoying the view from 44 storeys at West Tower, Deansgate Square. Last week saw the launch of the rental apartments in the scheme. It was a lovely occasion with music and booze. Property Confidential enjoyed the views from 140m (460ft) up in the sky and then drank all the booze. Before staggering away the team got some pretty special pictures of our rapidly developing central areas. 

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The view from 140m, east
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West Tower, on the left, from down below
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The Principal Hotel prominent from above