The building might be 80-years-old but still looks as fresh-faced and youthful as it did when it opened
It’s a curious thing when a building becomes more important than the organ that created it. After all, who the hell actually reads the Daily Express anymore?
A cursory glance at the main Express stories online show huge amounts of boosterism for the Conservatives over the General Election, a piece by Santa Brexit, aka Nigel Farage, and a video of some shouty people from Dagenham, saying in the tortured vowels of Estuary English, how they are ‘sick of it all’. That was about the B-word again, but going to Dagenham to ask what the locals think of Brexit is surely akin to going to the Unicorn Grocery in Chorlton and asking which tripe they’d recommend.
The black glass layers between the clear glass make it look like the building's off to a black-tie event as the star guest
The Dagenham piece was bettered in terms of crassness by a really in-depth and fascinating piece of quality journalism entitled: ‘Louise Redknapp: Jamie Redknapp’s ex, puts on an eye-popping display in thong and lace bra’. This carried the byline of Andrea Tonks. She must be very proud. So must be Louise Redknapp for giving her the story and being reduced to 'someone's ex'.
The Daily Express building is better than that. Now re-invented, tightened and tidied as an office space, it is classier than its parent newspaper.
The Great Ancoats Street building was completed in 1939 and designed by Sir Owen Williams. Williams also designed the spectacular Boots D10 Building in Nottingham and Spaghetti Junction in the West Midlands amongst many other buildings and structures. He was involved with similar Express buildings in London and Glasgow, but in Manchester he was in complete control as both engineer and architect. The Daily Express building here was his masterpiece. In some respects, at eighty years of age, the Grade II* listed beauty looks more modern than anything designed since in Manchester.
This building is all about elegance and verve. There’s a beautiful swish and swoosh to the structure with graceful curves at the corners. Externally it’s pin-sharp, glamorous even. The black glass layers between the clear glass make it look like it's off to a black-tie event as the star guest.
The top of the building recedes in tiers, adding depth and variety, which is enhanced by an almost fortress-like turret on the north west. At the other end, down George Leigh Street, a racy piece of concrete juts out with no other purpose than to act as an elevated signboard, with an illuminated ‘Express’ (formerly it read ‘Daily Express’, of course). It echoes a classic cinema motif of the 1930s, when movie-houses bedecked themselves in neon, at a time when neon was still fresh to the world.
Williams was getting on board with a style called Streamline Moderne here. This was a sexy, curvaceous, and short-lived nod to the aerodynamic. In the 1930s the world was still in the youth of the aeroplane age. Streamline Moderne, born out of Art Deco, is all about long lines, curving forms, it’s about movement and technology: trains, automobiles, ocean liners, even the designs for telephones and fridges.
Architecturally this style produced stations, garages, sports buildings, harbour buildings and, as mentioned, cinemas. There’s a cracking example of the latter with the old Longford Essoldo cinema on Chester Road in Stretford from 1936 by Henry Elder.
Williams realised newspaper printing fitted the dynamism implicit in Streamline Moderne. It was all there: the presses racing, the motorised trucks loading up to carry the news to all corners. So the printing presses in the triple-height press hall were given a shopfront window. People passing on Great Ancoats Street, whether on foot or in a vehicle, got a view right inside where papers were rolling off the press. It was the equivalent of a newspaper building having an open kitchen.
Richard Lace, of commercial real estate consultancy, OBI, the project managers for the restoration, told Confidential: “We wanted to give the building back its dignity after some unfortunate conversions. We wanted to celebrate the Art Deco era of the original building design, using high quality materials throughout. We’ve tidied up and restored the facades and given the building its name back in big letters. There wasn’t much left of the original interior but what there was we’ve retained.”
The main triple-height press hall has long gone but across the building there is one magnificent testament to Sir Owen Williams' pioneering ideas. The concrete columns in the building are megalithic, great beasts of things, with huge arms spreading massively on four sides. They are hugely and chunkily satisfying. That boldness should be an example to Manchester architects of 2019.
Ben Adams Architects led the restoration and were entirely right in making features of these mighty motifs. They did a splendid job on the main reception too, which is elegant and refined. There are some original chrome doors and some tilework left on the stairs. The balconies at sixth floor level deliver cracking views. Some of the new decoration featuring typefaces is entertaining although the decor in the areas occupied by tenant Huckletree is far too garish.
“This is the right time to get the Daily Express building back on track,” says Lace, “The area has taken off. We’re on the Ancoats side of Great Ancoats Street, with the Northern Quarter, on the other. It’s a superb location and this building is an important part of the fabric of the district.”
He’s right. And even more correct about giving the building back its dignity. As stated before, the Daily Express building might be 80-years-old but still looks as fresh-faced and youthful as it did when it opened. Perhaps the Daily Express should move back in, they might learn some restraint.
Tech stuff and more
Metis Real Estate acted on behalf of Wittington Investments when acquiring the building in 2017, with Ben Adams Architects going on to design the restoration. Wittington Investments secured planning permission for the restoration of the grade II* listed building in early 2018 and OBI project managed the works, with the building now boasting 77,500 sq ft of contemporary workspace. The Express Building reception has been redesigned to include a café and breakout space and, in the basement, wellbeing facilities with shower, changing and bicycle storage facilities, with new electric vehicle charging points also provided. Workspace accelerator Huckletree has signed up to more than 25,000 sq ft across three floors, the remaining workspace in the Express Building can accommodate requirements of up to 52,000 sq ft. The typical floors are 11,400 sq ft, with the 5th and 6th floors both benefitting from generous external roof terraces, extending to 9,200 sq ft and 8,600 sq ft respectively.