Monday, 13 November 2017

Land of the Free: Brexit as Model

A declined proposal for the British Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2018

LAND OF THE FREE: Brexit as model


The impact of Brexit will be felt in all aspects of British life and architecture will reflect this change in ways which the profession is only beginning to imagine. This exhibition will provide an opportunity for creative speculation on how the landscape of the United Kingdom will be affected, how urban forms will grow, shrink and transform as a very different political scenario emerges. The British Pavilion will provide, in the context of the most significant change to Britain in several decades, that space ‘for opportunity, a democratic space, un-programmed and free for uses not yet conceived’ described in the statement by Grafton Architects.

The exploratory nature of this process will be represented by means of a large scale integrated model which will capture how architecture might develop following the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union. 100 architects from around the United Kingdom (Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England) will be invited to contribute proposals that will be selected for inclusion in proportion to the populations of the four parts of the kingdom 5 from Wales, 8 from Scotland, 3 from Northern Ireland and 84 from England. It is the individual prerogative of the architects to decide if they predict a utopian or a dystopian architectural outcome.


The exhibition will present the visitor with six different displays which explore the dilemma posed by political change from the perspective of architectural critics, from the perspective of the individual nations and as a collective hypothesis of how the future of architecture might appear in the form of a large topographic model in the central gallery.


The submitted proposals will be selected at a public event to be held at Manchester School of Architecture in Autumn 2017. The selected proposals will then be presented in individual models measuring 600mm X 600mm which will be joined to create a single collective model measuring 6 metres X 6 metres in the exhibition.


Amongst the key dilemmas of the Brexit process are political rights, mobility, the reintroduction of borders, access to markets and the give and take of negotiation itself. The process of conceptualisation, prototyping and modelling in the exhibition will respond to the dilemmas Britain faces in answering the many questions that have been raised about the UK’s ability to function independently without a strong manufacturing base. As much manufacturing has been exported over the last half century the core making skills have become a relative rarity across the nation. This leaves Britain heavily dependent on manufacturing from the rest of the globe to sustain our businesses. Should this globalising tendency be embraced or can we begin to build up a strong enthusiasm for skilled manufacture? What changes will our cities, our living and working environments undergo? 



The educational agenda for this uncertain future can be expected to play a significant part. Therefore places of learning could be expected to be represented, since improving skills and their application in design lies in education and how students are prepared to be adaptable to change. Should this model city represent the empowering possibilities of flexibility to the individual whilst expressing strong links with traditional skill that drives a new manufacturing economy?


British architecture has an outstanding international reputation, but is often subject to internal criticism. Addressing this gap to strengthen the quality of our national design and manufacturing output by encouraging individual skill in the craft of modelmaking enables the architect to explore their ideas without an over dependence on technology or external influence. Above all a confidence and understanding of architectural ideas can effectively be conveyed to others through the demonstration of creativity. This exhibition will highlight the importance of making and experimentation within architectural design and its ability to rekindle craft interest in a predominantly screen based digital industry that often fails to communicate directly to the person on the street. A better relationship to materials and process can offer greater benefits throughout design because understanding of and participation in the design process matters.

The participatory ethos of the exhibition will be complemented with a programme of events focusing on urban space, new architectural typologies and creativity and design which will provide the opportunity to debate and define the future shape of Brexit Britain. Through these events and the exhibition content the reality of the political situation can be addressed by anticipating the emerging future.


Jim Backhouse 

Eamonn Canniffe 
Ewa Effiom 
Scott Miller

2 August 2017 

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Comments after the Fourth Consultation on the proposed St. Michaels development, Manchester

www.st-michaels.com

I write with comments on the proposed St. Michael's development further to those made at the consultation event at the Royal Exchange Theatre on 23 August 2017.

1. Overdevelopment - The material presented at the consultation on 23 August 2017 contained much (including criticisms of the previous planning application for this site) that had first seen light of day at the previous consultation at Central Library on 12 July 2017. It surely is a mistake in this lengthy process not to have had the courtesy to present to the public a comprehensive set of plans, sections and elevations to allow comment prior to any new planning application. The new material, however, included a new model for the latest version of the tower which accurately showed its significant height. The isolation of this prominent tower within the historic core against the other new substantial developments at the edge of the city centre was also clearly visible. On Bootle Street and Jackson's Row the impact of nearly forty storeys will be considerable despite the shaping of the tower to present narrower ends to the streets. The dubious logic of this strategy is evident in the large size of the core relative to the floor plate of the upper parts of the building. This is height for height's sake and will result in unpleasant consequences at ground level, such as large service, plant and garage areas on those two side streets which is where most Mancunians will experience the building directly.

2. Privatised Public Space - The publicly accessible private space intended for roof level along Jackson's Row and Southmill Street complicates the clear planning of the block and appeared (as of 23 August) not to have resolved issues of disabled access to all parts of the roof areas. The top heavy appearance presented at the consultation must raise questions about the necessity of this element, especially as the proximity of the terraces to the tower will probably mean they will be overshadowed on summer evenings, as well as suffering the effects of prevailing winds and downdraughts caused by the tower's height throughout the year.

3. Street Frontages - Worryingly little information about the elevations and street frontages was revealed. There will be windows related to the retail units, although the junctions of the new elements with the two preserved elements of the Sir Ralph Abercromby and the City Police Headquarters frontage are as yet tentative, generic, banal and lightweight in construction. If pursued this will contrast quite poorly with the durability of the industrial era elevations they will face. If the streets were designed as a unity, rather than the 'space left over after planning' of an object building, the frontages could be consistent in rhythm, scale and proportion with those closely neighbouring buildings.

4. Synagogue - A special effort has been expended to improve the situation of the new synagogue from the scheme proposed in the previous planning application. The new prayer hall will have external elevations, and therefore the possibility of natural light from the new public space. But (as of 23 August) it still sits under a ballroom for the hotel, which seems to be an arrangement that shows insufficient respect for its religious function, the significance of the community and their continued presence on the site. It is disappointing that images of this element of the project have not yet been made available, but also that the opportunity was not taken to treat the synagogue as an independent civic element of the project rather than a component of a larger commercial complex.

5. Sir Ralph Abercromby - The Sir Ralph Abercromby presents quite a small scale element on Bootle Street recalling the scale of Manchester from two centuries ago. It is therefore unfortunate, to say the least, that the adjacent elevation as the base of the tower to its left is of a much greater size, creating an awkward jump in scale which makes the pub into a decorative appendage rather than an independent building which could more accurately reflect the historic character of this area of the city.

6. Permeability - Street design for the new public route between Bootle Street and Jackson's Row needs to be carefully integrated with the design of those streets themselves to ensure the legibility of the space as a genuinely public realm. The integration of the surfaces in a unified manner with the existing and newly created elevations has a significant virtue in creating good urban space, which could help ameliorate the anti-urban and exclusionary character of the proposed tower which will loom menacingly over the space and its occupants below at street level.

7. Overshadowing - Far from eliminating the overshadowing problem of the previous planning application the current proposed tower will also continue to cast shadows across the buildings along the north side of Jackson's Row, more distant buildings on adjacent neighbouring streets, and across the newly created space at its base. In Manchester's damp and dark climate this will mean that light will be severely limited and the actuality will be at odds with the images shown so far of the external spaces. At the risk of stating the obvious, this significant negative impact of the tower could be avoided by reducing its height or removing it entirely.

8. Colour - After the disastrous choice of black cladding in the previous scheme for the site, the general lightening of colour is bound to be an improvement. But the opportunities to use materials which enhance the continuity of the environment, particularly through the use of brick, are mysteriously eschewed in favour of generic choices of commercially available panels which will age badly and require replacement in a couple of decades. The existing brick of the City Police Headquarters flanks is dark, but the brick and terracotta of the neighbouring buildings including the Manchester Reform Synagogue are richer in colour and tone, especially when seen in sunlight, and therefore provide a better potential choice to integrate any new project into its existing environment.

9. Wider negative impact - Impact from a number of viewpoints will still be a feature of the current project as the images provided at the consultation showed. It will tower over Deansgate, will rudely interrupt the skyline of Albert Square and Peter Street, and be visible from St. Ann's Square. Given its proposed height it seems improbable that the tower will not have some impact on views across St. Peter's Square as well. An unwelcome intrusion from any of these viewpoints, its isolated presence would become an apt monument to the incoherent approach to the planning of the city which allows the speculative property market free rein.

10. Conclusion - Lastly it is an inadequate argument to justify the design of this project so heavily on the clumsiness of the previous planning application. It received, apparently, 1400 objections and was clearly heading for rejection. It is positive that the facades of the Sir Ralph Abercromby and the City Police Headquarters are to be retained but the height of the tower and its location so close to the civic core is deeply concerning. Its erection would undo four decades of careful maintenance of the largely Victorian scale of the district even as individual buildings have been replaced, and will inevitably be followed (if the market demands) by further overscaled towers in the vicinity. The speculative demand for 'luxury' apartments which the upper areas of the tower are intended to fulfill (whether occupied or otherwise) are a shoddy reason to ruin the internationally admired heritage at the centre of Manchester.

Yours faithfully

Eamonn Canniffe

Monday, 2 October 2017

REGENERATION AND RESISTANCE: EXCLUSIVE MANCHESTER

My paper 'REGENERATION AND RESISTANCE: EXCLUSIVE MANCHESTER' has been published in PUTTING TRADITION INTO PRACTICE: HERITAGE, PLACE AND DESIGN edited by Giuseppe Amoruso (Springer 2018)

The ongoing regeneration of Manchester following the 2008 economic crisis has seen an acceleration of the speed of redevelopment in the city and an increasing threat to the urban form and heritage of the city. The drive to survive the world financial crisis of the last several years offered to many designers, thinkers and activists the prospect that the new neoliberal city might be transformed. With the economic recovery that has returned to parts of the city, however, we can assert that it is ‘business as usual’ and resistance to the commercial development is growing. The extent of over exploited land, inappropriate density and irrational overbuilding is promoted by speculative development cast as urban regeneration at odds with issues of heritage and authenticity of place. The problematic character of public buildings versus the personality-cult creation of icons is only exacerbated by the spreading phenomenon of privatised public space. Developments such as Spinningfields, First Street, St. John’s and St. Michael’s present attitudes to the city which exclude many while attracting investment in the city’s future.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Architectural Colossi and the Human Body: Buildings and Metaphors

I am very pleased to announce that my former postgraduate research student Dr. Charalampos Politakis has had his first book 'Architectural Colossi and the Human Body: Buildings and Metaphors' published by Routledge. Dr. Politakis was awarded his doctorate in 2014

From the book's description

'The human body has been used as both a model and metaphor in architecture since antiquity. This book explores how it has been an inspiration for the exterior form of architectural colossi through the years. It considers the body as a source of architectural and artistic representation and in doing so explores the results of such practices in colossal sculptures and architectural praxis within a philosophical discourse of space, time and media.
Architectural Colossi and the Human Body discusses the role of Platonic and Cartesian philosophy and how philosophers such as Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, and theoreticians such as Frascari and Pallasmaa, have seen, described and analysed the human body and the role of architecture and perception. Drawing upon three key case studies and by employing theoretical ideas of Venturi and others, this book will provide an understanding of the role of anthromorphism and the relation and use of the human body with reference to selected architects and artists.'

The book, published as part of the Routledge Research in Architecture series, is available here

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Further Comments after the Third Public Consultation on the St. Michael's Project 12 July 2017

www.st-michaels.com

I write with comments on the proposed St. Michael's development further to those made at the consultation event in the Manchester Central Library on 12 July 2017.

1. Overdevelopment
Although the present scheme considerably reduces the accommodation squeezed onto the site, by virtue of the height of the proposed single tower it still represents overdevelopment as the tower will still overshadow its neighbours on Jackson's Row and of necessity require the demolition of the present building of the Reform Synagogue. The presentation in September 2016 indicated a series of alternative arrangements had been considered, the lower ones of which are more appropriate for the surrounding cityscape, the form and scale of which maintains a high degree of physical integrity as a pre-eminent example of a Victorian city. The new scheme will still harm neighbouring buildings and the working life of their occupants, although there are potential compensations in the treatment of the streetscape.

2. Privatised Public Space
I applaud the decision not to create a privatised square at the corner of Southmill Street and Jackson's Row. However the current scheme still proposes an ungainly stepped roof terrace which clings to the idea that it is a contribution to the public realm and therefore compensates for the height of the tower. As in the previous scheme it is essentially a private drinking and dining terrace though positioned now in an unresolved manner adjacent to the retained facade of the Police Headquarters. The apparent need to accommodate this dubious element of corporate landscape compromises the effective treatment of the architectural heritage.

3. Street Fontages
The retention of the facade to Southmill Street and the creation of active street frontages that respect the existing street lines on Bootle Street and Jackson's Row are an opportunity to create new streetscapes along these routes which use materials that complement the existing mix of stone, brick and terracotta. While the juxtapositions of scale between the Georgian, Victorian and various periods of the Twentieth Century present challenges to the new development, the use of familiar materials and textures should help integrate the new design into its broader surrounding context.

4. Synagogue
It remains a source of great concern that this historically and architecturally significant building awaits demolition. If it is to be demolished the public presence of any replacement on Jackson's Row needs to be emphasised to maintain historical continuity on the site. The opportunity of its visibility from the new public space crossing from Bootle Street to Jackson's Row provides a further chance to reinforce the community's continued presence.

5. Sir Ralph Abercromby
The decision to retain this historic pub is a good one, both for its benefits to the streetscape on Bootle Street and for the decision to enhance its setting with the proposed public space crossing the site from Bootle Street to Jackson's Row, connecting to wider street networks and passageways in Manchester. However the juxtaposition with adjacent proposed structures, their size, scale, frontages and materials need careful attention if the pub is to given its proper due as a significant site in the city's history.

6. Permeability
Permeability across the site, as discussed above, is much improved and provides for a variety of routes across the city away from major traffic routes which offer the potential to complement the alleys and passageways identified as being part of the nationally significant townscape of Manchester by Ian Nairn as long ago as 1960. It is particularly important that this new space is public domain and access to it not restricted by gates or excessive monetisation.

7. Overshadowing
The proposed height of the single tower still presents significant overshadowing to the buildings along the north side of Jacksons Row. The model shown at the latest consultation appeared inaccurate in terms of height, especially when compared with that of Beetham Tower which either was represented at too small a scale, or the new tower was represented at too large a scale.

8. Colour
As stated above the material character of the area is largely stone, brick and terracotta and the new buildings should reflect this palette. At the present time much interesting architecture in the U.K. and Europe is being produced in brick and so the project offers the opportunity for both an authentically contemporary expression and a sympathetic contextualism. It might also present an opportunity for different architects to produce the various components of the masterplan to create contrast and variety on what is quite a big site.

9. Wider negative impact
While the positioning of the single tower has helped reduce the impact of the proposed development from Albert Square and St. Peter's Square, the impact from St. Ann's Square would still be considerable and presents an unfortunate jostling effect with Beetham Tower. This underlines the need for a clear policy regarding tall buildings in the central historic areas of Manchester.

10. Conclusion
The complete reconsideration of the previous project is to be welcomed wholeheartedly but the present project still attempts to put too much accommodation on the site leading to problems beyond the site's boundaries in terms of overshadowing and impact on views. It is imperative that the more positive consultation process now embarked on continues before a new planning application is submitted.

Eamonn Canniffe
Manchester School of Architecture