Saturday, 29 July 2017

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

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