Thursday, 26 November 2009

Goodbye Urbis?

Urbis is one of Manchester's modern landmarks, the Ian Simpson designed building being seen as many as starting the new 'tradition' of wedge-shaped structures in the city. Recently Urbis has been in the headlines over controversial plans to relocate the National Football Museum from Preston to Manchester and on November 18th the decision was taken to move the museum.

Originally opened in 2002, Urbis has a unique programme of temporary exhibitions that focus on popular culture and the culture of the modern city, essentially it is a place to showcase city life through art, music, photography, fashion and other creative industries that Manchester has become famous for. The National Football Museum could not be more different, a permanent showcase of the 'national game'. The museum already has roots in Manchester as it was designed by local practice OMI architects (opening in 2001).

There have been mixed reactions to news that the museum is to move with Preston councillor Ken Hudson reported to have said that the museum's trustees had "stuck two fingers up" at Preston by agreeing to the move. Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council, said that the relocation could help make the museum an "internationally important destination" and attract up to 400,000 visitors a year. The move won't come cheap though with costs expected to reach £8million to relocate the exhibition contents and refurbish Urbis.

Speaking to Chanel M the Chief Executive of Urbis, Vaughn Allen, hinted that the National Football Museum would provide a "long term sustainable future" for Urbis, calling it an "interesting an challenging building" to run in its current guise. He explained that Urbis would close in February/early Spring 2010 and would hopefully open again as the National Football Museum in 201. But what happens to the exhibitions that currently call Urbis home?

As of yet there are no solid plans to find new homes for the 'creative industries' that could be found at Urbis, although preliminary discussions are said to be taking place - there are very few alternatives at present that engage the public with this type of attraction in Manchester. Yes Manchester has a proud ‘footballing’ tradition but it has a resonance with creative industries that could be lost or forced back under ground with out a public face.

The debate will more than likely rumble on right on up to the new museum's opening and beyond so for the final word for now we turn to Phil O’Dwyer, director of OMI Architects, a born and bred 'Manc' who had this to say to the Architect's Journal (before last week’s decision):

"The Urbis building is a great landmark and has contributed to Manchester’s evolving identity. I suspect it is flexible enough to absorb the Football Museum, like it could absorb many other exhibitions with varying degrees of success. But would it engage with this subject to the same extent? Would it have the ingredients that make the difference between a place that has spirit and one that feels soulless and detached from the people that use it? I have my doubts, but that would be the challenge."

Ian Simpson Chosen For Refurbishment of Town Hall Extension

Manchester's trademark Architect, Ian Simpson, has been named as the chosen architect for a £165 million refurbishment of the Town Hall Extension, designed by E. Vincent Harris in the 1930's. Harris's neighbouring Central Library is also to be revamped, except not by Simpson, but Ryder Architects. The two schemes are also running along side a competition, to be launched in January, for a redesign of St Peters Square and the recently revealed design for 1 Peter Square. Due to be completed within 4 years, the massive redevelopment will see St Peter's Square become a much more attractive public space.

Perhaps one of the most interesting projects within Manchester is the refurbishing of the Town Hall Extension by Ian Simpson. Well known his modern glass facaded buildings, a refurbishment will see the practice take a completely different approach to not just designing but architecture as a whole. How they express themselves within an already monumental building will be intriguing, however they may take a encompassing approach and simply improve the existing building with no added flare.

Monday, 23 November 2009


A building’s life finishes with the final node, demolition. Sometimes it’s required out of necessity, other times it’s own design can be the defining factor. Except now our relationship towards construction and building has shifted, no longer can opinion determine a building's outcome, the worlds fascination with Carbon emissions has resulted in what perhaps may be a flawed system.

The attraction of constructing new “green” buildings in replace of old “inefficient” ones appears so fruitful as they are carbon neutral, a term that portrays a false vision. Carbon neutral buildings only offset the carbon they produce at the present time and during construction, however what about neighboring buildings that may not be as efficient, or what about the past 500 years of carbon emissions. Buildings don’t need to be “Carbon Neutral”, they need to be “Negative Carbon”.

As it stands by 2019 all new buildings have to be Carbon Neutral, except what about existing buildings? Surely our approach to the Carbon problem is somewhat selfish, only thinking about sole dwellings. Countries should perhaps devise new strategies that offset villages, or even cities, doing so would require less construction over the whole city. If one tower offsets a city, then the need for new builds can diminish, and in it’s place “Adaption”.

Adapting existing architecture forces a building to evolve to the current standards, vast amount of facades systems exist all over the world that can simply latch on to the external skins of buildings, reducing carbon emissions and providing new properties to the users that reside inside the structure. Algae is becoming ever so popular in modern architectural technology, and the systems currently devised can easily fuse with old buildings.

As it stands in Manchester 2 major demolitions are currently underway, the Refectory within the University of Manchester Campus, and St Mary’s Hospital. These two builds from the 2nd half of the 20th Century are the result of new builds replacing them. What is most interesting is the simplicity of their designs, especially the large tower attached to the Refectory. If one was to merely gut the building it could quite easily be developed into a much more Carbon Efficient building without the need for demolition and then reconstructing.

Schemes already exist of renovating buildings form the early 1900’s, but why can’t schemes appear to save much newer buildings, much like in Sheffield with Park Hill. Maybe then we can begin to see the importance and impact that existing buildings have on our countries carbon emissions.

Images Copyright of Jack Penford Baker

Sunday, 22 November 2009

MSA Students Scoop International Award

A team of students from the [Re_Map] BArch Studio Unit at the Manchester School of Architecture have been named jointed winners in a major international architectural - WPA 2.0 'Whoever Rules the Sewers Rules the City' run by cityLAB at UCLA. There were over 300 proposals - half from professional teams, half from student teams - was tasked with 'envisioning a new legacy of publicly-supported infrastructure hybrids.' Titled 'R_Ignite: socio-economic catalyst for ailing post-industrial port towns' the joint-winners team comprises Peter Millar, Jamie Potter, Stuart Wheeler and Andy Wilde. They proposed the recycling and reuse of industrial infrastructure intertwined with social programmes to act as a catalyst for public involvement; incorporating ecology, energy production, skills, education and leisure.

The team was initially selected for a shortlist of seven finalists and travelled to Washington D.C. to attend a high-profile symposium featuring the competition jury panel which included Stan Allen, Cecil Balmond, Elizabeth Diller and Thom Mayne, as well as having their proposals exhibited at the National Building Museum. The symposium was held in the Great Hall of the National Building Museum with a keynote address from Adolfo Carrion, White House Director of Urban Affairs.

Image Credit: Peter Millar, Jamie Potter, Stuart Wheeler and Andy Wilde (6th Year, MSA) and WPA 2.0 (Facebook Feed)