This blog post first appeared as a guest blog for Urbansplash. You can see it here. There are more photos here.
Beehive Mill is one of the first mills of the Industrial Revolution. Building commenced in 1824 and it is now Grade II star listed. It marks that time when people left their cottages and began working communally away from home. Liberation? Not in those conditions, but the home became home at least.
I still find it mysterious that a building made almost two hundred years ago as a machine for the production of cotton can function so beautifully in a completely different age after another technological revolution with an unforeseen function. It looks obvious to us now, but imagine the building filled with enormous looms being powered by a steam engine. It is equally ironic that most of the tenants fill their spaces with homely objects and their dogs. A sense of domestic space is now conjured by the building when its original purpose was a counter to the cottage. Home, work and freedom reconfigured.
Why do we love these buildings so much - what did those architects and craftspeople actually do and why do we enjoy it on such an instinctive level? How do we unlock that sense of well-being by bringing whatever it was they did forward into our time - to enable people to truly experience all that these buildings give us from a past where different things were valued? I've found it's not enough to just leave buildings as they are. They become pathological relics if left to their own devices. A layer from our time must be added in order to secure the future. Getting the balance of how we intervene is never obvious.
I have observed that people enjoy this building for its authenticity. It expresses its structural components openly with minimal amounts of decoration. It seems to be a deep, instinctive force within us that resonates with materials that speak about their purpose. Brick holds up timber beams that hold up floors. Everything is there for a reason.
My approach is to strip the building down to its primary components - almost like archaeology. Many years of layers were removed to reveal the original wooden flooring. Plasterboard and paint were stripped from walls allowing old bricks to see the light again. And then equally visceral new structures are added. In the reception space the original cobbles were uncovered and a new steel layer intervenes. This new layer folds and bends, forming itself into seating and tables. A strip of light always delineates the gap between the new palimpsest and the old structure.
New functional elements are the places where a different game can start to be played. A cast in-situ concrete wall cuts across the grid at forty five degrees defining separate entrances and happens to be thick enough to house postboxes. A celebration of the everyday in a monumental form. It also happens by chance to be pointing due South - springing from an existing stair geometry.
Toilets are different on each level. A slightly skewed personality to balance the rational repetition of the existing structure. Remember this building was the precursor to the Modern Movement in architecture. A functional machine with a grid of repeating columns. Its functional rationalism attracting like a magnet Sankey's nightclub - one centre of the counterculture - certainly in opposition to 'work'. Nothing on the night was as it seemed - moving artificial light bounced around disparate red and black surfaces.
Every new door is different. The idea here is to reminisce about old doors then slice through the fabric of reality to form new opening to other worlds. Everyday objects are tilted slightly towards the uncanny. One tenant tweeted “We don't say we're going to the loo anymore. We say we're going to Narnia.”
A young persons centre in Ancoats Conservation Area.
This project won Manchester Society of Architects Building of the Year, Manchester Chamber of Commerce Building of The Year and Best Innovative Design at the Northern Design Awards. It was published in the Architects Journal. My favourite critique was written by Karen Regn for Manchester Confidential and can be found here.
My preoccupation with lines that cut across un-unified context can again be seen clearly in this project. This is the text I wrote about the building for the Manchester Society of Architects Awards submission :
At the rite of passage into the adult world teenagers are possessed, particularly viscerally, by the relative world. The body is a vehicle for sensory physical, mental, emotional and spiritual experience......From this perspective imagine the profound, mysterious transformation happening at that time. The environment is seen through the vale of visceral fascination which flips from the sublime to the morbid - ecstasy to paralysing pain - excitement to boredom. As extremes of emotion are experienced, so the transition point in the middle is filled with confusion and uncertainty. Feeling........awkward / nothing fits in with demands / wants to change the world / can't bare fixedness / the body is changing at a rate never before seen / new sensory organs come on-line.
Could a building reflect and help reconcile this transformation we all go through? A place they could feel 'at home' in - when the 'home' which they have loved throughout their life suddenly becomes alien - when the one place of security and protection becomes a restriction and the people you love who live there appear all too well defined. A building which offers security and familiarity, domestic in scale, but with unusual freedom - stable and yet free. A building which expresses duality - two opposing forces / geometries. The geometry of the site context containing a rebellious form which cuts through the site in a gesture of defiance. The site context provides a solid, familiarity.....a comforting brick environment with the almost domestic proportions of the Victorian shop and the Coates School building.
The new building follows the existing urban geometry and forms a similarly proportioned three story end elevation to Jersey Street. Although the Pickford Street elevation is 'longer' in scale and more akin to its neighbouring MM2 development, it is still 'polite' and sensibly adheres to its contextual geometry.
Inherent within the placing of the main accommodation at the back of the site, is the lack of a presence on Great Ancoats Street. The solution is to slice a link though the gap between the end of the Coates School and the gable of the MM2 apartment block, terminating at Great Ancoats Street as the point of entrance. The form of this link manifests itself as a 'leaning' wall wedged between the existing brick containment which continues on to slice though the orthogonal main building. In cutting the main building a triangular, double height, vertical space is formed, the stair cascades up the side of the wall completing the journey of circulation, always in relation to this 'rogue' angular gesture. From a conceptual perspective this rogue element will fuel a synergistic relationship with the centre and its not so old, not so square, visitors.
The main accommodation building is orthogonal, rational and simple in its expression, this is to provide an overall stability and will enhance the juxtaposed angular sliced leaning wall. The windows are all orthogonal too, but are spaced in a random way. Again, this is to balance all the right angles, too many aligned grids can feel oppressive.
The people who ‘are’ 42nd Street have become particularly adept at dealing with the desire to self harm, to cut in order to express or release powerful overwhelming forces. Inherent within this desire is the notion of balancing, curing with like for like, violence cancelled by violence.
Leonard Cohen wrote the lyrics: ‘There is a crack in everything - that’s how the light gets in’. To release this building from its completeness as a ‘box’ a 17M long glass slot slices through its core - that’s how the light gets in.
Such vulnerability as this must be protected at all costs, it’s what keeps us straying too far from ourselves. Four steel Sentinels stand guard, they demand / inspire your attention and clarity of heart, before you pass into this modern manifestation of sacred space.
Once inside be prepared for the unexpected: tapering stairs, angled rooms, leaning walls, a corridor to nowhere - and wardrobes which are passages to the psychologically protected land of one to one therapy.