When you think about Manchester’s most iconic buildings it’s often the tallest that get the accolades. But big isn’t always the most beautiful, writes Adam Higgins, co-founder of Capital & Centric.
For me one of Manchester’s best kept secrets is BDP’s HQ on Ducie Street. At just six storeys, the architects self-designed a RIBA award-winning studio and it’s still one of the city’s most exciting pieces of architecture, 11 years on.
I love the impracticality of creating a front facade that leans outwards, throwing away good lettable space at the lower floors which most people would have maxed out to make the spreadsheet look better. But maximising profit clearly wasn’t the point, at least not directly.
Arguably that’s a luxury which comes with designing a building which you’re going to occupy yourself, but this also brought a passion that you can really see in the design. The detailing is wonderful. The timber work, so often chosen because it looks great on a CGI but not so in practice, still looks crisp and beautiful rather than mouldy and black. And the metal cladding with the vertical slot windows along Ducie Street still has a futuristic sci-fi feel about it and in that regard hasn’t aged at all.
Located a stone’s throw from Piccadilly and right on the canal, the building is as much a story about sustainability as it is good design. It clearly had to be a symbol of what BDP is about and the design surely does that. But it’s also a great example of how beautiful design can also be sustainable. The whole design was predicated on doing something that BDP knew was a good thing to do, many years before everyone else jumped on the climate change bandwagon.
The orientation of the building and the deep slot windows on the southern side are designed to control the amount of sun, light and heat coming in and maximise natural ventilation throughout. The use of thermal mass, openable windows and grey water recycling all contributed to the building securing an BREEAM Excellent rating. With local authorities across the North West declaring climate emergencies – and all eyes on how the real estate sector must be part of the solution – designing sustainable buildings has never been more important.
It’s a building that’s been designed to benefit the people who’ll use it but also to benefit wider society. It’s an approach that was ahead of its time but certainly sets the blueprint for how all of us should be thinking about development in the future. Personally, I love it!
As a new decade nears, throughout December Place North West will be publishing views from the property industry on the best buildings completed between 2000 and 2019, highlighting the design and development successes of the past 20 years.