Chips Building

Best of the North West | Chips, New Islington

James Bruce Civic EngineersDesigned by renowned British architect Will Alsop of Alsop Architects, who sadly passed away last year, the now iconic Chips building in New Islington was completed in 2009, writes James Bruce of Civic Engineers.

This eight-storey building, constructed for developer Urban Splash, was conceived as ‘three fat chips stacked on top of each other’.  This design came out of the brief by Tom Bloxham from Urban Splash, to create a building which moved away from ‘mundanity’.

Quirky and bold, there’s no doubt Chips is far from mundane, particularly with its twelve metre long cantilever of the zig-zagging middle ‘chip’ at the end of the building. Quite the engineering challenge and a challenge risen to at the time by my now-colleagues at Civic Engineers. This striking building formed the first major development for the Alsop-designed New Islington masterplan, inhabiting North Manchester’s post-industrial wasteland, situated between the Ashton and Rochdale canals. 

Launched in 2002, Alsop’s strategic framework for New Islington laid out an exceptional place, modelled around new canal arms with an inspiring landscape, all right on the city centre doorstep. Ambition was there but progress was slow, and following the completion of Chips in 2009, the area stood dormant through the recession. This meant the iconic building stood alone, patiently awaiting its future neighbours and making a statement as to the potential that the area could deliver.  

Speaking personally, having graduated in 2006 and all set to work in Manchester city centre as an engineer, it wasn’t long before there was a significant reduction in the number of cranes across the city, and I fought a sinking feeling that maybe I had made a terrible mistake in my choice of career, industry and location.

Like so many others my age, I could have given into the pull of the capital but I didn’t. There was something about seeing a building like Chips being completed, and understanding the potential the wider New Islington area could deliver, that gave me the confidence to stay put and, like the Chips building, await the return of the good times and the opportunities that did ultimately present themselves.   

Chips may be one of those ‘Marmite’ buildings, but you cannot doubt its distinctiveness and the impact it has had on the area around it. A Guardian article written in 2009, at the time Chips was being completed, suggested Alsop’s test for a building’s success was if the cabbies knew where it was. As it happened, at the time of the article, the author’s cabbie did not have a clue and had to be directed, however, running that same test today would almost certainly produce a different result. 

Fast forward to today, and Urban Splash is now adding the finishing touches to New Islington with the installation of modular House by Urban Splash homes and Mansion House at the New Islington Marina. Who would have thought that a building which once stood alone in a former wasteland would become one at the heart of an area recently cited in the Sunday Times as one of the UK’s 10 best places to live? 

To take part in the series, email with your suggestion for the best North West building of the 2000s, and a member of the editorial team will be in touch 

Your Comments

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Hmmm, with its well known flammable cladding issues and tired external appearance I’d say this is one that doesn’t stand the test of time – nice try, must do better.

By John Smiley

I live in this building, and the cost-cutting/VE in the finishing is really evident – cheap carpets, cracked plaster, no concierge, constantly breaking fittings/appliances, and serious leaking to apartments throughout the building.

Cladding issue touched on by previous poster – serious health and safety concerns to residents and enormous financial implications to owners.

There are some strange quirks in the overall design that don’t make best use of the floorplate – probably telling that this was Alsop’s first (only?) residential development.

Oh, and lets not kid ourselves: it looks awful. (I usually tell cabbies “its that big horrible yellow and brown one with all the worn writing up the side”).

A failure of a building.

By Nah

A strange choice considering it has issues with flammable cladding, and the poor flat owners are having to pay thousands and thousands to replace this. The communal heating and water didn’t work for months after completion and it has loads of problems with car vandalism and burglaries. Also the ground floor never attracted any restaurants or bars, never mind a ‘Michelin Star’ restaurant they wanted.

Similarly, Mill Street never got any retail or leisure use either – just a monstrosity of a PRS scheme, with no active ground floor uses. the original marketing for News Islington promised ” the best fist and chip shop’ and a proper Italian with checkered table cloths” People on a regular basis are mugged at News Islington tram stop, and syringes and needles litter the canal path.

“At the heart of an area recently cited in the Sunday Times as one of the UK’s 10 best places to live?” that was never New Islington – this was a reference to Ancoats, and the area around Cutting room Square. Funny how marketing can distort the facts

By John

Nah’s comment reminds me of Chimney Pot Park, another Urban Splash development that was meant to impress and stand the test of time but with corners cut on the whole development (what is the point of the glass structure in the back bedroom) and residents now left with an expensive sinking ship, be lucky if it lasts another 10yrs

By CitySpotter

Is this the same CHIPS building that several occupants are still in litigation with the designers over constant leaks, mould, communal services issues, flammable cladding, etc, etc?!?

Sadly too many buildings in Manchester have this same ‘style over substance’ trait. Looks aren’t everything, and I’m a little surprised as the successor company to the engineers on this building you weren’t advised to keep quiet about this not-fit-for-purpose building!

By MancLad

Horrendous building.It needs recladding in either all black or all silver with maybe a neon sign or something.

By jack

The Problem with Chimney Pot Park is where it is.If it was in Didsbury it would be a triumph.

By Elephant

Haven’t residents been hit with massive bills for round the clock fire warden patrols? The cladding had ‘Not fire retardant’ written on it and it was installed anyway.

By Martin

Chimney Pot Park is a great development! 300+ houses hardly comparable to block of flats Chips building.

By Panther

Of course it is Panther, especially with the water ingress from the car park into the back bedrooms that lifts the flooring which takes a week to sort out; or how about the overly sensitive Italian boilers that stop working at the slightest touch and you then have to wait over a week sometimes two weeks before the part can be shipped over from Italy (which is great fun when its freezing); then there are the radiators that are about as much use as a chocolate fireguard and pump out no heat at all (another fun thing when its cold; or there is the fact that hardly anyone has made a decent profit since they bought their house and probably never will – but yeah, apart from that its a wonderful development !

And just for clarification I said Nah’s comments remind me of CPP, I wasn’t comparing one to the other but its obvious both are examples of bad Urban Splash developments

By Anonymous

Cheap boilers at 12 years old need replacing. Same in any household.

By Panthers