Designed 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 in to 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?
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