In 1938 the Manchester Town Hall extension swung open its doors to the general public. The building was designed by Vincent Harris, for the municipal trading departments of the City, to sit between his recently completed Central Library and Waterhouse’s Town Hall, writes Matt Pickering of CallisonRTKL.
Gerrard & Sons of Swinton delivered an extremely functional building with a series of stunningly beautiful spaces accessible to all the residents of Manchester. Here they paid rates and viewed the latest technological advancements in lighting and heating. These appliances were housed in the magnificent gas and electricity showrooms in the Mount Street and St Peter’s Square ground floor wings that sat above a state-of-the-art-cinema and demonstration rooms. Meanwhile, the grandiose 200 ft long curved Rates Hall created a wonderous reception room for the inhabitants of Manchester, with a full-length Cuban mahogany desk and lined with creamy grey Derbyshire Hopton Wood carboniferous limestone and dark Ashburton limestone, joining the two showroom wings.
Fast forward to the end of the 20th century and the council had subdivided the showrooms and Rates Hall to accommodate public toilets, a visitors centre, a Sure Start centre and numerous segregated service offerings. The beautiful limestone walls were hidden by plasterboard and original floor finishes were covered in sheet materials. The changes over time made the building extremely hard to navigate and largely inaccessible to the public.
Fortunately, in 2010, as part of the wider Town Hall Complex transformation programme, the grade two star-listed landmark was redeveloped by the One Team, led by Manchester City Council and delivery partner Laing O’Rourke, to provide its users and the community with an open, vibrant and multi-functional building more akin to its original state. Works were undertaken to the ground floor public-facing services, the public entrances on Mount Street and St Peter’s Square were restored to their 1930s appearance and the staircase connecting the lower ground floor was reinstated allowing the Central Library to extend into the basement.
The former Rates Hall and gas and electric showrooms, the key heritage spaces, were converted back to their former glory in the guise of the customer service centre, cafe and multimedia library. All spaces were stripped of any unnecessary interventions and the beautiful 1930s features and finishes were restored wherever possible with the space returned to the people of Manchester as it was initially intended.
For this reason, it holds a special place in my heart. It was and still is all about the people.
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.