We can look back with pride at some tremendous train and tram schemes over the last decade. The Metrolink Second City Crossing, Victoria Station and Ordsall Chord are three examples that spring to mind, writes Laurie Mentiplay, associate director at WSP.
A common thread, in my experience, has been clients employing good architects who understand and challenge the technical, engineering requirements. This approach has helped transform our tram and train infrastructure from the functional to the fabulous. Given that these projects are going to be part of the fabric of our cities for generations, this should be the norm. I think infrastructure should be beautiful and lift our spirits.
One of the Best of the North West in my opinion is the Ordsall Chord. Opening in late 2017, this 350 metre long elevated railway provides a direct link between Manchester’s three stations for the first time.
Our client Network Rail was faced with some unique challenges. The railway needed to tie into historic viaducts, and cross the River Irwell, dual carriageway and canal. There were 24 listed buildings, including the world’s first passenger railway, and a conservation area. The site was next to homes, businesses, a museum and strategically important regeneration sites.
There was an approved alignment. But it went straight through a grade one-listed bridge. We explored and tested many alignment options to avoid the bridge, seven bridge options and a multitude of materials and methods.
What we see now is the world’s first asymmetrical network arch bridge. I think it’s a stunning new landmark on the city centre skyline. And it’s not just a railway; the grade one-listed bridge has been restored, floodlit and is visible to Mancunians and Salfordians for the first time in over a century. Network Rail has restored buildings and renovated archways. There are better pedestrian and cycle facilities, including two new bridges. There are new public spaces facing the river and fully integrated with the Factory Manchester design. I like how the project joins together two great cities who have traditionally faced away from each other and from their river boundary.
Reflecting on the Ordsall Chord, I think of the great team we had. The architects at BDP and structural engineers at WSP and Aecom with Mott McDonald who created the stunning ribbon form in Corten steel. The talented town planners at WSP, conservation experts at BB Heritage Studio and BAM-Skanska and Severfield who built the scheme to such a high quality.
I think of the Network Rail individuals, who managed their own internal people and processes so well and championed the design through a long, long planning process. I think of the city councils and Historic England. Special mentions to the Manchester officer who was relentless in challenging the technical standards and pushed for the best outcomes for his city. And to the two Historic England inspectors who were opposed to the alignment but conducted themselves with great dignity and professionalism.
Summing up, I think Ordsall Chord is a great example of design flair, innovation and collaboration. It’s an example of successful contextual, place-based approach to infrastructure and a catalyst for growth and regeneration. It shows the value in an approach which sees the local planning authority as part of the solution and not the problem. I think it provides valuable lessons to HS2, NPR and other infrastructure projects coming to the North West.
I’ve been fortunate to have been part of an incredible team of committed people dedicated to creating something special. I look back on what we have achieved with great satisfaction and pride.
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.