Gavin Elliott

Property not about architecture anymore, says Elliott

Jessica Middleton-Pugh

According to Gavin Elliott, head of architecture practice BDP's Manchester studio, "we are back to where we were in 2008, where market neo-liberalism and capitalism is dictating development in the city".

Property developments are now "not about architecture, but about economics" said Elliott, with Manchester skyscraper Beetham Tower, "a testament to naked capitalism".

Elliott was speaking as part of the Liveable City conference at the Manchester School of Art, co-organised by RIBA North West, Manchester School of Architecture and the Danish Embassy.

Elliot took to the stage alongside Danish architects Rune Veile of BCVA and Claus Gade of NOVA5 to discuss the topic of 'Mending Modernist Mistakes'.

While for the Danish architects the buzzword for developments in their country was "democratic", Elliott put architectural trends in Manchester in the context of the wider UK economy, with "a greater disparity between the rich and poor, and the rich getting richer". This had led to an unfair bias towards London, which he said "has everything, and will continue to get everything, while Manchester gets £60m of public sector cuts".

Elliot described the development of Manchester's Green Quarter as "just dreadful", compared to southern cities such as Cambridge which he said were "lovely, and are allowed to have more loveliness" because of the difference in land values.

One example was the £500m Greengate regeneration project in Salford on the border with Manchester. Feilden Clegg Bradley did a masterplan for the site for Salford City Council and Network Rail in 2007, which included a zero-energy sustainable communities and an urban bridge. However in the latest phase of development, Elliott said that "the enthusiasm of the FCB masterplan has been lost, and we are back to where we were in 2008 when market neo-liberalism and capitalism is dictating development in the city."

"Planners used to be heroes" said Elliot. "We don't have planners anymore, we have developers."

The Liveable City continues until Thursday 27 November. The conference was organised to share best practice between Danish architects, particularly those working in Copenhagan, and Manchester architects and decision-makers.

Your Comments

Ironic considering BDP have been responsible for some pretty horrendous carbuncles themselves. But still true. And brave for him to say. I hope they still have some clients.

By Lee

Manchester and Salford City Councils’ Planning Officers should hang their heads in shame. They are blighting our combined city. There is insufficient demand for so many tiny flats in such ugly high density buildings. They are destined to become future slums. Developers are quite rightly only interested in their bottom line but planners have an obligation to the communities they serve. Whether they are corrupt or incompetent is anyone’s guess.

By Hear hear

What this young man fails to realise is that “quality” architecture has a price tag. The values in Cambridge (??) will support such improved designs etc. So, yes, property design is all about economics and always has been.

By A Gent

Relieved that somebody in his position has the balls to come out and say this. Its pretty obvious really – Manchester’s becoming dominated by soulless identikit blocks. "Green" Quarter is the perfect example. Hope some developers have the equal bravery to take note and a spend a bit more on better design…

By scouseboi

Too right. ‘Sustainability’ in every sense of the word seems to have gone out the window with most of what is going up at the moment.

By James Thorp

These are the architects that have designed an eighty million pound bridge that is going to look rusty , so when it does go rusty nobody notices , economics I suppose.

By barny

The problem is that most Local Authorities are now run by Accountants or Generic managers who have no appreciation of architecture or design. They believe what a developers tells them and in their world any development is good development as it equals investment in pound notes which is the language they understand. Speaking as a planner we are often portrayed as an obstacle in the process rather than the enablers anf that is why most Head of Planning roles are now third or fourth tier officers within Local Authorities when in the past the role sat at the top table and had a voice that was listened too.

By A Planner

You could argue that at least somebody is putting money into these run down areas. It may not be the best architecture in the world but at least it breathes some new life into these areas. I think greengate will look a lot better than it has done for many years once the developments are complete.

By Citizen Smith

Well said. Some of the new buildings at First Street are testament to this. Some absolutely shocking architecture.

By Anonymous

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