Concluding a six-part series on the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce’s 2015 Building of the Year shortlist, with a review of a building that raised eyebrows across the city from concept to completion.
As a claim to fame, the £3.8m Library Walk is arguably the most controversial recent building per square foot in all of Manchester, and even more impressively is possibly not even a building at all, but a glorified corridor.
The link building designed by SimpsonHaugh & Partners was the subject of a protracted and very public planning battle between Manchester City Council and local campaigners, who felt that the structure was an unnecessary addition to the sweeping curved passage between the Town Hall Extension and the Central Library. After ultimately going to a judicial review, a Government planning inspector ruled in the council’s favour.
In this context, the finished product was always going to be the subject of criticism, adding to the conundrum that the architects already faced over how best to bridge the gap between two distinctly different buildings. Sandwiched between the Gothic Town Hall Extension and the Neoclassical Central Library, attempting to cross-breed both styles would likely have created a mongrel which emphasised the worst attributes of both.
Instead, while the final design has certainly proved not to be to everyone’s taste, it at least delivers an interesting solution to the problem and manages to pack in several details into a very small space. To say that the contemporary creation complements the library and extension would go a bit far, but with walls made entirely of glass the beauty of the neighbours is visible to anyone walking through the link, which still manages to forge an identity of its own.
In defence of Library Walk, any narrative behind the design was never properly communicated, perhaps in a strategic move by the council to keep its head below the parapet as much as possible. However, keeping schtum did nothing to dissuade the general impression that £3.8m was a lot of money to spend on a corridor that 2,000 petitioners didn’t believe was necessary in the first place.
SimpsonHaugh’s attention to detail is gratifying to any local history buff. The tiled floor shows a cotton bud design based on mosaics from the town hall, and features 18 red glass insets engraved with the names of people massacred at Peterloo. The walls and doors are embellished with the Manchester bee, and the undulating metallic ceiling provides a point of interest, if a tad reminiscent of an alien spacecraft.
Despite all this, it may already be too late to change the ruling on Library Walk in the court of public opinion. Given its background, and staunch competition from the Whitworth Art Gallery, National Graphene Centre and the Soapworks, the chances of Library Walk scooping a Building of the Year award to balance out its Carbuncle Cup nomination looks unlikely to say the least.
- The Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce will announce the Building of the Year at its annual property and construction dinner on 12 November