REVIEW | GM Building of the Year shortlist: Library Walk

Jessica Middleton-Pugh

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

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This is surely a joke?

By Elephant

‘at least delivers an interesting solution to the problem’
Really?? what was the problem. It seemed to work well for a number of decades before.

By St Peter

Ridiculous. This would never happen in Switzerland.

By Hans Orrff

An expensive solution to a problem that didn’t exist. The completed building has none of the lightness during daytime that the visualisations promised. This cannot win!

By Gene Walker

It looks like a 2nd rate hotel; 5 streets back from the beach at Torremolinos. Generations will rue this decision by our ‘great leaders’.

By Sam

I’ve always loved this walkway, as a child I thought it was really exciting, and I have always appreciated the lovely curved walls and never tired of walking through there. i don’t have a problem with the structure in its own right, but no matter how clever the design it can’t help but detract from what was an intriguing, inviting walkway; the only good thing is one day it could be removed!

By Mary

Why is it in this country,we cannot do less is more? We turn every little bit of grandeur we have into a tacky mess,like this,It looks like the entrance to a shopping centre in Walsall.I half expect to walk through that and see a Peacocks and a Poundstretcher.

By Elephant

… not seen the other entrants but Manchester, come on you must be able to to do better than this pile of ….

By Norman Davies

My biggest problem with this structure is that, to me, it serves no logical purpose at all. If it weren’t there, people could still use the walkway & easily enter both buildings… I personally don’t understand what the thought process was in deciding that anything needed to bridge the two buildings in the first place?

By Francesca

It’s really a piece of Landscape Architecture/ Urban Design…….a very very very very very very very BAD piece of Landscape Architecture/ Urban Design that borders on vandalism. But HEY! Just like Piccadilly Gardens, it’s done by a named ‘Star’-chitect – so that’s OK then, how dare we criticise!

By Cassandra

I thought the aim of all this was to make Manchester an even more depressing place to live? Its working.

By sky

Is it even a “building”? At best its a building *entrance*, no?

The tiled flooring is a nice touch, I guess. But very, very unnecessary and really does detract from one of the city’s more interesting pedestrian routes. Hope there’s something better out there worthy of the prize

By Waterhouse

Got threatened off a drunk woman once when I was minding my own business heading down the old alleyway that used to be there. Glad to see something proper built there as it seemed to be a magnet for trouble.

By Bri

Bri. If you perceive Library Walk to be an ‘ Alleyway’ then I justifiably have to question the validation of the rest of your statement.
The cotton bud mosaic tiled flooring is also present – and better executed- in the Marble Arch pub on Rochdale Road.
Jessica – Middleton – Pugh – what ARE your qualifications to comment ‘it delivers an interesting solution to a proble’ etc ???- there WAS NO ‘problem’ in the first instance. Informed Architectural Journalism and a platform to comment? I think not.

By Cassandra

Cassandra – just because I may not know the correct architectural reference to the thoroughfare in question shouldn’t undermine the facts of what happened, i.e. random threats. You are a dangerous empty-head. Most people on this forum produce constructive observations, whereas you just lash out. The reason for that is that you are a bit rubbish and you know that you are a bit rubbish, and you don’t like it.

By Bri

Thank you Bri, your eloquence goes before you, and needs no further embellishment from me to underline the point made previously.

By Cassandra

Claws away folks. This is a professional website.

By James

I don’t mind it. It creates a clear, covered entrance to the town hall extension and successfully conveys the impression that there is a modern public facility lurking within these grand old buildings. It also makes the trip from one side of the complex to the other, that much easier. It serves a clear purpose and does it well. Apart from that stupidly indulgent roof, I fail to see what all the hoo-haa is about.

By Sensible