The five shortlisted designs for the improvement of St Peter's Square in central Manchester were unveiled to a muted response at a private viewing last night.
The exhibition opened to the public this morning in the former visitor information centre behind the Town Hall next to the square and lasts until Saturday.
The identities of the five architects have been kept a secret in the displays and even the judges will not be told, in order to prevent preconceptions influencing their decision. The designs are simply labeled 002, 004, 016, 027 and 032. The invited guests at last night's low-key reception for stakeholders and media muttered comments such as "much of a much-ness" and "little to choose between them". One distinguished office agent simply couldn't wait for the work to take place, commenting: "It doesn't really matter which one, just pick a winner and get it done."
The brief for a largely pedestrianised square – all traffic apart from trams will be diverted in future – inevitably makes the designs similar riffs on expanses of paving, planting and seating. At first glance the few distinguishing features are limited to a sculpture here and novel choice of tree type there. The choice and cost of materials could arguably the biggest distinguishing factor, the paving is such a large feature in every sense.
New structures are limited throughout the designs with some having no new buildings and others suggesting larger shelters for tram passengers or dodging the Manchester rain.
Arguably the biggest change will be closing the extension of Moseley Street and the resultant enlargement of the pedestrian area: a given set by the planners and not the work of the architects.
The brief includes the creation of a contemporary memorial to the 1819 Peterloo Massacre. The cenotaph will not be affected by the redesign of the square and will remain in its current position.
The winning design team will be selected later this summer and a separate artist appointed to work alongside them to create the Peterloo memorial.
The £20m contract is scheduled to start on site in early 2011 and last 12 months. The contest is part of the civic complex renewal programme that includes refurbishment of the Town Hall Extension and Central Library.