Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Regarding the proposed obstruction of LIBRARY WALK

Dear Sirs

I wish to object to the proposed plan to construct an obstructing pavilion in Library Walk, thereby rendering this important pedestrian route redundant. I write as an internationally recognised expert in urban design, but more importantly as a citizen of Manchester, and it is the civic amenity of Library Walk which I wish to defend from an act of wholly unnecessary vandalism.

Since the construction of the Central Library and the Town Hall Extension this route has been a convenient path for citizens between two major public places, namely Albert Square and St. Peter's Square. It was a pedestrian route decades before pedestrianisation became a vogue in urban design.

But E.Vincent Harris's skill went beyond the prosaically utilitarian. Citizens were offered a unique aesthetic experience which Manchester City Council should seek to protect. The narrowing of the space adds a sense of anticipation to the route in either direction, because it is clearly a very carefully integrated piece of architectural and urban composition of the highest calibre. The controlled views that terminate the route, either that of the restrained nineteenth century neoclassicism of the Friends' Meeting House or the sublime and timeless monumental composition of the Cenotaph are a unique twentieth century contribution to Manchester's genius loci. The unfolding view was identified as a key attribute to townscape and here Manchester has a supreme example if the City Council would but realise it.

As architectural designs Harris's two buildings are completely resolved in their own terms despite their differing aesthetic languages, a level of completion which was entirely typical of the era in which they were built. The careful geometric composition of the urban space between them is also fully resolved. This completion leads to aesthetic problems for any proposed intervention since it will inevitably take the form of a dissonant and jarring obstruction in an environment which is governed by proportion.

The current proposal commits a number of errors, providing ample opportunity for litter to gather in the narrow corners created, relying on the transparency of the glass to reduce the visual impact of the obstruction when precisely this material will attract pollution staining, and the inevitable visual clutter of warning signs and administrative detritus which will accumulate. But the worst error of all is that the proposal creates cul de sacs, types of space which are fundamentally anti-urban in character. Permeability of urban fabric is a key tenet of successful urban design, a lesson which this current proposal has not learnt, and which will be negated by the proposed construction of gates.

I therefore urge Manchester City Council to reconsider, and furthermore to recognise that Library Walk is a unique urbanistic asset where Harris was right first time.

Yours faithfully

Eamonn Canniffe M.A. Dip. Arch (Cantab)
Programme Leader, MA in Architecture + Urbanism
Manchester School of Architecture


stoneroberts said...

Very good, Glass Architecture = Laminated A4 notice!

Just for the record this is what I wrote:

"I object to the proposal to block Library Walk with a new structure. This proposal will fatally undermine the spatial qualities of this historic urban space and compromise the intended massing and architectural relationship of two listed buildings.

The proposals will further undermine the visual connections from Library Walk to the Friends Meeting House and the Cenotaph. This visual relationship is based upon movement and progression through the curved space of Library Walk and the surprising, perhaps unique, opening up of vistas following the experience of attenuation caused by the proximity of the two monumental buildings.

The Library Walk space is a unique architectural experience formed by the conjunction of monumental concave and convex built forms. The heritage report fails to properly assess the importance of the space and resorts to contentious and subjective statements, for instance: "how this left-over space came into being and the fact it is not a particularly pleasant space". I believe that a detailed argument could be made that Library Walk is a nationally and, perhaps, internationally significant urban space. Such an argument does not need written evidence of the architect's intentions but a proper analysis of the hierarchy of spaces in the city in relation to the great civic architecture of Harris and Waterhouse and an understanding of the great and important architectural experience that has been created by Harris's inspired conjunction of two historic buildings."


pwriba said...

Less eloquent but this is what I do....

"The proposals are contrary to policies E2.7, E3.8, the St Peters Square Conservation Area Assessment and SPD Development Guide to Manchester and would constitute an unacceptable negative impact on the significance of two Grade II* buildings, their settings and to two conservation areas. On this basis the proposals should be strongly resisted.

Policy E2.7: The proposals do not "ensure that buildings and areas of special architectural interest are retained, maintained or restored" but look to make major alterations to the listed buildings and new additions to the area between that would lead to the net loss of historic fabric and a high negative impact on the significance of the heritage assets and their setting and should be resisted.

Policy E2.7: The proposals do not preserve the setting of either listed building leading to a high negative impact on significance of the heritage assets and should be resisted.

Policy E3.8: The proposals will have a high negative impact on the "special character" of the "single composition with a walkway" between the Library and Town Hall Extension and should be resisted.

Policy E3.8 & St Peters Conservation Area Assessment: The proposals do not outline the "refurbishment of listed buildings or redevelopment of existing buildings" and do not relate to the "existing building context" and are not "complementary to the character of adjacent buildings" and should be resisted.

Objection under SPD Guide to development in Manchester: The conservation area assessment states that the walkway is "one of the most dramatic urban spaces in the city". The proposals have high negative impact on this "distinctive quality" and the associated "strong sense of place". Therefore they will not "preserve or enhance the special nature" of either conservation area and should be resisted." Sent to MCC

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