Context 164 - May 2020

36 C O N T E X T 1 6 4 : M A Y 2 0 2 0 CHRISTINA SINCLAIR and REBECCA BURROWS Manchester Town Hall: understanding significance A heritage-led strategy for the repair and restoration of Manchester Town Hall aims to secure the building in its designed use, encourage access and conserve its significant heritage values. ManchesterTown Hall, the civic heart of the city, is a critical link to the achievements of its inno- vative and industrious history. This is reflected in its outstanding design by Alfred Waterhouse, which is as functional as it is beautiful. The combination of practicality and glamour can be seen in everything from the police cells to the banqueting rooms, and perhaps nowhere better than in its circulation spaces. The near- diagrammatic plan form of the building allows for the efficient layout of civic functions, and cir- culation between them. Corridors and stairwells efficiently surround the richly-detailed court- yards, transforming simple circulation spaces into moments of great interest and expression. The three great spiral stairs, cleverly located at the nodal points of this near-triangular form, act as efficient circulation, beautiful design pieces, and even passive ventilators for the building through the placement of heating elements at their base. If the town hall is to remain as the functioning civic powerhouse, it needs repair, restoration and carefully considered alteration. The Our Town Hall project aims to secure the build- ing in its designed use, encourage access and conserve its heritage values. Alongside the city council, Purcell, the design and heritage lead, works with a team that includes Mace, Faithful and Gould, Arup, Planit IE, Ramboll, Deloitte and Lendlease. Purcell developed a bespoke heritage-led approach to managing change to the building. The project objectives were: • to secure the long-term future of the town hall, its civic role and its external setting • to retain and enhance the building as a functioning and efficient town hall • to restore and celebrate this significance heritage asset • to enhance the use of the building, as a visitor destination and increase access to Mancunians • to transform users’ and visitors’ experiences • to reduce carbon footprint and energy costs • to maximise commercial opportunities and offset costs to the public purse • to deliver economic and social value. Purcell’s team developed a ‘statement of signif- icance’ for the building, setting out the primary attributes that contribute to significance. The significance assessment strategy was transparent and repeatable. In a Grade I listed building comprising over 700 rooms and a vast range of different materials and elements, understanding relative significance was key to effective decision making. The team applied Historic England’s Conservation Principles (2008) to provide a clear process in evaluating why anything from the Great Hall to a police cell was of significance, and to what degree. The result was a short statement, centred around five primary attributes that embody the significance of the building, which all contribute to the nationally-recognised heritage values. 1. Built fabric and construction technique The town hall was built in the late 19th century, at a time when mass production was rapidly expanding and handcrafts were being replaced by mechanisation. The construction is both typical and innovative, in different ways. For example, the concrete construction of the jack arches and the use of riveted steel were newly patented techniques, and internally we see the use by Waterhouse of applied terracotta for the first time. In other areas, commonly-used techniques and the overall scale and repeti- tion of fabric reduce significance. Many of the decorative features are of the highest quality, and designed specifically for the building or space. Opposite: A typical corridor in the town hall: efficient, well-lit, richly decorated and with leading views to the courtyard and other areas The town hall was built at a time when mass production was rapidly expanding and handcrafts were being replaced by mechanisation (Photo: Michael D Beckwith, Wikimedia)