It feels as if you are entering a metropolitan art gallery rather than a university department. This is an atrium with real purpose: providing public (who are allowed in thus far) and other students with glimpses of works of art and their making. Different disciplines can see what their confreres are up to and are encouraged to mix and collaborate: graphic arts with fine arts, architecture with fashion, photography with jewellery.
This major refurbishment of the 1960s tower and new extension to the Manchester School of Art has been executed with great skill by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios. Design excellence has been coupled with the brief of a visionary client to break down the traditional art and design units, encouraging staff and students across disciplines to work together and explore the common ground between subjects. Jarvis Cocker, one of the myriad of art school trained musicians including Malcolm McLaren, John Lennon, Keith Richards, Pete Townshend, Brian Eno, Bryan Ferry, Ian Drury and Joe Strummer, and himself a graduate of the Central St Martin’s School, has said, ‘The experience of being at art school gave me a lot to draw on – Pulp’s Common People – is about (meeting and falling in love) there, but on a deeper level I was taught to think about things in a non-lateral way.’ Just so FCBS have thought about this building in a non-linear, in a vertical way. It will influence the design of all art schools and many other university buildings for years to come.
The welcoming ‘vertical gallery’ space is open to all, enabling students and visitors to perambulate up gently rising flying staircases. Behind the vertical element sits the ‘design shed’ where open studios, workshops and teaching spaces provide a wide range of spaces for learning.
The discreet security systems allow students to access studios without the need for endless turnstile systems that often plague such buildings. Large custom-made hangar doors enable the ‘shed’ to open up to the public vertical space for exhibitions or other events. They are one of a number of innovative design solutions that have been cleverly incorporated throughout the scheme.
Client and Vice Chancellor Professor John Brooks has written, ‘Arts and culture have a vital role in the education of our young people and in the values of society. At a time when financial pressures can dominate decision making, it is vital that we have been able to take a long-term view about the critical importance of the Arts to our well-being and the stability of our society.’ This refreshing refusal either to bend down before the totem art for art’s sake or to accept that the decent provision for the arts is a luxury we can no longer afford has led to a great building.
This building is a catalyst for the exploration of design and creativity. As the school prospectus states, ‘Manchester School of Art believes an art school is more than just a place. It is a bridge between the acceptable and the possible, between what is and what if.’ They could be describing Feilden Clegg Bradley’s remarkable new building.
Architect: Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios
Client: Manchester Metropolitan University
Contractor: Morgan Sindall
Structural Engineer: Arup
Services Engineer: Arup
Contract Value: £23.6 million
Date of completion: April 2013
Gross internal area in sq m: 17,320