“I Love Manchester” – A City that leads by example.

#Love MCR” emerged last Summer, as a Facebook and Twitter campaign, to clean up and rebuild confidence in Manchester following the mindless and costly Riots which shook the UK and hit Manchester hard.  Love MCR has very quickly become the latest addition to Manchester’s strong brand message, local culture and the city’s identity. It’s also become a strong charity vehicle and is used to promote tourism and inward investment into Manchester’s thriving economy. The city has unfortunately experienced major disruption previously after the IRA bombing destroyed part of the Arndale shopping centre in 1996 . Perhaps this gave the city leaders a greater understanding of the need to respond positively – and very quickly.

I have worked in Manchester regularly for around 10 years. Since we established a new office in the city back in 2006, I have spent more and more time up here. In January I accepted a Board Director position at Lewis and Hickey. A key part of my role is to lead and direct the Manchester office, working with a great team – a challenge I embrace fully, not least of which because ‘I love Manchester‘ as a city and find it a great place to work.

Manchester never fails to impress. Among many things, it is a centre for international Football, Music and Television; the city is well known for being the home of ‘Coronation Street‘, a programme which celebrates life in the North West. Both of it’s Universities are highly ranked, drawing emerging talent to the city from the very start of adulthood. The University of Manchester founded the material Graphene in recent years which is set to be a hugely important material of the future. This is due to it being the thinnest and strongest material manufactured to date – the next carbon fibre. Perhaps something we will see in Formula One cars soon? These are just a number of day-to-day social, academic and economic references which influence Manchester’s rich culture and heritage.

image above: Graphene – an atomic-scale honeycomb lattice made of carbon atoms.

I believe Manchester is a city which leads the way and has been doing so for many decades. Its economy is rich and diverse;

Manchester was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th-century, and was a leading centre for manufacturing. The city’s economy is now largely service-based and, as of 2007, is the fastest growing in the UK, with inward investment second only to the capital. Manchester’s State of the City Report identifies financial and professional services, life science industries, creative, cultural and media, manufacturing and communications as major activities. The city was ranked in 2010 as the second-best place to do business in the UK and the twelfth best in Europe.” source: Wikipedia.com

In terms of property development and architecture, there is a similar compelling story of how the city has achieved great things. Tom Bloxham’s development company, Urban Splash, has played a major part in regenerating dilapidated parts of the city. One of their many high-profile schemes has been the re-design of the red-brick terraced House (similar to Coronation Street). One of their current schemes is the impressive Park Hill in Sheffield. In the core city centre is the Beetham organisations landmark Beetham/ Hilton Tower – the first major skyscraper to be built outside of London and amazingly it seems to stand proud, centrally, at the end of almost every major route into the city. It’s designed by the successful Manchester architect Ian Simpson who bought and lives in the top two storeys of the building, the highest living space in Britain – costing £3m at the time it was built in 2006. Not a bad price considering a well-known Manchester United football player is currently selling his much smaller, but still substantial, 3-storey apartment for £3.75m at present. This tower certainly adds to Manchester’s identity and is one of my favourite buildings. The bar on the 23rd floor, Cloud23, is worth a visit for superb views of the city and beyond. The Cooperative’s UK HQ has been based in Manchester for many years and they are currently developing a brand New Head office called NOMA 53 – one of the most sustainable commercial buildings in Europe and one of the first to be designed to BREEAM ‘Outstanding’. Moving out to Salford, the BBC made a major change to their organisation in recent years and moved a lot of it’s television production from London to a brand new development complex called MediaCity in Salford. Now home to many television programmes, including my two-year old daughters favourite channel; CBeebies and the infamous Justin Fletcher MBE (more commonly known as his character ‘Mr Tumble’).  One area of much discussion and media coverage at present is Manchester’s Enterprise Zone, called Airport City. This is a 4 million sq.ft. mixed-use development over 150 acres which will deliver office space, distribution, manufacturing, hotels, leisure and retail. Coming back into the city, ASK developments have contributed to a lot of regeneration and development in many parts of Greater Manchester and the city. Their latest project at First Street continues to expand – I saw the latest phase launched at MIPIM last month by Ken Knott and Ian Simpson – a video of this can be seen here. Our friends at ‘we are MI’ produced this promotional video and have worked with us on several commissions.

So what makes all this work? I think the key to Manchester’s success is the rich blend of old and new in the urban fabric of the city. It has restored and celebrates its vast Victorian Industrial past which is now juxtaposed by imaginative and unique contemporary architecture which demonstrates its new age.

Full credit to Manchester City Council and particularly Sir Howard Bernstein for working so hard to provide leadership and vision to the City, but also in engaging fully with many private sector partners to work collaboratively to realise an impressive collection of major and important developments.

We have a small, dynamic and progressive architecture team in Manchester. Our office is on Constance Street at the end of Deansgate and sits in the heart of Knott Mill (the architects quarter of the city). Our experience lies predominantly in Healthcare and Student Living work, but we have also been delivering Retail and Office projects over recent years. Opal Property Group, including Ocon Construction, have been, and continue to be, a major client to us who have been a huge support to our business. We work very much as a partnership. Our future looks promising with a number of recent project ‘wins’. We plan to build on this success by strengthening our position and profile in what is clearly a highly competitive local market, but one we know we can compete in. Manchester continues to demonstrate great potential as a city which leads the way and never stands still…could other regional cities learn a lot from this?

image above: our offices on Constance Street and the sign we have behind reception.

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