Tuesday22 July 2014

Great Marlborough Street student housing in Manchester by Hodder & Partners

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Stephen Hodder discusses how his practice’s new 33-storey housing in Manchester will meet the high expectations of student customers in the city’s second highest tower

How did you win the Great Marlborough Street commission?

With our experience at St Catherine’s College in Oxford and elsewhere, student housing was an obvious area to develop but we hadn’t been actively seeking it. This project was originally inner city apartments for another developer, Dandara, for which we initially obtained planning permission for a 21-storey building in 2007.

The site is close to Manchester Metropolitan University and another developer saw the potential of the site for student housing. The sensitivity of the site and design solution was such that we were retained. With the backing of Talk Talk’s Charles Dunstone, this eventually led to the setting up of Student Castle to develop and operate student accom-modation. The Manchester site is its second development.

What was the programme for the site?

We spent eight months really looking into the feasibility of student bedrooms and concluded that to deliver the financial model it needed to be 520 beds and that dictated it should be 33 storeys high. This was at first going to be clusters of study/bedrooms and shared kitchens.

When the chief executive, Edward Cade, came on board he believed that the market was demanding a higher grade of accommodation – currently only 27% of students in Manchester live in bespoke student accommodation. He wanted the bedrooms to cater for the needs of postgraduate, mature and international students. So there was a major shift towards providing studio apartments (404), although we still have 116 study bedrooms arranged in 34 clusters of two to five rooms, each with a shared kitchen.

There’s also a small gym, a shared ground-floor common room and a high standard of technological infrastructure. This is driven by the expectations of students who’ll be paying more for this kind of accommodation over average accommodation.

How did you arrive at the solution of a cluster of elements to form the tower?

Manchester is characterised by elevated railways which almost create a city wall, and most of the stations are marked by tall buildings, except Oxford Road station, which is adjacent to this site. The case for a tall building there had already been made, although this one is significantly taller. The question was: how high should it be and how do we derive its form?
In my view, it fundamentally needed to work on two levels – at podium level where there was a need to engage on a street scale and complete the urban block, and at tower level to engage with the city, especially from the west, where you see it from a much greater distance.

The previous residential scheme for the site [by another architect] had a very dominant elevation at a city scale and I challenged that by turning it around 90 degrees to present a more slender and elegant elevation to the north. Before, it was quite a solid building. This was reinforced by shearing the plan and fragmenting the form.

There are four elements of varying heights, all clustered around the main core, which is the constant element to all these threads. The tallest are the north-east and north-west towers, which seek to have a presence at a wider city-scale. Study bedroom clusters are in the third highest, a 13-storey block on the west. The south-east tower relates to the height of some recent developments such as the Green Building on Great Marlborough Street by Terry Farrell. Right at the very top of the core is a three bedroom triplex studio.

What drove the composition of the facades?

This building is the second tallest tower in Manchester and Sir Howard Bernstein, chief executive of Manchester City Council, was absolutely adamant that while they accepted the argument for a tall building there had to be great consideration for its materiality and building quality because of its impact on the city.

Student accommodation isn’t commonly known for highly crafted buildings. Balancing the demand for an appropriate urban response and a high-performance elevation within the cost parameters has been quite an interesting challenge.

We spent a lot of time on the expression of the bays. I’ve always enjoyed the collegiate buildings of Powell & Moya and St Catherine’s College, Oxford and like those we endeavour to craft a building and articulate the details. Another approach could have been a very highly engineered, sleek skin but that isn’t the nature of our work.

Our buildings also offer a legibility that expresses how the building is organised – where the building is sheared, you can see the internal corridor with studios arranged off this. You can see the clusters of study bedrooms expressed in lightweight aluminium curtain walling. There is more pronounced scale to detail at height, and a depth of expression to the facade by projecting the transom and mullion 400mm from the facade.

The primary elements of the tower are clad largely in vertical, stretcher bond terracotta rainscreen cladding from NBK.

We engaged with Cabe a great deal on the colour of this. A lot of people think of Manchester as a red-brick town but it isn’t just that – there’s a lot of variation in the building stock. Here we are using four colours of terracotta ranging from a lovely Californian blue through to heathers and greys to give the sheared elements quite a monolithic appearance. The post-tensioned concrete frame is expressed at street level.

How are the studio flats configured?

The flats are typically 18sq m with a kitchen area opposite the shower pod near the door, and a double-bed with lots of under-bed storage. Towards the window are the desk, designed almost like a breakfast bar, and a crash seating area at the foot of the bed. There are large areas of glazing that capture fantastic views of the city and beyond to the Pennines.
We’re using lots of laminate finishes and high quality fittings in the shower pod. The circulation area will have quite robust natural finishes. We’re currently looking into an upgrade package for the internal specification.

What’s the schedule?

SH We started on site last autumn and are due to complete by the start of the 2012 academic year. We’re also designing two other student developments for other clients in the city, including 1,000 study bedrooms near Whitworth Park.


Studio facade composition

The elevation draws inspiration from the college work of architects such as Powell & Moya


To express the studio components on the elevation, the architects are using an aluminium curtain walling system by Reynaers Aluminium. A bronze-coloured, anodised aluminium spandrel panel forms a horizontal strip at floor level along each pair of units. This is fixed to rigid insulation backing and projects 400mm, adding depth to the facade. Below is a strip of polyester powder-coated louvres and an aluminium transom which angles light down into the apartments at clerestory level.

Here the architects drew inspiration from the college work of architects such as Powell & Moya, and their consideration of how light washes across the ceilings of the study bedrooms.
Above the bronze strip are full-height structurally glazed windows flanked by silver, powder-coated aluminium insulated panels. These were originally designed to tilt open, but will now be fixed.

“The elevation grew out of previous jobs – Stephen treats each project as a progression,” says managing director Claire Hodder. “At an earlier stage it was going to be expressed in concrete a bit more like St Catherine’s College in Oxford.”

The four shades of terracotta cladding elsewhere on the elevation is staggered vertically to create a blended rather than chequerboard effect.


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