Art for art’s sake

Architects Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios’ new building at Manchester School of Art fosters innovative collaboration in a modern environment

Manchester School of Art (MSA) is one of the oldest institutions of its kind in the UK, having celebrated its 175th birthday last year. The school was established in the 19th century to help keep the region competitive in an international market and support regional industry in a wider marketplace. Now a faculty of Manchester Metropolitan University, this remains an important objective for the MSA and a key part of the brief was to help the school bridge the gap between education and professional life.

Architecture practice Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios (FCB) has recently completed a new building for the Manchester School of Art. The design includes an extension to link the original 19th-century art school building to a 1960s tower, which was also refurbished as part of the project.

The design of the MSA has provided an engaging and lively environment in which to work and study and helped re-assert both the art school and the university’s profile on the national stage.

The new building celebrates the inter-relation of the various art and design disciplines and encourages 21st-century students to work alongside each other and enjoy the crossover rather than concentrating always on the differences. With an impressive glazed frontage at ground level, it is also a building that is proud of its product showing the work to passers-by.

A key element of the new design includes a seven storey ‘vertical gallery’. This is the linking piece between the existing 1960s arts tower (known as the Chatham Building) and the new studio building. This vertical gallery provides a showcase space for the output of the MSA and acts as a shop window to the school itself. 

The open studio space in the new extension places a great focus on collaborative working in an atmosphere that is inherently creative. Students and MSA staff from a broad spectrum of 30 different design disciplines including architecture, fashion and graphic design can work on projects in close communal proximity. This proximity encourages the sharing of ideas, techniques and methodologies in a way that was previously impossible. The hybrid studio is also an environment in which students can proudly display their work in a setting that is light and easy to explore.

As a building for designers and a place for teaching and learning about art and design, the clarity and articulation of materials was crucial, as was the tonal and textural quality of the interior.

The interiors are a study in concrete, with three distinct grades creating different atmospheres. Rough concrete is used in back stairwells, giving a sense of rawness and a factory aesthetic. Double-height cast concrete columns articulate the central spaces of the design shed, punctuated by four very special decorative concrete columns, developed from an early 20th-century wallpaper design by Lewis F Day, an eminent designer of his period, and a contemporary of Walter Crane, a past tutor at MSA.

A secondary but important material is the use of oak linings to the stairs and linking corridors which span the vertical gallery. These provide warmth to soften the hard edges of steel and concrete which form the structure.

The MSA extension consists of an 8,600sqm new building of studios, workshops and a gallery, and a 9,000sqm refurbishment of a 1960s tower and plinth. FCB worked closely with the clients, who are artists and designers themselves, on a building intended for training artists and designers. The level of collaboration was exceptionally high and FCB worked with the client by testing processes, recrafting ideas and always seeing the design as an iterative, creative process.

The project team

Client: Manchester Metropolitan University
Architect: Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios
Cost consultant: Turner & Townsend
Contractor: Morgan Sindall
Structural engineer: Arup

Project facts

Construction value: £23 million
Commissioned: June 2009
Construction Start Date: April 2011
Completion: April 2013
Project Gross Area: 17,320sqm


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