Crescent Area Ideas Competition

During the early period of research for this project it transpired that in 1999 an RIBA Ideas Competition had taken place that dealt with some similar issues on the investigation site.

The ‘Crescent Area Ideas Competition’ was run by the Chapel Street Regeneration Strategy in conjunction with Salford University, Salford Council and the RIBA.

I met with Steve Gwatkin at the Chapel Street regeneration offices to view the competition entries and discuss their subsequent fate. The introduction of the competition brief states that:

The competition site occupies a key position at the western end of the Chapel Street Area effectively serving as a significant gateway to Chapel Street, Salford Centre and the Manchester Regional Centre. It therefore carries on it’s shoulders both the responsibility and opportunity to set an exciting and inspirational standard for the image aspired to for the whole area and announce for those approaching the city centre, the importance and civic quality of the area they are passing through.”

The majority of the competition entries proposed some kind of bridge structure linking the two sides of the University campus and at the same time acting as some kind of landmark. Given the nature of the brief and the fact that it was an ideas competition, many of the schemes suggested strategies that were clearly infeasible due to the importance of the road. One such scheme integrated the road into the surrounding spaces and used traffic calming methods to reduced the speed of the vehicles. This clearly underestimates the volume of traffic using the road. Another scheme proposed to closed the road and reroute the traffic elsewhere, which in many ways is the ideal solution. However, subsequent studies undertaken by Salford Council have shown that this would be exceptionally costly to undertake if traffic congestion were not to significantly increase. As increasing congestion is not economically (or politically) acceptable, this attractive option is not realistically viable.

The winning scheme, by Christine Hawley, proposed an ‘inhabited bridge’ solution and was illustrated by some excellent computer graphics. However, nothing has become of the scheme and I suspect that this is for a number of reasons. Firstly, there is no indication what type of accommodation would be included in the bridge and it seems unlikely that it would have disabled access. Secondly, the underlying problem of noise and air pollution from the road is not dealt with in any way and pedestrian flows across the road would not be significantly speeded up, they may indeed be slower. Also this scheme relied upon the demolition of the Chapel Street Police Station, a proposition which has questionable viability in reality.
Le Corbusier’s Venice Hospital

In this seminal unbuilt project I found an early example of the ‘mat building’ typology that has inevitably influenced the development of the ‘incubator’ aspect of this project. Along with the Berlin Free University (by Candilis, Josic and Woods, 1963), the Venice Hospital provided a useful early precedent when dealing with the elongated low-level structure with a need for flexibility.

Planned in 1964 to be built in San Giobbe neighbourhood, in the Canareggio area at the edge of the city of Venice, the project was to house a major hospital for the acutely ill. In his drawings for the project, Le corbusier evokes both the programmatic issue and the flexibility issue in discussing the design of the hospital. His technical report turns to the problem of horizontal circulation that sprawl would create and proposes mechanisation as the means for solving it. By virtue of it’s location and scale, the building turned in on itself and created it’s own interior environments in the form of wards centred around courtyards that repeated in a seemingly endless manner. This particular aspect was to prove highly influential in the development of the Salford scheme.

The most outstanding aspect of the design of the Berlin Free University is the way the structural and facade system, designed by Jean Prouve, was developed and applied as a highly modular and flexible system. This decision was influenced by both the vision of an inherently adaptable and checkable modern building and the uncertainty of the needs of the institution to be housed there. Social unrest in Germany during that era was manifest in calls for change by the students movement, making it difficult to predict the future needs of a university building. However, it was later acknowledged that the resulting flexibility was something of a “cop-out” for dealing with this uncertainty. It was also mentioned that the actual building had to accommodate far fewer reconfigurations than anticipated. Nevertheless, The clarity and rationality of the construction created a building that seems to have been able to adapt well to the needs of the clients over the last forty years and this suggests that method is a useful precedent for this project.