The largest music school in the UK is in Manchester’s medieval quarter and the original school buildings date back to the early 15h Century when it was originally built as accommodation for the warden and fellows of the Collegiate Church of Manchester, now Manchester Cathedral. It was known as “Church House”, hundreds of years after the priests left the site during the Reformation and only a few establishments of this type have survived with this being the best and most complete example in the country. The Church House is on the site of the former manor house of the Lords of the Manor, with the boundaries to the North West of the site being the River Irk & Irwell fortifying the occupant’s ecclesiastical and political power.
The Church House building was bought in the mid 17th Century by a local merchant, Sir Humphrey Chetham, who set about repairing and altering the building for use as a school for forty boys and a public library. Sir Humphrey was born locally in Crumpsall and was the son of merchant who made his fortune in the textile industry and owing to his fortune was knighted and rose to the position of General Treasurer of Lancashire. Towards the end of his life he accrued some debts and was worried that Parliament would take his money when he died, hence he decided to establish both this school and Chethams Hospital as his legacy.
This combination of 15th Century building and 17th century fittings are very rare and the library collections and the original furnishings are of national importance. Other architectural additions of note include a schoolroom designed by Alfred Waterhouse, an architect most notably associated with Victorian Gothic Revival Architecture and designer of the nearby Manchester Town Hall just down the road from Chetham’s, or perhaps better known for his most famous work of designing the Natural History Museum in London.
The library is the oldest public library in the English speaking world and has an exceptional collection of documents some dating back as far as the 1600’s and the library boasts a very impressive alumni. Just some of the most famous students that have studied there include Celia Fiennes, Daniel Defoe, Robert Southey, John Dalton, Friedrich Engels & Karl Marx.
The august reputation of the school means that it’s continually required to evolve and provide contemporary facilities for its students and a new triangular shaped school is currently being built on an adjacent site. The new music school incorporates, a new music teaching and academic teaching school, a 400 seat concert hall with an additional 100 seat recital hall, box office, foyer and bar area with a new bridge link linking the existing building to the new development.
The challenge of designing and constructing a scheme that complimented the historical architecture and enhanced the international reputation of the school fell to Stephenson Bell Architects as Principal Architect, Sir Robert McAlpine’s as Principle Contractor and Drivers Jonas Deloitte as Project Managers. Butler & Young’s national coverage means that we are able to work on projects throughout England & Wales, but on this occasion the scheme was project managed and site inspected by our North West office.
Works started in earnest in late April 2010 and from the outset the challenge of constructing a building with a footprint that took up the majority of the site and not impact on the day to day operations of the existing school has meant a very claustrophobic experience for the site team. In addition to these constraints, add in a 4m diameter Victorian Culvert running through the middle of the site and a major power supply for the adjacent Victoria Railway Station, things became very constricted and the presence of two permanent tower cranes and central concrete tower were invaluable in assisting with site logistics.
The project used a combination of piled and reinforced foundations and the structural frame is predominantly built of reinforced concrete with both traditional brickwork and precast brickwork panels to the perimeter. One of the most striking design features is the substantial eccentric projection and bridge link into the existing building. The overhang has been proven to work by the Structural Engineers Price & Myers and is a cantilever, with substantial 1.5m deep horizontal elements supporting the overhang. The deep horizontal components when viewed against the slender horizontal columns, seems incongruous, but the columns have been designed for to give minimal support and I’m glad to say that the design has met Part A!
Butler & Young’s North West Office’s involvement in the project began in earnest around 4 years ago with initial advice relating to the imminent changes to the 2002 iteration of Approved Document L and the implications this may have on cost and program for the scheme. The scheme has been funded privately with donations and sponsorship opportunities and publically from North West Development Agency and The Department for Education, meaning that any change to these variables may compromise the viability of the project. The client aspired to provide a sustainable as well as an iconic building and in collaboration with the Project Team, the scheme is well on the way to achieving a BREEAM Very Good Status, with additional provisions to achieve Excellent; budget permitting.
With the primary use of the building being focused on music recital, it must come as no surprise that a particular client requirement was to ensure a high degree of sound insulation between the 115 music teaching and practice rooms and other curriculum teaching spaces nestled next to each other around the building. Ably guided by ARUP Acoustics, each music teaching room has an individual “floating floor” cast within the structural floor slab, along with other measures such as high density block and individually designed studwork elements to maximise sound attenuation. A high degree of site workmanship was critical to ensure that these features ensured the prescribed degree of sound reduction and a good rapport was developed with the Sir Robert McAlpine team site team to maintain the standards expected.
The sound reduction within both the 400 seat concert hall and 100 seat Recital Hall has been designed on the concept of a “box within a box”, using the airspace between and the density of the two “skins” to provide sound diminution. The reinforced concrete structural frame to the perimeter provides the outer “box” and the inner “box” is only supported off columns which are independent of the outer “box” floor slab.
A building crafted to be both architecturally striking and provide the range of facilities required by the user means innovative design and presented a number of Fire Safety challenges to the design team. With the height of the uppermost floor was greater than 18m, Building Bulletin 100 Guidance wasn’t applicable, but consideration was given to ethos of the document, for example the protection of irreplaceable assets such as pupil’s coursework and expensive musical and ICT equipment.
The School has good links to many nearby orchestras, including the Halle, and it is intended that the Concert Hall be used in the evenings for public performances. The potential for various areas of the building, and consequently escape routes, to be inaccessible to members of the public meant many meetings with all stakeholders to ensure that a safe design worked successfully for all parties. Butler & Young’s national coverage means that we have a number of members of staff with particular expertise and it was the resource that we employed to provide advice to the client on both the Licensing Act and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order meaning the client could take advantage of our experience in peripheral regulatory areas to the Building Regulations.
The Architect was keen to ensure that an uncluttered, open design philosophy was maintained throughout the building, resulting in occupants having to travel within 4.5m of the edge of the balconies within the 5 storey central atrium. In addition, no cross corridor doors have been provided to certain areas and a deterministic approach was employed by Fire Engineers, Norman Disney & Young, to demonstrate compliance with the performance requirements of Approved Document B. The rationale for the design was based on the principle of reducing the concentration of the smoke to ensure tenable conditions for the occupants as they move to reach a place of safety.
Fire safety engineering techniques have also been employed when looking at access and facilities for the Fire Service. A comparative study was carried out and the review demonstrated that the removal of fire fighting shaft, based on the realistic deployment of the attending fire crew, would be of a comparable level to the Requirement of B5.
The work of the school in the wider community has been reflected by the inclusion of an Outreach Centre within the corner of the site and has been purposefully designed to ensure maximum inclusivity for all members of the community. One of the major challenges has been negotiation with the design team regarding access to the facility. Owing to the “infill” nature of the building and the extreme change in level between the Hunts Bank and Station Approach has meant that a balance has had to be struck between acceptable levels of accessibility and the existing site constraints; which proved a bit of a headache! Butler & Young North West is also able to offer advice in relation to The Equality Act and our resident access consultant has been instrumental in minimising compliance risk for our client.
Once inside the building, sincere consideration has had to be given to the movement of students carrying instruments around the school, meaning a balance had to be achieved between providing big, heavy doors, to minimise sound transference, but ensuring pupils carrying a Tuba can successfully navigate their way around.
In conclusion, it’s amazing to think that a building of some sort has been on this site since around 1421 and fascinating to think of the various uses that the site has undergone. I feel very privileged to be involved in just a small part of this latest evolution of the School and I hope that such a culturally important building is here in 600 years time for future generations to enjoy. I hope, from a regulatory sense, we’ve done it justice.
The project has been on site for the last 12 months, with an estimated completion date for February 2012. The second phase of the project to follow in due course will be the internal fitting out of the Concert Hall. Chetham’s are continuing their efforts to raise sufficient funds to move this forward with their Raise The Roof campaign!
Butler & Young North West Office
This article appeared in the