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Rekindling the Flame: The London Road Fire Station, Piccadilly, Manchester

Part 2 Dissertation 2010
Emma Gander
Manchester School of Architecture, UK
The London Road Fire Station is located directly opposite Piccadilly Train Station at the heart of Manchester’s city centre. Constructed between 1904 and 1906, it is one of the few remaining buildings of this era within Piccadilly. The Grade II* listed building is recognised for its architectural significance as one of the finest examples of late Victorian municipal fire station design in England. For over 80 years the Fire Station was used as the Headquarters of the Manchester Fire Brigade. Today, the building is used as a storage facility by the Britannia Hotel Group, the owners of the building since it ceased to be in active use in 1986.

In 2005, Manchester City Council identified the building as a barrier to ongoing regeneration of the Piccadilly area. A feasibility study was carried out by Argent, a major developer, which initiated a series of discussions with Britannia. At the time of writing this dissertation, a planning application was expected to be submitted later this year.

This dissertation explores potential options of reuse and investigates how the Fire Station can be rehabilitated to play a significant role in the regeneration of Piccadilly. Speculation is made as to why the building has not been reused sooner and what possible uses may be proposed. The dissertation argues whether another hotel in the Piccadilly area is justified and also identifies alternative options of reuse that have not yet been explored.

Areas of study will include the past, present and future of Piccadilly and its pivotal role at the forefront of Manchester’s regeneration strategy. A historical, programmatic and structural analysis of the Fire Station identifies possible constraints set by the building fabric. The issues associated with building rehabilitation and changing attitudes to reuse in light of the current recession will be discussed. A conceptual proposal forms part of the conclusion. It intends to identify a building programme that could be put forward by Britannia, meets the aims set by Manchester City Council, respects the building’s history and ensures the Fire Station’s reuse will act as a catalyst for future development.

Emma Gander

Rekindling the Flame is an important case study, that skilfully assesses how ongoing debates, around the redevelopment of an early twentieth century Grade II* listed building, highlight wider points of contention within local planning. Yet it does more that this, critically evaluating the role of Manchester City Council (and local state-led regeneration), and considering how discourses of regeneration are played out within the preservation, maintenance and redevelopment of historical buildings.

The London Road Fire Station is feted as an outstanding example of municipal fire station design. However the building now appears shabby, utilised for storage as the Britannia Hotel Group (owners since 1986) consider their options. Rekindling the Flame seeks to identify a viable redevelopment strategy: sensitive to the building fabric; cognisant of Britannia’s commercial imperatives; and meeting strict criteria set out by the council (who see the building as stalling Piccadilly-wide redevelopment). Within this framework, the author pieces together ‘narrative of neglect’, considering the myriad reasons for inaction. From this base, possible strategies are presented, appreciating the building as ‘part of a whole’, and its redeployment into active service not as an end point, but as a precursor to additional regeneration programmes that might bring (to follow a popular term within urban policy) ‘vibrancy’ back into the locale.

This dissertation was nominated because we felt it achieved an impressive balance between historical sensitivity, policy awareness (concerning the forces at work within the council’s building re-use strategies), and a focus upon ways out of the current impasse. To research an ongoing issue requires a different skill-set to that needed when working from a ‘clean slate’, resting upon: an appreciation of the modalities of the building considered; historical precedents for re-use; and a sensitivity to the lived realities of local and regional policy making. Importantly, this work asks whether a hotel is actually required, identifying alternatives, and highlighting the ongoing cost of inaction. This type of analysis is vitally important within our current economic climate, as both developers and politicians seek to address decaying parts of the urban fabric, search for ‘quick wins’, and release ‘added value’ within historically important sites.

Dr Chris Hewson
Sally Stone
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