Station Approach, Piccadilly Rail Station, Richard Seifert & Partners,1967-9
Entering the most difficult period of British architecture, with much of its output loathed by critics and public alike, we daringly present an undisputed icon of the 60’s for this month’s At Risk section….an elegant if slightly faded sinuous sliver of glass, complete with large panels of specially commissioned artworks along the back elevation, much loved by the local and visiting population.
Dominating the entire length of Piccadilly Station approach, Gateway House is probably the visitor’s first view of Manchester. Replacing a row of nineteenth century railway warehouses, it was built as part of the 1960’s refurbishment of Piccadilly Station, by Richard Seifert & Partners, and completed in 1969. Nicknamed the lazy ‘S’ and reputedly designed by Seifert from a doodle on a menu, this is undoubtedly one of this controversial architect’s most loveable buildings, one that commands grudging respect even from the hard to please Hartwell, who refers to it in the Manchester Architectural Guide as ‘a very impressive long, sweeping, undulating façade, the horizontals stressed throughout. One of the best office blocks in Manchester, its glittering serpentine shape well suited to the sloping site.’
R. Seifert & Partners, established by Richard Seifert in 1947, became known for several prominent high-rise buildings in London, notably Centre Point and Tower 42 (originally the Nat West Tower) as well as about 500 office blocks throughout Europe. Locally he also designed Hexagon House in Blackley.
In his time, Seifert was widely regarded as having done more to change the skyline of London than any other architect since Sir Christopher Wren and was also Britain’s first architect millionaire, but much of his long and prolific career was dogged by controversy and various conservationists battles opposed to his projects. His new Euston Station, completed in 1968 after the unpopular demolition of the Victorian edifice and Euston Arch, was declared by Richard Morrison quite recently in the Times to be
“even by the bleak standards of Sixties architecture, Euston is one of the nastiest concrete boxes in London: devoid of any decorative merit; seemingly concocted to induce maximum angst among passengers; and a blight on surrounding streets. The design should never have left the drawing-board – if, indeed, it was ever on a drawing-board. It gives the impression of having been scribbled on the back of a soiled paper bag by a thuggish android with a grudge against humanity and a vampiric loathing of sunlight“.
In fact, the demolition of the old Euston Station building in 1962 is regarded as one of the greatest acts of Post-War architectural vandalism in Britain and attempts to save the building led to the formation of The Victorian Society and heralded in the modern conservation movement. His Guardian obituary in 2001 can be read as a concise history of the postwar building/reconstruction era, despised, maligned, opposed and finally/belatedly celebrated for his contribution to modern architecture. After a lifelong antipathy to his projects, the RFAC (Royal Fine Art Commission) called for the listing of Centre Point in 1993 for its “elegance worthy of a Wren steeple”. The Londonist is a concise and highly critical overview of his mark or, as they dub it, stain on their skyline. Well worth a read…
So it’s hard to miss the irony in a recent report in Building Design magazineof plans by current owners Realty Estates for speculative redevelopment of Gateway House by open competition, declaringthe current building “tired”, requiring a major revamp to accommodate modern offices, with the brief to architects a “blank canvas”. Realty is reputedly open-minded on whether to retain or replace the current building, saying “the city council has been very open and did not say we must keep the building. But if the proposal is to demolish it we need a very good reason to do that.” For the full story read the article here:
For more information about the building and its possible redevelopment, visit Save Gateway House on our facebook page, and if like us you love the Lazy ‘S’ please send an email expressing your dismay to those in charge of planning the city!
This is one Seifert that deserves to stay….