Salt ‘n’ Vinegar?

Posted by editor on June 30, 2009 under Housing

There was never going to be anything conventional about New Islington. Already the social housing at Islington Square is included on architecture tours. Now they’ll have to add Chips, too, says Len Grant.

The Chips building in New Islington is now complete

The Chips building in New Islington is now complete

It’s been a long time coming. In fact, just over three years since I photographed workers preparing to dig the basement car park. But with water on three sides, it’s been a complex project. One construction manager apparently commented, “Normally you’d build the castle first, and then the moat!” Here the ‘moat’ was ready-made.

‘Three fat chips on a plate’ is how the building was originally described and that’s just what it looks like. There’s nothing ‘blocky’ about this apartment block.

It’s the first residential building in the UK that architect Will Alsop has completed and the first opportunity for city living pioneers to buy into New Islington. Less than half a dozen of the 142 apartments are unsold and already, with still a handful of yellow-vested workers on site, some apartments are occupied.'Three fat chips on a plate'

Fifty apartments have been sold to Manchester Methodist Housing Association, the social landlord for New Islington and one of the partners in this Millennium Community Programme. There are shared equity schemes and ‘try before you buy’ plans, which means you rent for a while before you put your money on the table.

I’ve been around Chips several times whilst it was being built but today my tour guide is Urban Splash’s Chris Stalker. “We always wanted a feature here,” he says, as he leads me into the foyer. “This is what we call the ‘jelly bean wall’.” Dozens of jelly bean-shaped recesses dissolve from one bright colour to another. Subtle, effective and very photogenic.

The 'jelly bean wall'

The 'jelly bean wall'

We take the lift. The views from the top floors are impressive, looking over the new park, (now called Cotton Field), towards the renovated Ancoats mills. I can imagine in 10 years all the cleared land will be occupied with buildings as adventurous as Chips, and you won’t be able to move for architecture tourists!

On the Ashton Canal side we can see the Metrolink engineering work and the site of the new tram stop. “That connectivity is very important,” says Chris. “It will really open up this area.”

Stunning views that will only get better

Stunning views that will only get better

It’s true. You can see all the elements coming together: the tram, the canals, the new park, the health centre, and all against the city centre backdrop. Not that much is coming out of the ground at the moment – not even New Islington is immune from the ‘crunch’ – but when things do start rolling again, Chips will have been just the starter.

Names of local rivers and canals wrap around Chips

Names of local rivers and canals wrap around Chips

Chris leaves me to wander around the outside of the building and I try to take in all the names of canals and rivers that wrap around the cladding, supposedly like newsprint. Cheshire Ring, Bolton and Bury, Bridgewater, Ashton, Mersey, Rochdale. Are these all the waterways you can reach from here? Maybe so.

Soon brightly-painted boats will be mooring alongside the newly-created canal arms, their crew enjoying a pint (and a packet of salt ‘n’ vinegar) at Chips’ restaurant/bar. Not long now.
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Sparks and Spikes

Posted by editor on June 11, 2009 under Art, sport and leisure, Community

Len Grant accepts an invitation to witness the dismantling of B of the Bang close-up


It was less than five years ago that I was in hard hat and yellow vest, photographing the B of the Bang being constructed. An intricate scaffold had been erected around the central core as cranes lifted spike after spike to be bolted and welded into position. Something unique and exciting was happening. Photographers and film crews regularly positioned themselves across the road junction, as Britain’s tallest sculpture grew. There was even a feature on BBC’s Newsnight.

Now it’s June 2009 and I am back on site again, this time documenting the sculpture being dismantled. It saddens me that the life of this spectacular structure has been cut short, although its demise was inevitable after a catalogue of insurmountable problems.

The cranes and the man-rider baskets are back, but this time the workers have oxyacetylene torches rather than welding irons. I’ve met these guys before: Connell Brothers demolished Maine Road football stadium in 2004, a job most of them relished, as they were all United fans!

This morning Neil Doherty from Connells has offered me a trip in the ‘Ultra Boom’, a gigantic telescopic cherry-picker that will take us up about 30 metres alongside the sculpture’s central core. Having completed my site safety training on a previous visit, I step into a harness and climb onto the small metal platform.

As Neil starts the ascent I soon have great views across Beswick and Clayton, and towards New Islington and the city centre. Most of the spikes have already been removed from this side, the tightly-packed truncated stumps a reminder of the design complexity of Thomas Heatherwick’s creation.

Normally, heights don’t worry me, but as we get level with the man-rider basket, our platform wobbles ominously.

“Do you want to go any higher?” smiles Neil. “We’re only three-quarters extended.”

I look down. “No, no. This will be fine,” I reply, concentrating on taking pictures to take my mind off my exhilarating -– and yet precarious – situation.

In the man-rider work is underway to remove another of the 180 spikes. They have already cut a hole in the tapered end of the spike and threaded through a chain which will lower the dismembered appendage to the ground. Thankfully it takes only a couple of minutes before the final section is cut and the hollow spike breaks clear.

I follow its descent and then suggest to Neil that I have plenty of images from this angle and we head down. The site will be cleared within weeks: cranes, men and spikes gone. It’ll be a sad day for me.


Principal’s Blog: May and June 09

Posted by editor on under Education and health

The East Manchester Academy opens its doors in September, 2010 and its new headteacher, Principal Designate, Guy Hutchence has been keeping East readers updated on its progress since the beginning of January. Read more here…


Our launch day at the City of Manchester stadium was a great success! Over 350 children, teachers, mums and dads from more than 20 primary schools came down for a day of fun activities. The My World competition attracted entries from 15 schools and the judges had a real challenge decided on the category winner and the overall winner.

All Saints CE Primary School in Newton Heath were eventually chosen as the first ever overall winners of The East Manchester Academy Awards, producing excellent work in a variety of media, whilst Plymouth Grove, Medlock, All Saints (Gorton), Aspinal, St Luke’s and Seymour Road schools all won different categories. Congratulations to you all. Some of the entries are shown here.

Great fun at the launch of the East Manchester Academy, 23rd May. (Pictures by Karen Wright Photography)

Great fun at the launch of the East Manchester Academy, 23rd May. (Pictures by Karen Wright Photography)

Meanwhile, the school itself is flying up on Grey Mare Lane and we are already planning a ‘topping out’ ceremony, which is traditional celebration when the construction workers reach the highest point. In September we’ll be having an open day and burying some time capsules on site.

The East Manchester Academy, 4th June 2009

Already the Academy is becoming a landmark on the east Manchester skyline


I’m amazed at how quickly the building work is progressing. Because of the good weather, it’s on schedule, if not slightly ahead of schedule. The steel is up, the roof is on, the floors are in and before long work will start on the brickwork and cladding. Construction progress at end of June 09

I was standing on the roof the other day with fantastic views of the City of Manchester Stadium, and of the city centre. There are some great vistas.

"Fantastic views of the City of Manchester Stadium"

"Fantastic views of the City of Manchester Stadium"

The link bridges are in, or ‘glass museums’ as I like to call them, because I can imagine pupils in there working on their paintings, say, or exhibiting their photography. They’re not just corridors between different studios, they’re glass museum spaces.

"I like to call these link bridges, 'glass museums'"

"I like to call these link bridges, 'glass museums'"

Next week I’ll be taking the sponsors around to show them the different curriculum spaces. I think you can really bring a plan to life by walking through the real thing. Very soon we’ll be able to take some groups of children around which I’m looking forward to.

The new library will be accessible from the foyer

The new library will be accessible from the foyer

The other week, the architect and landscape designer came to meet year 5 pupils at Ashbury Meadow and ask their opinions on the outside spaces. The children gave us some fantastic ideas for the sort of seating we should have, and what the amphitheatre and the habitat zone should look like. There’s nothing worse than a school designed by adults for children.

The landscape designer brought with them some rather wacky-looking outdoor furniture. What looks nice isn’t always practical and the pupils were able to point out some pitfalls the designers hadn’t thought about. Great feedback.

We looked at artwork and sculpture as well. We examined play equipment that could ‘double-up’ as different things. For example, climbing walls that could become display walls, that sort of thing. We’ve got one more meeting next month to talk in more detail about the habitat zone.

Also this month I’ve been enjoying some of the design meetings where we’ve been talking about floor finishes and colour schemes. It brings the building alive when you visualise what it will look like once its open. Very exciting.

The Principal’s Blog will return in September.

East 1 to 10

Posted by editor on June 10, 2009 under Art, sport and leisure

To mark the launch of, New East Manchester is hosting an exhibition. Len Grant explains…

'East 1 to 10'

East 1 to 10 takes a look back at the ten editions of the East magazine I have produced since 2005. In the exhibition I review each issue, recalling some of the stories I have photographed, from the construction of the B of the Bang in Issue 1 to the popularity of the velodrome in Issue 10.

East 1 to 10 is at the Sportcity Visitors Centre, corner of Ashton New Road and Alan Turing Way, (underneath the fast-disappearing B of the Bang). The exhibition runs from 12th June-17th July, Monday-Friday 9.00-16.30

The exhibtion, as well as the magazine itself, has been designed by Axis Graphic Design.