Completed in 1990, Sir William Siemens House has become a landmark building at the southern gateway to Manchester. One of the first overtly modernist buildings to be built in Manchester for 20 years, its sculptural qualities still command attention three decades on.
Director, Andy Avery, discusses his experiences working on the project as a young architect and how it shaped his career.
What was the intent behind the design?
Siemens buildings have always been a physical and visual statement of the philosophy of the company. In the early 1990s, the corporate language of Siemens buildings was refreshed, and the modern aesthetic of Pritzker-prize winner Richard Meier, was adopted as the brand’s new, modern corporate identity.
In designing the North West regional headquarters, the intent was to create a contemporary, eye-catching structure that would reflect the innovation taking place inside. Set in landscaped grounds, the plan, formal articulation, and materials embody the themes of clarity, lightness, and transparency. High-quality materials were selected for the shell of the building to ensure longevity and to create a modern, fresh, and crisp finish.
What was your involvement in the project?
I was part of the team during my time at MBLC, which merged with Buttress in 2012. At the time I was a newly qualified architect and was working with senior colleagues George Mills, Ian Beaumont, and Chris Channon.
What did the project teach you?
During the design development phase, I spent extended stints working alongside the Siemens’ in-house architectural team’s head office in Munich, headed up by one of Richard Meier’s former partners. It was fascinating to witness the incredible precision the German team applied to their work. Their rigour and attention to detail is something that I’ve carried with me throughout my career.
The client team was also stead-fast in its approach throughout the design and construction. Rather than value engineer to reduce costs when the project faced budget challenges – for example – the size of the building was reduced to ensure that the vision could be realised to its fullest extent. The strength of sticking to what was important has stayed within me since.
What might people not know about the building?
The building is actually just the first phase of what was planned. In the original plan, the building we see today was intended to function as the entry building into three further courtyard buildings cascading across the site.
The architecture was not only intended to reflect the company’s values and culture of innovation, but it also aimed to set the standard for functionality. For example, the client team was insistent that there would be no raised floor, which was highly unusual at the time, because the technology of the future would be wireless. The project also featured the first use of a ventilated rain screen in the UK.
I was impressed by the foresight the client applied to the design and their commitment to staying ahead of the curve.
What does the project mean to you today?
Three decades on, I can still say that I love the project and I’m very proud to have been involved.
In the late 1980s red brick was the dominant material for new buildings in Manchester and very few contemporary buildings had been built in the preceding decade. The project represented a real step change in the architectural language of the city. For me, the building was an outward expression of the city’s emerging drive and ambition; a sentiment that has ultimately helped shape the city that we live in today and put Manchester on the map.