Developer Urban Splash’s New Islington project in Manchester has been so talked about, so celebrated, so published, that it comes as a shock to be reminded that it is mainly not there. It is largely an empty plain awaiting regeneration nibbled at the edges by FAT’s boisterous Woodward Place housing and a quieter terrace by de Metz Forbes Knight. Soil has been decontaminated, and the current Ashton and Rochdale canals have been extended to develop future waterside living. A sort of high street, with fine landscaping by Grant Associates and bus shelters by FAT, stands awaiting buildings to line its sides. The listed remnant of Ancoats Hospital awaits restoration. Otherwise, void.
It will stay so for longer than any person would have hoped, which provides greater value to Chips, the new nine-storey block of 142 1, two and 3-bedroom flats developed by Alsop Architects. The constructing must, for now, command the expanse just before it. It should be a billboard for a future that will arrive at an unknown date.
Fuelled by Alsop’s customary power, Chips makes a excellent flagship. It is a huge developing, 100m long and 14m wide, comparable to the Victorian industrial structures that survive in this spot. Giant silk-screened lettering, honouring the names of the region’s canals, is equal to the scale of the website, as is the bold division of the nine floors into bands of 3, in yellowish, purplish and reddish hues. Shallow wiggles in each and every layer, misaligning with each and every other, animate the block. The middle band of the horizontal tricoleur, or ‘layer cake’, is the darkest of the 3, and projects at every single finish into 9m cantilevers in a deliberate try to create a sense of heaviness, offset by jittering window rhythms and colourful recesses for balconies.