With approximately 110.000 students over its four universities Manchester is said to have the highest student population in Europe. By locating in the city centre what they believe is the tallest student accommodation in Europe, and what is definitely the third tallest building in Manchester, ‘Student Castle’ have certainly made their mark. This 37-storey mark could easily have been a crude disfigurement, not just of the immediate location but of the whole city itself, but architects Hodder + Partners have sculpted an elegant solution which is strong and confident and at the same time carefully stated.
The tight site is immediately adjacent to Oxford Road station and the viaduct that carries the main line railway through the city. At ground level there is a street pattern of largely 5-storey 19th century redbrick industrial buildings, many converted to a wild mixture of apartments, clubs and bars, and through this the River Medlock winds its secretive course through the city. The base of the building is formed of a six-storey plinth which occupies the full 22 meters depth of the site, and addresses the heights of the railway viaduct and the adjacent buildings to the east in New Wakefield Street. The majority of the building is placed above the plinth in a narrow structure that occupies less than fifteen metres of the site’s depth, facing east-west, parallel to Great Marlborough Street. The thin profile that the building presents to the north and the south, and the fact that the mass is presented in a cluster of four towers or slices each rising to a different height, all reduce the building’s potential dominance of its site.
This ‘shearing’ of the mass is underlined by the architects ordering the windows that light the lift lobbies and the ends of the corridors on each floor in continuous vertical lines which mark the division between the four towers on each face of the building.