Marks & Spencer’s huge new store is leading the regeneration of Manchester city centre after the bomb. And on page 46, a footbridge that celebrates M&S’ legendary hosiery.
Flagship, catalyst and seamless process. THESE are the buzzwords being bandied about by Marks & Spencer in relation to its new superstore in central Manchester.

The store, which opens on 25 November, is undoubtedly a flagship – its floor area of 43 500 m2 makes it the largest M&S ever built. The £86m project is also regarded as the catalyst for the regeneration of the city’s central retail district, which was devastated by an IRA bomb in June 1996. And it entails a seamless process because the intricate and rapid redevelopment has demanded a close working relationship between M&S, contractor Bovis, architect Building Design Partnership and the city council, which is freeholder of the site, mastermind of the city-centre regeneration and building control authority all rolled into one.

Encouraged by the city council and its masterplanner EDAW, M&S took the decision not to rebuild its 1960s store with its contorted footprint. Instead, it acquired an adjoining site, extending its frontage 7 m into Corporation Street, and created a rectangular plot. On another side, the city council created the first new street in the city centre for 50 years. And on Corporation Street, it commissioned a footbridge that resembles a fishnet stocking (page 46). The result was a site that most retailers would die for – a huge freestanding block in the heart of the central retail district with uninterrupted shopfronts on all four sides.

Internally, the store has five sales floors of 105 × 48 m, double the size of those in the previous shop. BDP’s design exploits the large unobstructed site. Most of the external elevations are given over to floor-to-ceiling glazing, and a top-lit internal atrium provides a central focus. These glazed features bring daylight into the interiors. A spacious, contemporary feel and flexible layout are helped by lofty ceiling heights of 3.7 m and a structural grid of 16.2 m. The grid, at twice conventional spans, added an extra £1m to the development cost, says M&S project manager Jim Watkins.

As part of the seamless relationship with the city council, M&S and Bovis offered to act as developer and contractor for £10m of public works. “We are building New Cathedral Street and demolishing a building beyond it for the council,” says Watkins. “The reason is speed – we wanted the neighbouring streets clear in time for the store opening. The council couldn’t have completed the works on time, because as a public authority, it would have had to advertise the contracts in the Official Journal.”

The speed of development meant an awesome scale of operations – 25 miles of scaffold tube, 280 miles of cabling and 30 000 m2 of suspended ceilings were required. And even before construction could start, bomb-damaged buildings had to be demolished and a second basement excavated in the sandstone subsoil, entailing 10 000 lorry loads of spoil removal.

To finish the store in time, Watkins is relying on Colin Small, who was seconded to manage the project from his job running Bovis’ 70-strong team developing M&S stores worldwide.

Small is relaxed about meeting his handover deadline only three days before the store opens. He says: “We’ve never been late on any of our 153 projects for M&S before and I’ve got four boxes of champagne waiting as a bonus if we succeed.”

Marks and Spencer