The parallels between Manchester's upcoming Northern Quarter and Covent Garden in London are all too obvious. Both are based around former market buildings, and both rely on trendy one-off retailers and restaurants to create the sense of style and individuality that pulls in the crowds.
But the redevelopment challenge at Northern Quarter goes way beyond prettying up the surroundings and attracting chi-chi retailers. This is a £50m scheme, involving refurbishment and the construction of new homes, offices, retail units, gallery space and a contemporary hotel, as well as a public open space.

The scheme is being carried out by Ician, the joint venture company put together by Amec Developments and housebuilder Crosby Group specifically to take on large-scale mixed-use schemes. The group says it is following the guidelines set out by Lord Rogers' urban taskforce.

"The scheme is sustainable, in that we are proposing an environment where people can live, work and spend their leisure time. It is true mixed use," says Andrew Dewhurst, development manager with Ician. "The Northern Quarter has been a neglected area so we have to raise people's awareness of it. It is the first major scheme in the quarter, and we hope it will be a catalyst for more."

Ician's five-year construction programme kicked off last September, with a residential development designed by architect Stephenson Bell leading the way for the first phase. The starting point of the scheme is the grade II-listed 19th-century facade of Smithfield Fish Market. Its glazed roof was removed more than 25 years ago, but the market buildings and external walls and columns are being retained and will be complemented by a new block within the perimeter walls. Old and new buildings are connected by a glazed lightwell that serves as a communal space and facilitates services distribution.

  The old market buildings and the new block will have retail at lower levels and 87 one- and two-bedroom apartments above. The new five-storey building is designed to be unobtrusive – zinc panels, clay rainscreen and simple linear forms are intended to create a neutral backdrop to the ornate brick and stone of the Victorian market.

"Just as the exterior design of the market buildings portrays an unfolding story of ideas, so does the interior," says Jeff Bell, director of Stephenson Bell. "Entering the building, people embark on an exciting journey of the future combining confidently with the past as new is juxtaposed against the old."

  When Market Buildings and Market Square are complete in October, the vision of the Northern Quarter will become clearer. However, the scheme will still have a long way to go. About 200 more apartments will be developed in future phases, alongside up to 200,000 ft2 of office space.

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