Ben Kelly: Off the peg


This month’s issue of AD Magazine, Interior Atmospheres, contains an article by CiA staffer Sally Stone with her regular co-author Graeme Brooker. The piece, entitled “Off the Peg: The Bespoke Interiors of Ben Kelly” was based upon an interview with the designer and discusses the qualities of the interiors that he creates.

In response to our opening discussion about the general perception of interiors practice and education, Kelly introduces himself as ‘an old fashioned interior designer’. He describes the subject as something that has integrity far beyond just surface consideration and he regards it as something that is ‘very close to architecture, but its not architecture’, that actually has little to do with surface treatment, but has its basis in the manipulation and control of space. He explains that the starting point for any project is in the analysis and understanding of the unique qualities of the existing space, and suggests that there is a resonating element that springs from the original building that is crucial for the development of the project. This interpretive attitude can be traced back to the work of the well known interior architect, Carlo Scarpa, although of course with vastly different visual results.

‘When I get the plan then this is when the project begins. We sit around the table and discuss what it’s telling us, what’s possible, what can we keep and what has to go,’ says Kelly. The site-specific qualities of the existing building that can be teased out and repossessed in the transformation of a space are one of the major sources of atmosphere in his work. It is from these readings that the process of organisation and assembly can begin. Kelly could be accused of not really doing very much; the basic spaces are relatively unaltered, many of the finishes are pre-existing and the new bits are very much the same as the old. He makes it look too easy. But that is exactly the point – he liberates the existing, not just in the way the space is exposed and manipulated, but also, and most importantly, the manner in which the new elements, insertions and materials echo the existing qualities.

Ben Kelly Design


Pictures: (Top) Ben Kelly in his studio, photo by Graeme Brooker; (Bottom) article page featuring The Hacienda, Manchester (now destroyed).

Champneys’ Champion


This is the full version of a letter published in the Architects’ Journal (AJ) on Wednesday:

Letter to the Editor

I write as one bereaved. The privilege of pursuing scholarly activities in the John Rylands Library used to be one of the delights of being a citizen of Manchester. Lloyd Evans Pritchard’s refurbishment of the original building has revived the fabric, but the new planning arrangements introduced with the latest ill-advised extension suck the life out of Champneys’ building. New visitors are robbed of the original entry sequence and the full drama of the ascent to the splendid reading room. Throughout this spatial and constructional masterpiece, Champneys’ purpose designed furniture stands idle, mourners at the new visitor centre experience to which their home has been reduced.

While many may mistake the building’s Deansgate frontage for a church, they all recognise that it is a building of significance and quality. The new entrance suggests nothing more than yet another banal retail space, perhaps a failing department store. The formica-effect panelling which clads the archive perhaps indicates a kitchen showroom? The ground floor of the library is, indeed, a retail space, with souvenir shop and café (in a city already awash with cappuccino!), the latter animated by its cheek-by-jowl juxtaposition with the entrance to the new magistrates’ court. Perhaps this represents a further attempt at outreach – (an asbo might include a compulsory session reading medieval manuscripts?) – or is its just a by-product of the vagaries of contemporary masterplanning.

Retreating from the goldfish bowl exposure of this space, the visitor reaches the atrium for the new vertical circulation which at least has some generosity about it, although the decision to cover the rear of the original building with a white wall with deep reveals seems a lost opportunity to explore the construction. Now serving as internal windows, no direct sunlight will play across the windows in this surface, blank eyes behind the hollow mask. Unfortunately the multiple levels of the atrium also affords the opportunity to observe furthers infelicities in detail, where the soffit of the staircases went unconsidered, where wire mesh provides unconvincing closure at the base of the glazed top floor, and – outside – where an upstand to the paving that edges the original building provides a convenient place for cigarette butts.

The dire situation of this ensemble has two consolations. The first is that the construction of a neighbouring commercial development (offcuts from Libeskind’s aborted spiral extension at the V & A?) will do much to obscure the extension, although rather perversely it will perhaps also make the new entrance to the library even harder to identify. And secondly, as is evidenced by the Quay Bar’s impending demise (described on pages 12 and 13 of the same issue) one can be fairly confident that, given the short lifespan of the previous addition, the new extension to the library will soon meet the same fate. Manchester’s genius loci can be alarmingly unsentimental!

Eamonn Canniffe

(Link to John Rylands Library website)

Really Big Windows

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Continuity in Architecture direct you to an article published in this week’s Architects Journal that is co-authored by lecturers from the college. Eamonn Canniffe and Sally Stone discuss the new terrace of social housing designed by dMFK Architects in New Islington, Manchester. It is only the second complex of housing to be completed in the area (after FAT’s gabled courtyard houses), but work on Will Alsop’s master plan for Urban Splash is moving fast. Much of the infrastructure is in place and the foundations of the infamous “Chips” building have, I believe, been laid.

Stirling Prize

“Channel 4’s Building of the Year: The Riba Stirling Prize (8.10pm) meets the solipsistic profession whose stranglehold on the populace it patronises and torments recalls the medieval church’s attitude to the peasantry. Architecture is the new tyranny. And Mariella Frostrup is one of the judges. No preview. Watch your blood pressure.”

(From today’s Financial Times TV preview page)

Set in Stone

lep opinion

Sally Stone of Continuity in Architecture has followed up her recent letter about the redevelopment of Preston with an opinion piece for the Lancashire Evening Post. Her original letter deploring the City Council’s proposals has obviously struck a chord locally as she has been invited to meetings with others worried by the published scheme. Her views are reinforced by the leading article in the same issue. Click on the images for readable versions of the opinion piece and leading article (click through to Flickr page and click ‘All Sizes’ above the Flickr image for larger versions). A supplement in the same issue showing aerial photographs of the city points to a possible general awakening of interest in the qualities of the place.

lep leader

Letter to the Editor

The vision published in the Lancashire Evening Post
June 5 2006

The text of a letter published in the Lancashire Evening Post on Friday 23 June:
“It is difficult to understand the point of the drawings of the proposed developments in Preston on your front page (Evening Post, June 5). They appear to show the complete demolition of Friargate and its reconstruction as a suburban business park. It is a ham-fisted vision. The Council say we should not take the drawing seriously as a proposal. Why then was it issued? Is it beyond the Council to produce a proper urban design and architectural strategy for the area if their aim is to propel the city to European status? There are numerous European examples of the proper integration of new developments with historic structures and city patterns.” Sally Stone, Manchester School of Architecture


Preston in the ’50s. Friargate is the curved street running from the top centre of the picture. The new proposals are for the area at the top of the picture. Click on the image for more aerial views of Preston in the ’50s.