For final year students at the Manchester School of Art, preparations are well under way for their degree show, which is open to the public between 13 and 24 June 2015.
Architecture student, Florence Booth kindly gave me a sneak preview of her Levenshulme based project, ‘The Hive’.
Inspired by Levenshulme and designed to enhance the community, the project is visually stunning, bee related (so right up my street), and bound to capture the imagination, particularly if, like me, you live in Levenshulme and constantly think about how much better Stockport Road would look with a new lease of life.
Here’s your chance to take a look at Levenshulme through Florence’s eyes.
What was the project brief?
Our project brief was entitled ‘Levenshulme life’, a project based within Levenshulme that would aid the local community. The building had to hold 150 people and provide a long span space as well as modular elements in the design.
Prior to this brief we were asked to spend time deeply researching Levenshulme as a place. Through this initial investigation we gained a wide understanding of Levenshulme and the community. This gave us a good foundation to bring about a project.
We were asked to choose a book, and then from this book depict a concept. I chose the book ‘The Secret Life of Bees’ by Sue Monk Kidd, a story which follows the life of a young girl Lily, intertwining the life of a bee with hers.
Residents may have seen students out and about on Stockport Road. What research did you carry out in Levenshulme?
As a separate brief for the year entitled ‘Framing Levenshulme’ we were asked to work as groups to gain a wider understanding of Levenshulme as a community.
We spoke to residents to gain an understanding of what it is like to live in Levenshulme and to understand the place from a local perspective.
What interested us most was the notion of an east/west theory and suggesting that there is an underlying divide evident in demographics, culture and data in Levenshulme.
I was also highly interested in the regression of the Levenshulme part of Stockport Road, especially looking at how the shops have come and gone, and the nature of how the community has changed over the years.
I personally researched Levenshulme as a place looking at its geographical location, historic past, the social culture of today and of the past, as well as analysing where Levenshulme is headed in the future and how architecture and technology can play a role within its development.
Which site did you choose as the setting for your project, and why?
The site which I worked on for this project was the St Mary’s Catholic Church and Tony’s barber site, encompassing the church and the wasteland separating the road and the church.
What interested me most about this site immediately was the vistas. Standing at different points along Stockport Road, the possibilities to explore and play with the frontage as well as connecting the church with the road were exciting. The derelict space between Stockport Road and the Church as I saw as an exciting blank canvas for opportunity.
What I found most remarkable about the site was Tony’s barber, the last shop front standing on this section of Stockport Road. I admired his integrity to remain, and enjoyed the challenge of having to work around his store.
Can you give a brief explanation of your design and your concept?
After depicting ideas from the book I wanted to develop a concept which was evidently derived from the novel, but also a concept which would be beneficial to the Levenshulme community.
I developed the idea of having two functions and played with the idea of hiding one within another. This idea was inspired by Lily, the book’s main character, always hiding herself behind stories which she made up about her life in order to protect herself from the realities that she faced.
My concept was to design a honey factory which has a safe house for domestic violence victims hidden within it. The honey factory will be evident from the outside in the architecture, allowing the community to engage with the factory through providing jobs for women and selling honey out into the community. The safe house provides a safe haven for women who are victims of domestic abuse.
After researching into safe houses I found there were not any currently in Levenshulme, the nearest being Stockport. Having a centre directly in Levenshulme would bring a local place of safety for those in the community who are affected by domestic abuse.
I designed the building as two separate elements which are connected by a semi underground tunnel. The honey factory sits at the front of the site, just offset from Stockport Road to help to further isolate and draw attention to Tony’s barber.
The honey factory encompasses the main factory space, a rooftop bee garden and the 24m high tower which overlooks the site. Within the tower are bedrooms for some of the women, the bedroom system responding to a ‘scale of fear’ with women at highest risk staying in the tallest rooms. Through the partially underground tunnel we arrive in the safe house space. This is a building only for women seeking safety, the building includes; living space, kitchen, bedrooms, private spaces, offices and counselling space for the women.
One of the aspects of the book I really wanted to incorporate was how bees encouraged community. During the day the safe house women will be integrated with the women who work in the factory. This stops them being identifiable as ‘victims’ within the factory. The women then have the choice to separate themselves from the others when needs be, yet I feel that having the opportunity to integrate with other women before becoming integrated back in to society will in time help the women when they make their move out of the safe house.
Other elements around site which include bees, such as the beehives behind the church and honey selling stores at the front of the building also contribute to helping the integration of women back into the community.
How was it envisaged that your project would improve the space it is designed for and Levenshulme in general?
As the concept of this building is very specific, I wanted to find a way to allow the community of Levenshulme to engage with my scheme. In order to improve the space around the site I envisaged landscaping the areas around the church and the proposal to open the green space up to the community.
Behind the church I want to place beehives for the local community to allow them to get involved in the process of honey making and beekeeping, mirroring the productivity of the factory. As the public cannot engage inside the building it was of utmost importance to design communal outside spaces for the community.
Currently the site has a disused and neglected section which is evident from Stockport Road. Tony’s barber is the only shop along this section of the road which has stood its ground and remained. I have designed my building set back from the road and Tony’s store to further acknowledge the isolation of the store. This also helps to create a piazza space off Stockport Road, an opening to the fairly condensed High Street.
Entering the building requires choice and knowledge, with the entrance at the back of the building directly facing the church. Even though the building does now dominate the site, I have orientated it such a way that vistas of the church remain from the road, and whilst on site are framed to encourage the eye to be drawn to the church.
During your research, have you discovered any information that might be of interest to Levenshulme residents?
One thing which surprised me about Levenshulme, which I feel would be interesting to its community is that the Stockport Road section of Levenshulme is now being referred to as the ‘takeaway mile’ due to its high density of takeaway stores. I would often walk along Stockport Road during the day and be surprised at the amount of shops that were closed during regular business hours.
I created a photomontage of shops along Stockport Road dating from 1929 – present day. (click the image to expand)
The amount of family owned businesses and amenities shops such as grocers, butchers etc. were very high back in 1929 with the highest shop type density being a butchers. Today takeaways have the highest shop density and there has been a significant decline in locally owned shops and much needed amenities, such as grocers.
What are your thoughts and reflections on the finished project?
After completing this project and looking back over the development of my scheme I am really pleased with the outcome of my design. There is always the element of wanting to make more of your project, a feeling which I definitely felt after this project. There are several aspects which I would have loved to explore more deeply and elements of my design I would like to continue to work on.
Although my project has been quite conceptual at times I do really feel that this building could become part of the community and become somewhere which is loved by Levenshulme.
What has fascinated me most is not just the architecture but the bees themselves. Bees are such creative, interesting creatures which have firm roots in Manchester. I have loved being able to make this connection back to the ‘worker bees’ days, which really aided the development of Levenshulme as a community. They also highly inspired me throughout my design process and through research I was able to spend time with a bee keeper discovering more about the bee keeping process.
I really feel that bees can become an integral part of Levenshulme society, a way of bringing the community together. I found out about a campaign in Levenshulme during my research, which encourages the community to help to protect bees by creating spaces for them to live and to thrive. I fully support this campaign, which simply encourages people to plant bee friendly plants and create ‘urban meadows’ in Levenshulme’s many green spaces.
This scheme not only aims to make Levenshulme more beautiful and protect the very much endangered bees but also can bring the community together in an interesting and sustainable way.
Visit the degree show
If you are interested in viewing Florence’s work, as well as the work of other students on her course and from the Manchester School of Art, the degree show is open to the public between 13 and 24 June 2015. Work from the Architecture course will be on display in the Benzie Building. All the information you need (including a map) is available here.
Go along and have your eyes opened to the potential in Levenshulme!