The building of the Manchester TV centre

Our series about the first year of Granada looks at constructing the Quay Street studios

Year One cover
From ‘Year One’, published by Granada in 1957

TWELVE months before Granada went on the air, work started on the design of the new building for the TV Centre — twelve months which were to be anxious and hectic but stimulating and enjoyable. For the complexity of the problems, this gave a very short time. It was immediately decided, therefore, that the Centre would have to be developed in carefully programmed phases, building just what was essential to provide an efficient working unit by the fateful date of May 3, 1956, at the same time having a Master Plan for the development of the site as a whole.

It was important that the first stage should not prejudice a fine grouping of buildings in the completed scheme — if it can be said that building for such a new and developing thing as television is ever completed. Indeed, from the purely architectural point of view, one of the major problems is to prepare a design which, at each stage of its development, will be visually satisfying.

It is usually found that the architecture we like best has a basic simplicity; and this applies to the new architecture we build today as much as to the historic buildings of the past. So it is the aim that the tv Centre, as it grows, shall always retain a noble simplicity, so far as this is possible. The main buildings will thus be kept simple in outline and will rely for their effect on the subtlety of their proportions and the texture of their walls.

But though the architectural form may be simple, it should not be forgotten that these walls enclose the most complex processes.

Before the first sketch designs were prepared, a careful study had to be made of all the activities for which it was necessary to plan, and these activities were very varying in nature. In one part of the building carpenters would be hard at work with their sawmills preparing the sets, in another actors would be preparing for their appearance in their dressing-rooms and make-up rooms; control suites were required for the studios and rooms to house the electronic apparatus and to maintain this infinitely complex equipment; and then the studios themselves presented many problems which needed to be carefully analysed before their design was finally completed.

In addition, however, to consideration of the technical problems of those working in the building, much thought has been given to quite a different aspect of the TV Centre. How could provision be made for the people of Manchester to come within its walls and see the fascinating process of producing Television programmes? It was felt that the Centre should be a place in which members of the public should be welcome and that facilities should be provided for them to view the whole of the process, both creative and technical, which goes on in the Centre, while, at the same time, not disturbing its efficient operation. This added a complicated element to the planning problems. But, although it was not possible to carry this idea into effect in the first phase already built, the plans for future development include this special provision for the public. A large foyer with a buffet on the first floor will have windows into the new large studio and public galleries will run around the studio with glazed walls giving a full view of the studio and control rooms. In this way, whoever wishes to do so will be able to get an insight into the inner workings of television and will be able to visit the Centre as a welcome guest.

But from thoughts of the future plans, let us return to the construction of the first building and to August 1955 when the contractor first started work on the site. Only seven months were available before the completed building was to be handed over to the electronic engineers for them to instal their equipment—and these were winter months which we did not know at the start were going to be some of the coldest on record! Large pre-cast concrete units were designed to form the main frame of the building as these could be made away from the site and delivered for immediate erection as soon as the foundations were ready. The days had to be lengthened with floodlights and the cold was a severe handicap. However, the difficulties were overcome and the building was completed on time.

Building work has continued; the third phase is in construction. This time far larger structures will be rising on the site which I hope may not only efficiently serve their technical purpose, but by their simplicity of form, richness of tone and texture and relation one to another may also give to all who pass a sense of visual delight and a thrill of pleasure.

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