16 October 2023

The Rylands Building and the Reimagining of Manchester’s Heritage

In the heart of Manchester City Centre, the iconic Rylands Building stands as a testament to the city’s rich architectural history. The grade two listed building, which formerly housed department store Debenhams is in the process of undergoing an ambitious £68.5m transformation. Originally constructed in 1932, the multi-storey building was built as a warehouse for J. Gerrard & Sons of Swinton for the Rylands Textile Company. The building, with its art deco façade is clad in Portland stone, has zig-zag window lintels and decorative corner tower and is a cherished part of Manchester’s history. Bombed during the Blitz, the building was taken over by department store Pauldens until acquired by Debenhams who remained in the building until their eventual closure in 2021.

Today, a new chapter is being written for the Rylands building, thanks to the visionary redevelopment efforts of global real estate investment firm AM Alpha, who are set to breathe new life into its storied walls while preserving its historical significance. The project known as ‘Rylands’ will transform the building into a mixed-use development, incorporating office spaces and retail and leisure facilities. A shopping arcade is planned for the ground floor and AM Alpha also plan to add a 400 ft², four-storey extension, giving the building ten floors in total. There will be a winter garden on the sixth floor and part of the building will be demolished to create an atrium, providing natural light across the second to seventh floors.

The building of the extension proved to be a controversial subject with concerns over its detrimental effect on neighbouring residents being raised during the planning application process in 2021. It was argued that the extension would leave certain residents of buildings between Market Street and Church Street feeling “boxed in.” However, a representative of AM Alpha said the project would “restore and rejuvenate’ the building and preserve its long-term culture.

Credit: Jeffrey Bell Architects

Preservation and sustainability appear to be at the forefront of the development, the building will be designed to achieve net zero carbon status, contributing to Greater Manchester achieving its 2038 carbon neutrality target, with planned certification for construction according to BREEAM Excellent or NABERS 5✶. To reduce energy consumption, a fabric first approach has been adopted, using existing fabric wherever possible. Moisture modelling and fabric analysis have been carried out to achieve an enhanced performance of the listed facades with internal insulation. The heritage of the building will be further considered with high performance Crittall windows to match the existing 1930’s system, the roof will also be fully insulated.

The building will be future-proofed to access the national benefit of the decarbonising grid and to support the Manchester Zero-Carbon Action Plan. Improved glazing, internal lining of walls and an insulated roof will reduce energy demand. Electrical systems will be prioritised to make a natural gas connection redundant. Steel framing in the new extension will be standardised to allow dismantling, enabling future adaptation of space and reuse at the end of life.

Credit: Jeffrey Bell Architects

The redevelopment hopes to represent a harmonious marriage of history and modernity by preserving the building’s heritage while adapting it to meet the needs of a contemporary Manchester. The project is poised to become a landmark that will hopefully stand as a testament to the city’s past and future, breathing new life into the Rylands building and ensuring its legacy for generations to come.