Campus evolution: Maths Tower to the Alan Turing Building
Heritage 5th August 2020
The University of Manchester campus is constantly evolving. New buildings, improved facilities and imaginative workspaces reflect the shifting demands of not only teaching and learning, but the overall student experience.
Perhaps the most visible current example is the huge Manchester Engineering Campus Development – or MECD as it’s widely known – which will become the University’s new home for engineering when it opens its doors in 2022.
But before MECD, one of our most exciting recent developments was the creation of the £43 million built-for-purpose Alan Turing Building. Designed with input from our mathematics staff and students, the ‘three-fingered’ building with ‘over-sailing’ roof was completed in 2007 and houses not only the Department of Mathematics, but also the Photon Science Institute and Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics.
As regular readers of The Hub will know, we like to celebrate the old as well as the new. So here’s a look back at how we arrived at the fantastic Alan Turing Building, starting with the building it effectively replaced: the Maths Tower.
The Maths Tower
Iconic to some, divisive to others, the Maths Tower – or Mathematics Building – stood (very) tall over Oxford Road from 1968 until it was demolished in 2004.
At 18 storeys and 75 metres, the Tower was a true landmark on Manchester’s skyline, and could be used to pinpoint the location of South Campus from across the city. It was notable not only for its size, but also its design.
The architecture was a combination of 1960s brutalism and international-style modernism, with a three-storey podium and two contrasting facades. One side was mostly concrete, the other mostly glass, with windows sticking out at different angles, seemingly jostling for position. The podium, which appeared to snake and jut at the base, housed lecture theatres and other teaching spaces.
Up through the tower rose an impressive stairwell that, when looked at either down or up, formed a triangular shape. Whether this was done on purpose, given the building’s use for mathematical study, we’re not quite sure!
What is certain, though, is that the building was deemed ‘not fit for purpose’ when the University looked to renovate its campus buildings around the time of the merger between The Victoria University of Manchester and UMIST. One reason given was that the tower structure, and resultant need for use of lifts and stairs, lowered the likelihood of chance encounter, and therefore interaction, between mathematicians.
Although controversial, the move paved the way for the development of not one but two of today’s most recognisable University buildings: the Alan Turing Building, and the cylindrical structure that stands where the Maths Tower once stood, University Place.
The Alan Turing Building
It’s perhaps fitting that the building in which the Department of Mathematics now resides also boasts strong, distinctive architectural features. This structure, however, was designed with the needs of mathematicians at its heart – and with a specific focus on collaboration.
Named, of course, after one of the great mathematical minds in our University’s history, the Alan Turing Building was designed to incorporate the ideas and suggestions of many of the Department’s staff and students. It has three-floored ‘fingers’ separated by a large atrium and connected at either end by open bridges, encouraging circulation.
The atrium has a cafe and is used for large events such as local outreach, visit days and graduation celebrations, while a number of old blackboards were brought across to line some of the walls – meaning maths is not restricted to the classroom.
One particularly striking – and energy-efficient – feature is the roof. Connecting the three fingers, the roof uses thin film technology to act as a suspension system for a photovoltaic array that, in turn, uses solar power to produce almost 41MW hours per annum, saving around 17,000kg of carbon dioxide a year. When built, it was the largest photovoltaic array in the north west.
The Alan Turing Building is located on Upper Brook Street, not far from where the Maths Tower once stood. The building that occupies that exact spot, though, is University Place.
Nicknamed the Tin Can because of its rotunda shape and metallic-looking exterior, the £60 million University Place has certainly been an eye-catching addition to Oxford Road. It houses the biggest dedicated lecture theatre in the Greater Manchester region, and is a popular hub for large international conferences.
Featuring modern, spacious lecture theatres, classrooms and a 300-seat market restaurant, the Tin Can has all the mod cons you’d expect – and is, seemingly, a world away from the old Maths Tower.
One similarity, though, is its boldness in design. The circular facade is unlike anything else along Oxford Road, perhaps even across Manchester. Here, within The Drum of the Tin Can, sits the University’s gift shop which, much like University Place itself, displays the University’s pride and ambition for all to see.
Moving forward; remembering the past
Our evolving campus is a visible example of an ongoing story – and the move from Maths Tower to Alan Turing Building represented an important chapter.
It’s crucial to embrace the future without forgetting the past, and while the old Maths Tower can no longer be seen along Oxford Road, nor spotted in the distance from across the city, it’s fondly remembered by many.
Hopefully our newer buildings, including the upcoming MECD, will have the same impact – both now and in the future.
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Words: Joe Shervin