The 1996 IRA bombing brought devastation to Manchester, nowhere more so than the prestigious Royal Exchange Theatre. The Cotton Exchange was shifted several inches by the force and, although the glass enclosed theatre was amazingly undamaged, it was declared unsafe and in need of extensive renovation. With history dating to 1809, a National Lottery grant provided the impetus for a £14 million refit of the cherished building, and that’s where we came in. Our appointment as construction manager formed part of our overall role in creating a thriving new centre for commerce, the arts and recreation, and to restore confidence to the community in Manchester.
The overwhelming criterion for the project was speed, so the theatre could reopen again just two and a half years after the restoration began. This gave us only 29 months to design, demolish and refurbish the bomb-damaged theatre, and included the creation of a new studio, back-of-house facilities and bar, restaurant and function facilities. The unique design of the building, consisting of a seven-sided glass and steel structure, also called for extensive re-engineering work.
Delivery of the technically demanding project was a real success and allowed us to use our expertise in innovative construction techniques. Following completion, we were then requested to provide post-completion management to implement more improvements.
An inspiring performance
We are understandably proud of our role in restoring this historic building. Although shattering, the bomb stimulated the creative renewal of the whole theatre building. The renovated facilities are now bigger, more sophisticated, more dazzling – and by all accounts more inspiring for actors and audiences – than they were before.