Escape To Freight Island

Engine No4
Civil and Structural Engineer
Commercial Buildings
Arts and Cultural
Low Carbon
MMC & Modular
North England
Won "Innovation", ICE North West Awards, 2022
Won "Best Small Project", ICE North West Awards, 2022

The design team were tasked to create a ‘meanwhile use’ of one half of the vast Mayfield Depot building in Manchester. The ‘meanwhile use’ was proposed to utilise the space for up to 10 years and create a cultural venue space in the city centre which could be used by locals and residents. This ‘meanwhile use’ called for ‘temporary’ structures which could be dismantled and used again once the development was no longer required. Structural interventions within the existing depot building were to be avoided so that the original depot structure remained unaffected by the ‘meanwhile use’ development. Careful consideration was given to how best to utilise the existing asset of the Depot whilst not affecting or damaging the building fabric.

The outline scope was provided by the client although the creativity and design direction were heavily driven by design team. The client wanted to create a flexible mixed use space predominantly with food and beverage units and space for live music and events. There was a stipulation in the brief to be as ‘light-touch’ as possible so that when the meanwhile use is no longer needed the installations could be removed and the existing Depot building returned to its ‘original’ state.

The original programme and budget requirements were both very lean and required the design team to engineer a solution which could be installed only 12 weeks after conception and on a limited budget. Working with the project architect, we introduced the use of shipping containers to provide the neat primary structural framing solution to create F&B venues, stages, terraces and balconies. The shipping containers were used and could be brought to site and installed within days. The use of the containers allowed for less new structural materials to be sourced/fabricated and significantly reduced both the cost and programme time on the project.

The use of recycled shipping containers on the project was ground-breaking. The containers sourced were no longer ‘allowed’ to be used to transfer freight due to their condition however with an in-depth understanding of the integral strength of the containers we were able to repurpose them for use as the structural framing for the venue spaces at Freight Island. An in-depth understanding of the existing building allowed us to find the maximum potential of the space – back calculating and reusing the existing foundations for example as well as careful analysis of the existing drainage routes and reuse of all of the below ground drainage and reduce the quantum of intrusion needed to the existing building.

The containers also bring visual appeal and interest to the installations. This has had the effect of raising awareness of the benefits of reuse and recycling to the attendees at the venue. It also has led to the reduction in the quantum of materials needed to ‘fit out’ or clad the structures (plasterboard, paint, etc.) which led to a substantial reduction in materials across the project which reduced the embodied carbon substantially.

As part of the Freight Island development there has been the first global practical application of Concretene in a suspended composite slab. Concretene is a proprietary admixture which enables the bonding of graphene with concrete on a molecular level. The effects of Concretene on concrete are to increase both tensile and compressive strengths as well as other properties such as faster curing times and reduced shrinkage.
As the engineer’s designing the mezzanine floor, we have worked closely with the Concretene specialist in facilitating the first superstructure slab in the world to be successfully poured with Concretene. Due to the properties of Concretene this allowed the reinforcement from the composite slabs to be entirely removed significantly reducing the quantum of embodied carbon across the floor.

Designed in Manchester, we’re delighted to see this incredible piece of innovation right here in the city where it originated. Reducing carbon emission by upto 30%, its sustainability credentials speak for itself.

Since opening, Freight Island has already established itself as an iconic venue within the city. Whilst its inception coincided with the Covid-19 global pandemic, the vast outdoor nature of the space has allowed it to become a safe and comfortable venue for the community to meet and socialise whilst socially distanced.

The creation of a busy, popular venue within what was a derelict building in an undesirable area of central Manchester is remarkable. It has become a national example of best in class for this type of reuse of existing building and has led to further developments being proposed elsewhere across the country. Whilst its national reach has boosted further interest in the city, the inspiring and distinctive venue space is considered with great pride by the local people of Manchester. The Depot Building, derelict for decades, now has a new lease of life and is providing a beating heart to the city’s social scene, with a diverse programme of events and entertainment catering for all ages from students right through to parents with young families all excited to enjoy the ground-breaking space. The temporary ‘meanwhile use’ of the Depot means that the space can be occupied and patronised whilst longer term development plans are underway to repurpose the Depot Building for future generations to come.

The project team who were involved in the creation of Freight Island were all based locally to the venue and have great interest and pride in the space which has been created. Already an important success story for Manchester’s ever-changing and evolving skyline, Freight Island is set to become one of the UK’s most visited tourism destinations with estimated footfall figures of 10,000 people per week and £2.4m spent within the local economy. The space continues to grow, hosting Winter Island, officially the UK’s largest outdoor heated market in December 2021 along with other events including comedy nights, gigs, family-friendly Disney inspired shows and of course, the small local business and traders that call the venue home.

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