The Rooftop Project in Manchester’s Northern Quarter provides vital green space in the city and challenges workers to leave their desks and work collaboratively within the community. One of the creators Rebecca Taylor discusses why such a project is so important.
A lack of green and social space
"There’s an ongoing issue in Manchester that when a building is flattened the automatic go-to is to create more car parks. We (greening groups, residents and businesses) have a problem with this, because it has reduced our outdoor social spaces," says Rebecca.
As an active resident in Manchester, Rebecca sees how people are encouraged to come and consume the city - shopping, eating and drinking - with little concern for people living there.
"Our public realm is threatened and this needs addressing," she says. "Working in partnership with businesses in the city we hope to collectively improve and protect what is important about our city – the people, the air we breathe and the space we share."
But making green and social spaces available for employees and the local community is more than planting a few trees. It’s crucial for our mental and physical health.
Our mobile phones and laptops mean that our streets, pavements, coffee shops, bars, restaurants, apartments, waiting rooms, bus shelters, shops, walls, office foyers and rooftops are all 'places of work and play'. Space exists, it's what we do with it that matters - to our health and wellbeing, our quality of life," Rebecca argues.
Nurturing and protecting the city
The Rooftop Project started in 2014 through conversations about Manchester’s public space by three people who all care deeply about the city.
Rebecca Taylor (PhD Candidate at HighWire Lancaster University and Founding Partner of The Curiosity Bureau), Atul Bansal (Director and Co-Founder of The Sheila Bird Group) and Cllr Beth Knowles met at a design research exhibition at 24-26 Lever Street in the Northern Quarter co-curated by Rebecca. It brought to life the ideas and concerns of local residents, business owners and visitors surrounding the area’s lack of green and social space.
"We asked why are we struggling for outdoor social spaces in the Northern Quarter? Atul took the conversation further and asked 'why don't you use the rooftop?'" recalls Rebecca.
Inspired by the likes of London’s rooftop gardens and car park art spaces and Berlin’s Princessingarten wasteland roundabout, the idea was to use the rooftop as an innovative way to bring people together in a greening space.
"Building tenants, local residents, businesses, organisations and community groups were tasked with reimagining the building’s vacant rooftop, with a view to transform it into a publicly accessible community space," says Rebecca.
Uniting businesses and communities
The Rooftop sits on a building with over 250 people working in various creative, digital and tech businesses and organisations.
"The studios, offices, post-graduate academy, restaurant and bars are individual spaces, but The Rooftop Project has become a shared space," says Rebecca.
A mass collaborative, community ethos has been evident throughout the co-design and co-creation of the space.
So far building tenants and the local community have experimented with a variety of events and activities, including art and design exhibitions, yoga classes, gardening workshops, cinema screenings, and networking events.
How is the space impacting the city?
The space is as much a place to be ‘curious-in-action’ as it is a green space for the city.
"Those involved very closely in the project share a desire to take action, knowingly or unknowingly through design and in doing so it feels like we are experimenting with a design-led activism," Rebecca explains.
The rooftop has been truly transformed into a welcoming, inclusive and versatile space. And the success is all down to the broad mix of people who are thinking imaginatively about the disused, hidden spaces in the city.
"It has provided space away from the desk that is unique and relaxing, but more importantly, it highlights the lack of space that people have to escape and then return with fresh heads and increased motivation."
The project is starting to shift viewpoints about the city’s spaces and places, and will hopefully continue to evolve and inspire in the years ahead.