A feature on the controversial decision to use the name of Manchester’s most famous nightclub to market a new apartment block. Featuring interviews with Tony Wilson and the designer of the club’s iconic interiors, Ben Kelly.
Making a hash of the Haç
Manchester’s Haçienda nightclub was demolished in 2000 to make room for modern apartments. The project became mired in controversy when it was revealed that the new development was to maintain the Haçienda name.
Opened in May 1982, from the outset the Hacienda was no ordinary nightclub. Occupying an old yacht showroom in the rundown Whitworth Street, the club introduced the concept of re-using old semi-derelict industrial spaces to Manchester, a post-industrial city blessed with a ready supply of disused warehouse space.
The interior designed by Ben Kelly was equally forward looking. What came to be known as Kelly’s “industrial fantasy” presented new possibilities for British nightclubs and was described by The Architectural Review as “a significant milestone in British interior design”.
The club grew to become a Manchester institution, its influence spreading far beyond the city’s boundaries. It is regularly cited as the club that gave birth to the acid house boom in Britain and later, the birthplace of what became known as the Madchester scene.
However during its time, the Hacienda management never quite succeeded in translating fame into profit. This, combined with several run-ins with the law and the interests of some of Manchester’s worst gangsters contributed to the club’s eventual closure in June 1997.
As testament to fans’ reverence for the club, it was arranged that the original building be demolished in such a way as to allow individual sections of the structure to be preserved and auctioned for charity. Local demolition firm Connell Brothers explains that this project was so out of the ordinary as to necessitate the use of abseilers to remove and preserve even the building’s external light fittings.
What happened in the aftermath however has angered many.
Following the demolition and the ensuing auction, a new building, a development of luxury apartments took its place. Most controversially, Crosby Homes, the developers of the site decided to name the new apartment block the Hacienda.
For the developers, the decision to use the name was a simple one. A spokesperson explains: “no matter what they called it, it would always be known as the Hacienda”.
However, the decision was a curious one for a number of reasons. Many within Manchester were quick to criticise Crosby’s decision, seeing the appropriation of the club’s name and the assumption of its historical relevance as opportunistic profiteering.
Dr Justin O’Connor, director of the Manchester Institute for Popular Culture at the city’s Metropolitan University explains: “A lot of people felt it was a cynical use of the brand” adding “it’s a bit rich them using the name when they knocked it down in the first place”.
On a symbolic level too, observers pointed to the inherent irony in naming the new development the Hacienda. Famously, the building was originally named FAC51, only later being changed to the Hacienda in honour of a text by Situationist thinker Ivan Chtcheglov. The Situationist group was made up of artists and intellectuals and founded in 1957 to attack capitalist values. It seems unlikely then that Crosby Home’s new development would have been what the anti-capitalist Chtcheglov had in mind when he imagined his model of the modern city.
The developers’ strapline for the promotional campaign: “Now the party’s over…you can come home” merely added fuel to the fire.
Chris Ward is managing director of Chris Ward and Associated Ltd, the full service agency based in Leamington Spa which carried out much of the branding work on the Hacienda project, designing the sales centre, the brochure, and taking care of all the marketing for Crosby Homes.
Ward explains that the project was a very interesting one to work on, commenting: “it’s an extremely significant building with incredible heritage”. The curious thing in Ward’s comments however is his omission to point out that the actual building itself no longer exists. Despite this, he goes on to say that he “exploited that heritage to the full”.
This use of the club’s heritage is certainly apparent in the sales brochure which plays heavily on the past glories of the club and even quotes liberally from Chtcheglov’s manifesto.
Aside from this though, another controversial feature of the branding campaign was the appropriation of many of the themes which ran through the original building. One of these was the iconic yellow and black hazard stripe motif which was a powerful symbol in the club’s original design, featuring as it did on the club’s dominant supporting pillars and later in much of the club’s literature and flyers.
Ward explains “we took the hazard stripe symbolism and applied it throughout everything we produced”. When asked if there were any copyright issues to be resolved he explains: “That theme ran through the club and we thought it was entirely appropriate to take it”.
Ben Kelly was responsible for the original use of the motif. He explains: “the hazard stripe became the icon that represented the Hacienda.” As to its birth he explains: “it was quite simple really, there was going to be people bumping into these huge columns so I thought I had better put some hazard stripes on them”. The concept then evolved to be slightly more complex. As Kelly explains, different areas of the club had different coloured stripes thus creating what Tony Wilson was to call Kelly’s “narrative of space”.
It is safe to say that Kelly is not best pleased at Crosby’s appropriation of his ideas. In response to the brochure design he says: “I am quite shocked at some of the graphic content. Bastards!”
Chris Ward however is keen to point out that the Hacienda project is moving on. He explains that in the new brochure for the nine soon-to-open Hacienda penthouse apartments, the use of the stripe motif is much more subtle. Whereas “the initial advertising was very reflective of the old Hacienda”, and was for that reason very “head banging and in your face”, the maturity of the motif in the new brochure is, says Ward, “symbolic of the way the original Hacienda-goers have matured”. He goes on: “We are now concerned with the present and the future rather than the past”.
Crosby Homes too is keen to make this point saying that the company is “moving away from the history of the site now the building is almost complete.” Rather, the company’s focus now is on the building’s “new status as a style icon featuring some of the most highly specified apartments in Manchester”.
However this assertion does seem just a little rich.
Grant Windridge, creative director of Manchester-based design agency Hemisphere explains that he drives past the Hacienda site every day and has noted that a new and very imposing Hacienda sign has appeared over the last few months. He argues: “If you are going to use the name, to put a huge sign on the front is contrary to everything people ever knew about the Hacienda”. Indeed the only “branding” apparent on the original club building had been a nine inch plaque with FAC51 inscribed on it.
Windridge explains that he, like most people in Manchester at the time, carried his membership card for the Hacienda with pride. Perhaps unsurprisingly then he is somewhat scathing of the new development. He explains that he has “come to the firm conclusion that the name is being used cynically with only a thin veneer of marketing”. Crosby, he explains, has taken the Hacienda brand and turned it “topsy turvy”.
Hemisphere would have advised Crosby against its current course of action explains Windridge. His reasoning for this however is not simply born of a desire to preserve a sense of nostalgia. “It’s 2004 now” he says, “the Hacienda is part of our history. It’s time to look forward rather than back”. For Windridge “there is too much homage for a time that was actually a bit crappy. The city is much better now and it’s time to look forward”.
This is a notion picked up on by Tom Bloxham, founder of property development agency Urban Splash. For Bloxham, the use of the Hacienda name in this context “shows a lack of imagination, it is reactionary and regressive”. He argues that developers should always be looking forward, “it is always disappointing when people are looking backwards” he asserts.
Bloxham has been pivotal in making Manchester “much better now”. He is regularly cited as being responsible for the rise in popularity of loft developments in the city which has seen the city centre population grow from 600 to 20,000 in the last decade. Interestingly, he too was a Hacienda devotee and comments that he “was there several nights a week for a large part of my life”.
He seems at first unwilling to criticise fellow developers and explains that Crosby’s Hacienda project is “reasonable quality architecture” and a “good, credible building” but when asked if he would have considered naming the development the Hacienda he replies: “it’s not something we would do”.
Perhaps most importantly, in aligning its product with the original Hacienda brand Crosby has merely succeeded in highlighting the difference between the two propositions. Whereas the Hacienda in its original state represented youthful rebellion, Crosby’s project can never hope to inspire such passion.
The club was set up by its founders as being an attempt “to give something back” to a city they loved and believed in. It is unlikely that similar motives are driving Crosby Homes.
Another problem for Crosby is the special place that the Hacienda continues to occupy in the city. Chtcheglov in his manifesto goes on to explain: “All cities are geological. You can’t take three steps without encountering ghosts bearing all the prestige of their legends”. Of Manchester and the Hacienda this notion rings particularly true. Despite the fact that the building no longer exists, the club is everywhere it seems.
Evidence of this lies in even the most unlikely of places. For example, following a strange turn of events, it turns out that in a basement of the Museum of Science & Industry in Manchester there exists a collection of Factory Records relics including posters and administrative notes taken from the Hacienda.
Elsewhere, ex-Hacienda DJ Dave Haslam is taking part in a project called Shrinking Cities in which he will trace artefacts from the Hacienda auction. His contribution will form part of a major exhibition in Berlin later this year.
Crosby should perhaps then have paid a little more attention to the continuing relevance of the Hacienda da name. For a large section of Manchester, this development will simply never be the Hacienda.
It is perhaps for this reason that Tony Wilson, the Hacienda’s most famous spokesman and the man responsible for creating much of the mythology that surrounds the club does not seem too angry about Crosby’s use of the name. Rather, most of all he appears to enjoy the absurdity of the situation explaining: “I find it amusing that the name still means something”.
He does express disappointment - although perhaps not surprise - in the way in which Crosby has gone about marketing its new development. Commenting on the strapline “Now the party’s over…you can come home” he says it’s a “crap line…it misunderstands the mood of the place in almost precisely the same way “We’re Up and Going” from McCann Erickson got Manchester wrong before.”
Perhaps Wilson is right in feeling mildly amused. Marketers will always try to mould alternative culture to their own ends. If that is the case then perhaps it is simply not worth getting angry about.
Using names which have little to do with the actual building being sold is nothing new of course in the property redevelopment industry. A recent example in Hackney, London where the old Gainsborough Studios building has been redeveloped is a case in point. The studios take their name from the film studio made famous in the 1930s by the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and Ivor Novello. However when the developers moved in, the original shell was destroyed to make room for a modern apartment block.
This project too may borrow heavily from a past it has no real claim to but importantly, it is likely that it will offend only the most ardent of cineasts. In the case of the Hacienda project however, Crosby Homes runs the risk of offending an entire generation.
For those people who remember the original club however, the legend of the Hacienda lives on. No matter how the development is marketed and despite the serious misgivings about the appropriation of the name and motifs, the memory of the club will never fade.
This is an argument suggested by Ben Kelly who says: “What I thought was fantastic was the way they went about closing it [the Hacienda] down. There was no sentimentality, it was simply ‘bollocks it’s finished, close it down and walk away’. If it’s been redeveloped then so be it. The people who were there in its original form know what it was. Wherever I go in the world I meet people who have had the night of their life in the Hacienda. So what if someone puts a new building on top of it. So what”.
For all the intellectual and aesthetic arguments against the project, there is some evidence that it is delivering on the bottom line. Of the 154 apartments and 7 penthouses, 130 units have so far been filled. Retailing at £178,00 to £398,00 for one to two bedrooms the flats are certainly not cheap by Manchester standards. However, the true importance of the HaÃ§ienda lies in what it has already contributed to the city of Manchester.
Eulogising in his novelisation of the film of 24 Hour Party People Tony Wilson writes: “They [the owners of the Hacienda] thought they were alone, just them, the precious few, believing in their holy city…Turned out other Mancs were at the renascence stage of their lives too. City councillors and city businessmen, buying old warehouses, planning new lives for their town, dreaming of a city reborn. The boys with the stupid club were mad, but not alone”.
This new development of modern apartments on the site of their beloved club may not be exactly what they had in mind for the future.