VIDEO + GALLERY | Inside the former Manchester Debenhams
Take a sneak peek inside the grade two-listed Rylands Building near Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens, which is being transformed by developer AM Alpha into a modern office, retail, and leisure complex.
AM Alpha’s vision of sleek offices, shops, and restaurants is still a way off – with main contractor Russell WBHO still at work in the soft demolition phase of the project.
Place North West was invited to take a tour of the building, where you can still find traces of its past as a Debenhams – including signage, mannequins, and escalators.
The space is very much a construction zone, with much of the building being gutted to make way for the new plans. However, many heritage features are being retained, including an Art Deco lift, the wood-panelled former manager’s office, and gorgeous stained-glass windows.
Work is set to complete on the Rylands metamorphosis in 2025. Today, you can only get hints of what the future will hold. Thankfully, there are CGIs by Jeffrey Bell Architects, which designed AM Alpha’s vision, that give a better look.
The Rylands Building is an icon in Manchester, having been part of the background of Piccadilly Gardens since it was built in 1932 as a textile warehouse for Rylands and Sons. Located off Market Street, it would not become a department store until 1957 when Debenhams (then known as Paulden’s) took over the building.
Paul Hodgkiss, senior project manager at AM Alpha, is not taking the responsibility of breathing new life into such a treasured building lightly.
“The store was an iconic centrepiece of Manchester, so everyone is committed to making this a success,” Hodgkiss said.
“There’s pride and enjoyment instilled in all of us working on Rylands to make sure we do the city proud with this.”
When his team finishes with the building, he is confident that it will be as popular as before.
“If you speak to anyone in Manchester, they recognise and identify with it,” Hodgkiss said. “They may call it the ‘Debenhams Building’ now, but they will soon call it the Rylands and know it well.”
AM Alpha is aiming to achieve a BREEAM rating of Excellent for the finished Rylands, as well as a NABERS five-star accreditation. Sustainability efforts are also being taken during the soft demolition, with the developer seeking to reuse and redistribute much of what was left in the building when Debenhams shut in 2021.
Old kitchens were given to charity, existing light fittings were recycled, and an old diesel generator has been sent to a West Yorkshire rail museum.
AM Alpha is also keeping several heritage items on hand for future use by tenants – such as staircases, panelling, and cupboard doors.
“They are being carefully taken away and stored by our contractors,” Hodgkiss said.
“They may be used at a later date as a nod to the building’s heritage – for example, if a company takes some office space and wants to take ownership of these items to celebrate the building’s history, they will have the option to. We want to bring these back into use in the future.
“One thing that the construction industry is now understanding is that by reducing the amount of what they are buying, companies can reduce the waste of a project,” he continued.
Engineer Max Fordham is advising on sustainability, net zero, and M&E for the project. Woolgar Hunter is the structural engineer.
Barker Proudlove is the agent for the leisure and retail part of Rylands, while OBI is the agent for the workspace elements.