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How three agencies came together to reimagine Manchester’s Castlefield Viaduct – in pictures

Castlefield Viaduct

After 50 years sitting disused in the centre of Manchester, the National Trust has brought new life to Castlefield Viaduct.

The viaduct is a familiar site to visitors to the city’s industrial heritage park, and it has now been transformed into a green oasis for the people of Manchester.

Initially, the viaduct will be open for one year as a pilot while people explore the viaduct and feedback on what they envision the future of the space to be.

Three creative agencies, Creative Concern, O Street and Stuco Design were commissioned to create an engagement strategy, narrative and visual identity for the project.

The landmark stands in the centre of thousands of years of development in Manchester. Viewing points are like a window to the past, overlooking centuries of history from the Roman fort to industrial canals. Now the viaduct also offers a green space to celebrate, view and reflect on the city.

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Castlefield Viaduct
Castlefield Viaduct views

Strategic thinkers, Creative Concern, developed the interpretation strategy for the space. The overarching concept, Views from the Viaduct, invites visitors to look to the past, contemplate the future, and feedback on what they would like to see from the space.

Following interviews with the local community, discussion topics were chosen to be centered around three themes – the viaduct’s potential, connections to the city’s heritage and the power of nature. These themes were the building blocks of a narrative of the viaduct’s past present and future. That story is now told by the interpretation panels in the space. 

Using this narrative as a starting point, O Street developed a visual response that centred around a core illustrated collage to capture Castlefield Viaduct’s place in Manchester. The view is framed by a graphic device that is inspired by a recognisable structural element of the viaduct itself. The bracket framing device formed a main part of the visual language for the viaduct, used as a feature for signage and wayfinding en route to the viaduct, as well as on the viaduct itself.

Castlefield Viaduct signage
Castlefield Viaduct signage

O Street worked with Josephine Hicks, a designer and painter known for her large scale ‘pop botanical’ murals, to create a dynamic illustrated collage. Jo specialises in celebrating connections between nature and biodiversity in urban environments, so she was the perfect fit as the illustrator for this project. Crafting sketches, textures and acrylic paintings, Hicks helped to create a library of collage assets that could be used across the campaign for different touchpoints.

As Hicks worked on some of the illustrative elements, O Street drew inspiration from local heritage and architecture to create a Castlefield Viaduct colour palette. Combining National Trust brand colours of navy and rust red with a bright teal, subtly referencing the historical Manchester Tramway livery colours.

Castlefield Viaduct
Castlefield Viaduct art

3D design experts Stuco Design curated the viaduct’s wayfinding and interpretation, creating a visitor experience built upon the engagement strategy, narrative, and visual identity.

Large drop banners hang from lift shafts and finger post signs are scattered across the city, helping direct people to the site. As visitors explore the viaduct they encounter graphic interpretation boards displaying stories that look to the past, present and future of the city. The boards are designed as a modular system, with individual panels hung on ‘railway track’ style brackets. This creates a dynamic and flexible system, allowing panels to be updated as the messaging develops in time.

Smaller signs are peppered across the viaduct, asking visitors to contemplate and share their views. The strength of the visual identity can be fully appreciated in the form of bold, illustrative, vinyl wraps, offering a charming new look to the National Trust’s entrance gate, toilet blocks and welcome kiosk.

Castlefield Viaduct signage
Castlefield Viaduct signage

On early site visits it became clear that the viaduct – positioned right above tramlines, trainlines, car parks and canals – had quite high levels of noise. The team were able to exploit the well-trodden adage ‘the solution is in the problem’, inviting soundscape artist Tommy Perman to turn the viaduct itself into a musical instrument.

Taking sounds recorded on site, birdsong from species that can be found nearby, and mill sounds recorded at Quarry Bank, Perman was struck by the similarities between the industrial sounds and the sound of nature. He created a soundscape that reflects the viaduct’s industrial past and greener future. The two-minute musical score is played on a seamless loop through speakers hidden in the viaduct’s gardens, inviting visitors to take a moment to sit back and reflect on the viaduct’s past, present and future.

Castlefield Viaduct
Castlefield Viaduct – hidden speakers

Cheyenne Brown, senior account manager, Creative Concern, said: “Pulling together a partnership of creative agencies from the very start of the project was key to its success. Creative Concern’s strong experience in developing strategies and narrative combined with O Street’s design and wayfinding track-record and Stuco’sexpertise in bringing creative ideas to life. The result was a highly-skilled creative team, collaborating through every step of the process.”

As visitors draw to the end of the viaduct – which ends in an event space overlooking a section of viaduct that lies untouched – they are asked to consider and feedback on the question, “what could this place become?”

Castlefield Viaduct
What next for Castlefield Viaduct?

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