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marvellous modern icons

 

we want to make sure our monthly features aren’t such tales of doom, gloom and despair that you lose the will to live, so in this section we hope to uplift the spirits with a regular dose of the city’s best bits - buildings and structures great and small, municipal or vernacular that we think are just fabulous!

 

the only dilemma was how to kick off this section - so many twentieth century treasures but where to start? the CIS, Gateway House, The Town Hall Extension, Lee House, the incredible Toast Rack, UMIST campus, the Crown Courts, Kendal Milne, Sunlight House, Albert Bridge House, the Mancunian Way – all capture the spirit of the city at formative moments in its never ending story, but often have as many detractors as defenders.

 

Each month we will dedicate this page to just one of a plethora of Manchester Modernist Icons!

 

APRIL SPECIAL FEATURE -

 

this month plans to move the cenotaph in st peters square to make way for more tram stops hit the news. such a provocative headline caught our eye and from the reaction of the local press and its readers it seems we weren’t alone in expressing some worries about this latest upheaval both for the memorial itself and the future of the whole of St Peters Square, currently undergoing major redevelopment. a flurry of correspondence between ourselves and the twentieth century society caseworker confirmed that this latest development is definitely one they will be keeping under scrutiny.

 

We are most grateful to Aidan Turner Bishop of the C20 NW group for the following eloquent and beautiful Paean to the Cenotaph and its complex cultural, symbolic and national significance…

 

paean to the manchester cenotaph

 

the C20 Society (and other groups) is concerned that the relocation of Lutyens' Cenotaph [a grade 2* listed structure] is unnecessary.

Its present location was carefully and cleverly considered by Lutyens, one of the century's greatest architects, which is visible along many streets since it is on the site of St Peter's church, which was demolished in 1907.

Lutyens knew exactly what he was designing. The design of the London Cenotaph has no straight lines in it; the vertical sides meet at a point 1000 yards above the Earth's surface creating an invisible arch of memory. This is subtle stuff.

The cenotaph is not just another plinth. It is an empty tomb, not just a memorial, to commemorate all those who died in the Great War but who had no known grave. These poor soldiers and sailors were lost at sea or their bodies were pulverised in the horrors of trench warfare. Their relatives (wives, children, families, sweethearts, fiancées) had no grave to go to to mourn their lost men. Many of them were too poor to visit the war cemeteries and monuments in Flanders and Picardy [we are talking about 1920s Manchester].

The Cenotaph was unveiled at a poignant ceremony in July 1924 by the Earl of Derby and Mrs Bingle, a working class lady from Ancoats, who had lost three sons in the Great War. This is why moving the Cenotaph is shocking and disrespectful because it's like moving a grave.

Moreover. the Metrolink tram platforms are being moved anyway from St Peter's Square to the site of the Peace Garden so there should be more room for parades and ceremonies when the clumsily intrusive tram platforms are demolished.

Moving the Cenotaph, but leaving the grade 2 listed Cross of St Peter, would split up the Cenotaph and Memorial area since the Cross (erected in 1907) has become a sort of supplementary memorial for the Fallen since the World Wars. The Cross is where it is because it was deliberately located directly above the site of the High Altar of St Peter's church. (By the way, the church's crypt, with its interred bodies, is still in place below the site, I understand).

After World War Two, city architect LC Howitt transformed the square, now complete with Harris’ magnificent Central Library and Town Hall Extension (1938), into the distinct twentieth century landscape we see today, incorporating a Garden Of Remembrance next to the cenotaph to provide a clearer sense of this public space.

the cenotaph - modernist icon - april 2011

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THOROUGHLY MODERNIST HEROINES – A CENTENARY SPECIAL!

the Modernist Heroines project sprang from an ongoing conversation here in the MMS office about the peculiar position of women in Modernism – you know, those ‘girls’ in the Bauhaus, forbidden to take architecture and relegated to more ‘suitable’ positions in the weaving room – and the ones who occasionally broke into the men’s room such as Charlotte Perriand and Eileen Gray.

women like these were pivotal to the Modern Movement but exotically international and far from Manchester. Nearer to home were women influencing the twentieth century city or taking the lead in design, architecture and planning? Manchester was certainly at the epicentre of the women’s movement in the nineteenth and early twentieth century and their tales of bravery, struggle and daring-do are the stuff of legend. But what happened next?

this month we are dedicating our feature of the month to all those modernist heroines past and present be they unsung or rightly celebrated!....enjoy!

PS. to discover more heroines download a printable pdf at the Shrieking Violet blogspot

 

Mitzi Cunliffe, 1918-2006

 

 

Her best known work might well be gracing the mantelpieces of Colin Firth, Natalie Portman and David Fincher but this modernist sculptor’s favourite commission was created not for the RADA or Hollywood elite but the hungry shoppers grabbing a bite in Liverpool Lewis’ Dept Store cafe, the largest pierced bronze screen in the world.

For this fact alone Mitzi Solomon Cunliffe has captured our hearts and earned our admiration. If we were the sort to award blue plaques or lobby for a Hollywood-style Wall of Fame scheme in our own city, Mitzi would top the bill. She epitomises the spirit of an exuberant, utopian partnership between planners, architects, artists and sculptors dedicated to rejuvenating the public realm after the chaos of the blitz; functional yet accessible, experimental yet egalitarian, international yet rooted in everyday surroundings. Just like Mitzi herself....

A native New Yorker, Mitzi Solomon studied Fine Art at Columbia University before moving to Paris’ progressive Academie Colarossi, famous for nurturing female students such as Camille Claudel. It was here, upon viewing the Chartres Cathedral statuary that she became inspired to be an architectural sculptor. Back in New York she began stone-carving, fairly traditional ones by all accounts (though admired by Corbusier himself who she met in 1946) until her marriage to the English historian Marcus Cunliffe suddenly brought her to Manchester in 1949, and a leap in direction.

Like many artists of this period, her break came with two large scale commissions for the Festival of Britain exhibition on London’s South Bank in 1951. Planned as a celebration of Britain’s history, achievements and culture the festival was a ‘tonic to the nation’, aiming to help put the trauma of war behind it and kick start reconstruction of morale and built environment.

Modern architecture was at the forefront of the whole enterprise – the Royal Festival Hall was one of Britain’s earliest post-war public buildings, a showcase for contemporary art, engineering and design, and still admired today. Mitzi created ‘Root Bodied Forth’ which showed figures emerging from a tree displayed at the entrance of the Festival, whilst a pair of bronze handles in the form of hands adorned the Regatta Restaurant. Significantly she was commissioned by Misha Black, Director of the Design Research Unit, who would later design the interiors for Manchester’s CIS and CWS towers.

Post war Manchester was also embracing the new, with bold projects such as Piccadilly Plaza, UMIST campus and the CIS all underway. This was an era that aspired to bring art directly to the people and the building boom created more opportunities for a new breed of sculptor/muralist, as modern architecture with its tower blocks and expanses of raw surfaces was literally a blank canvas for experimentation. And experiment they did – with new materials, styles, techniques, and increasingly with abstraction, a result of the demands of working in such huge scale and grappling with new materials like concrete ushering in an era dominated by organic, abstract and textural patterns.

This was Mitzi’s Manchester and she was passionate that her work be ‘used, rained on, leaned against, taken for granted’, declaring that her ‘life-long dream is a world where sculpture is produced by the yard in factories and used in buildings as casually as bricks’. Based in the garage of her Didsbury home, Mitzi took on a stream of large scale commissions, producing some of the North West’s most influential public artworks. Her decorative relief panel for the Pumping Station at Heaton Park bringing water from the Lake District is the only post-1945 building to be listed entirely for its sculpture. Other surviving pieces include ‘Man and Technic’, recently given pride of place at the new Manchester Health Academy but originally commissioned for Brookway High School in Wythenshawe, and ‘Cosmos I’, a fibreglass relief at the base of Owens Park Student Tower.

Like her contemporaries she was prolific, designing jewellery, textiles for Tootal Broadhurst and ceramics and tiles for Pilkington's, her meticulous qualities as much sought after in these media as for her monumental work. She continued sculpting for large buildings throughout the 1960s and her final large-scale architectural commission consisted of four carved stone panels for the Scottish Life House at Poultry, London, in 1970. Mitzi lived to the ripe old age of 88, though her later years were marred by ill health – first arthritis then later Alzheimer’s took its toll – but she continued to teach, inspire and write for many years. Now, as the post war landscape she so laboriously carved begins to fade away, its buildings making way for the new, much of her magnificent work, like that of so many of her contemporaries, is disappearing forever.

Mitzi might have been born in New York but her soul belongs firmly in the North West of England and her Didsbury garage – the Heaton Park Pumping Station might be a far cry from the glitzy backdrop of the BAFTA ceremony but it’s no less deserving of our Modernist Heroines Wall of Fame.

mitzi solomon cunliffe - modernist heroine/icon - mar 2011

 

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after december’s special investigations from Mr Rhead about the dastardly disappearance of notable public sculptures right under our very eyes, we decided to bring in the new year with the rediscovery of some hidden gems, right under our very noses!

 

these hot off the press reports come from our intrepid field explorer Richard Brook – thanks to him for the text, images and gorgeous architectural drawings.

  

January features - hidden chapels

 

There are few buildings of the twentieth century that escape the curious eye of the MMS and their field agents, but occasionally from behind a wall or tucked away in some private realm a covert artefact reveals itself. One of the main stakeholders in land to the south of the city is the University and between the old institutions and the more recent pretenders there is a wealth of modern architecture to behold.

 

 

ST AMSELM’S CHAPEL, ST AMSELMS HALL,

H.S. Fairhurst & Sons, 1961 - present

 

             

 

At St. Amselm’s Hall, the architect chosen to extend the original Georgian house with new study bedrooms and a dining hall was also selected to prepare a scheme for the adjacent stand-alone chapel, H.S. Fairhurst & Sons. The Chapel was supported by a board of Trustees and procured in parallel to works commissioned by the university for the rest of the halls complex.

 

Discussion concerning the commission began in late 1959. The plans for the Chapel had been finalised and sent to London for approval by the Church authorities in May 1960 and were signed off by early July the same year. Construction began in November 1960 and the dedication was conducted by the Bishop of Manchester on 13th October 1961, followed by a visit from the Archbishop of York who spoke at a service held two days later. Both of the services were conveyed by CCTV to the dining hall due to the spatial constraints; the hall committee minutes note that ‘it was not a success, but those in the dining hall in fact joined in heartily’.

 

The chapel itself may definitely be described as hidden. It is surrounded by buildings and mature trees within the traditional large plots that characterise the once affluent suburb. It is octagonal in plan and is wrapped on three sides by a single storey structure that forms the narthex and organ recess. A continuous band of clerestory glazing runs above a sculpted frieze at the head of the wall and bespoke lighting clusters are suspended at four points. The pews, designed to accommodate 90 of the 120 students in residence, are also unique to the chapel. At the rear of the space the entrance doors are flanked by a pair of beautifully detailed timber box-pews. The doors and the pews together form a single piece of furniture and subtle relief and perforations in the structure moderate the acoustic properties of the space. Behind the altar is a faded, but nonetheless powerful, embroidered tapestry by Audrey Tucker. Externally it is only the proportions of the building that are remarkable, akin to the sort of stretched volume that Zumthor affords his chapels. The red brick walls and copper roof mimic much of Fairhurst’s work for the University of this period. Hanging centrally from the face of the chapel volume is a bell also sheltered under a copper canopy the bell rope hangs into the narthex and is rung to announce the start of service. The chapel remains in use to this day.

 

st amselm's chapel - modernist icon - jan 2011

 

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the perils of post war public sculpture....Mr Rhead investigates!

 

Here at the Manchester Modernist Society we do like a good bit of public art and we were heartened therefore to see two stories recently about two separate pieces of public art that then got us thinking about other pieces around and about.

 

The first story was concerning a piece called Man and Technic which was in the grounds of the former Brookway High School in Wythenshawe.  Designed by Mitzi Cuncliffe it had been badly treated over the years and when it was announced the school was being rebuilt and 'rebranded' as The Manchester Health Academy our hearts sank. However the piece has been retained and given pride of place outside the front entrance. Go down and see it if you get the chance.

 

The other story was concerning a brand new work erected in memory of the late Andy Robson, a well respected Manchester architect, in Spinningfields. Whilst any new public art is to welcomed it stirred us into remembering other once proudly erected pieces of public sculpture that all too often disappear without trace from the city.

 

Mr Eddy Rhead investigates the sorry tale of missing post war sculptures.....

 

Turnpike Frieze, turnpike gallery, leigh

william mitchell, 1971

 

 

 

I’m sure even the biggest fan of Leigh, just off the East Lancs Road, would admit it’s an unassuming little town. That said it may be worth the short trip out there to take a look at the lovely little Turnpike Gallery. Not only do they seem to have an enthusiastic team running the place, putting on varied and interesting exhibitions, but the exterior has a rather wonderful frieze by the prolific architectural sculptor William Mitchell.

 

 

William Mitchell's work has pretty much defined architectural sculpture in the 1960's, such is his ubiquity. He maintains a lovely website listing many of his works and such was his output even he has trouble remembering the when and whereabouts of some of his works. He has work at Liverpool's Metropolitan Cathedral and Bristol's Clifton Cathedral. In Manchester alone he has several works, most notably the large frieze in the foyer at the CIS Building, the so called Minut Men at Salford University, a huge frieze on the staircase of the Piccadilly Hotel and concrete relief panels on the Humanities building at Manchester University. He mainly worked in concrete but worked with many, many different kinds of materials and techniques. The Turnpike frieze is classic Mitchell, abstract and using bold geometric line and swirls, cast in concrete and integral to the front elevation of the building. The Turnpike opened in 1971and sits right in the centre of Leigh in the old Market Place.

 

This section was meant to be the good news bit of the three – with the other two either 'going' or 'gone' but news reaches us that even the lovely little Turnpike and its concrete mural is threatened.

 

The Turnpike sits at the heart of a redevelopment plan for Leigh town centre and although an arts venue of some description is included in the plans early indications seem to suggest The Turnpike may be completely rebuilt, without Mitchell's mural.

 

Nothing is definite yet as funding was relying on the now abolished NWDA so we need to keep any eye on it or we may end up losing yet another piece of fantastic modern art.

 

File under Icon at Risk...!

 

we are as so often indebted to the hard work of others -

images and information on public sculpture comes from

 

Public Sculpture of Greater Manchester (Public Sculpture of Britain) [Paperback]

Terry Wyke, Liverpool University Press

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manchester's beautiful beton brutes.....

 

in september’s feature of the month, we raised the thorny issue of brutalism and its overwhelming association with the mass social housing project of the post war era – the two have almost become synonymous (at least to its detractors), calling to mind the fortress-like estates of robin hood gardens and thamesmead in London or nearer to home the hulme crescents and fort ardwick.

 

the term itself certainly doesn’t help matters, suggesting something hard and uncompromising, ugly or inhumane, an architecture that sacrificed aesthetics to principles or theory. yet as we saw in the September feature its original intentions were anything but - derived from Le Corbusier's term 'béton brut', it just meant raw concrete. New Brutalism was a design philosophy, not a style; a philosophy aiming to create an aesthetic based on the exposure of a building’s components: its frame, skin and service systems. it then rapidly evolved as a general reference to buildings that possessed a rough concrete finish on a fortress-like mass or bulk structure, which in turn came to evoke almost universal criticism and contempt.

away from the domestic environment however these attributes have been rather more positively received, even dare we say it, admired? this month we take a peep at three classic manchester bunkers, buildings that even the most critical architectural tomes have heaped with praise for their practicality, elegance and truth to materials, each notable for their wealth of texture, attention to detail and geniality once past the tough carapace.

the lesson? please don’t judge this increasingly at risk period by its cover. it’s time to take a closer look and rediscover the beauty in our shy beton bruts...

 

Pall Mall Court, king St,

Brett & Pollen, 1969, Grade II listed  

our final bunker in this month’s re-examination of beton brut is the opulent pall mall court next door to casson’s natwest building. it was built in 1969 by sun alliance to replace their older building on this site. like the natwest it was designed by a RIBA president (Lionel Brett), received a RIBA award soon after its completion, and is widely regarded as one of manchester’s finest buildings, hence its listed status.

though definitely a statement piece of architecture, pall mall is the antithesis of the 90’s bombastic signatecture style, displaying an awareness and sensitivity to its streetscape and the urban landscape it inhabits that is rarely seen today. it was designed like a reversed figure 2 wrapping carefully around the back of the building next door, and as Parkinson bailey reports in his guide created a raised piazza for the space between itself and the nat west giving useful access to marsden st and garages underneath for both blocks.

pall mall is a complicated set of interconnected buildings and annexes, its two 5 storey annexes and 12 storey tower cleverly weaving themselves in and around king st, marsden st and brown street. its bronzed glass windows are distinctive with their boxy columns set out from the sheer wall and were designed to reflect the buildings around it and mediate somewhat against its weight and bulk on the street. the tall service tower occupies the top of the sloped site, luxurious and luminous with deep blue-bronze mosaic cladding.

pall mall is more than a building or mere office block, it is a citadel in bronze and iridescent blue, which can be navigated and explored from 360 degrees and a variety of angles and vantage points. to appreciate the sheer scale and magnitude of its design take time to wander through the newly reopened piazza and quiet courtyard between it and the nat-west next door with its seating niches, matured plantings and textured pavings a beautiful oasis in the heart of the bustling city.

the cube city tour entry on pall mall sums it up –

forming the other sides of the plaza to the Natwest Building Pall Mall Court (1968) uses a restrained palette of uncompromisingly modern materials, blue-bronze mosaic, and bronze tinted glass to create an oriel windowed elevation to King Street. The scheme builds up formal volumes to produce a dramatic profile, the dark windows mirroring the eclectic surroundings of King Street and the elevations changing to address the four very different conditions of its location. Like the Natwest building this won an R.I.B.A. regional award and presented an innovative take on design of office buildings for a dense city site.

pall mall court - modernist icon - NOV 2010

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SIGNS OF THE TIMES - whats in a name?

 

why did the recent disappearance of a rusty sign get so many knickers in a twist here in the mms office? surely there’s nothing too drastic about the removal of a redundant logo on the edge of town? why did it feel for a generation of north westerners that the sky itself had fallen in, not just some old lettering....

a city is more than an assemblage of buildings. no matter how grand (or mediocre) the architecture, a city is always more than its bricks and mortar. these, if you’ll forgive the pun, are merely the building blocks, waiting to be animated by its citizenry.

the last few weeks have seen a couple of significant losses to the city’s skyline - losses that both impoverish  the streetscape with their bold and colourful signatures and create gaping holes in the modernist landscape and its cultural legacy. the removal of Granada tv and Manchester house is more than just the loss of some lettering, signifying a blow to the unique and distinctive character of our city. and whilst this is not the saga of actual demolition (yet!) it is the story of something much bigger – the end of an era whose emblazoned logos and signage spoke of a local pride in the considerable influence of its home grown talents against the inexorable rise of international branding in its place.

so this month we investigate the stories behind three Manchester landmarks famous as much for their typefaces  - evocative messages in font – as for their architectural significance, their individual trials and tribulations revealing much about changing attitudes and times.

a david and goliath tale in neon....

October icon of the month – Kendal milne department store

so what’s in a name? kendals is currently celebrating its 175th birthday and as something of a local legend must surely qualify as our icon of the month.

Manchester born and bred, despite various buyouts and impositions such as harrods and house of fraser, it remains resolutely kendals to its clientele. a look at this year’s anniversary banners and adverts, proudly emblazoned with the kendals name and logo, indicates that on some level the goliath recognises this eternal truth and has simply given in to the pressure of local opinion; that its identity and heritage is indelibly branded, forever ‘kendals – a house of frasers store’.

perhaps this is the perfect compromise; a recognition of the current owner as only a footnote in a bigger more powerful narrative, one that makes commercial sense to bow to. after all customer is king. and in an increasingly nondescript global world a local name that people identify with is no bad thing, synonymous with longevity, reliability, familiarity.

why not harness all this love and loyalty rather than throw it away...?

all the more ironic then that just round the corner itv aren’t capitalising on their own much loved brand name in the very year that its flagship programme is enjoying massive coverage and recognition during its 50th anniversary. coronation st and Granada are forever bound in the public imagination. it is arguably granadas and therefore itvs greatest achievement and has Granada written through it as solidly as a stick of blackpool rock. maybe the time is ripe to see sense and rename its enterprise – 'granada, a division of itv'.

 

Kendals Milne Dept Store, Deansgate,

JS & JW Beaumont, 1938, Grade II listed.

 

 ‘Manchester has no more perfect example of a modern furnishings and textile emporium than that afforded by the great establishment of Messrs Kendal, Milne & Co,” wrote the Ladies Home Journal some 120 years ago...

 

Affectionately known as Manchester’s Harrods, Kendals is another Manchester first, trading on Deansgate since 1832. It all started when John Watts from Burnage opened a drapers shop on the parsonage corner of Deansgate, filled with all the surplus of his warehousing empire cannily sold direct to a public just acquiring the concept of shopping. it catered for the elegantly dressed women of the era and proved so successful that by 1830, the shop, now called the Bazaar, had expanded into purpose-built premises across the road – the current Waterstones site. over the following decades under the ownership of kendal, milne and faulkner, watts former employees, the emporium acquired the businesses around the side of police street and hatters lane until in 1876 it rebuilt the island site that is now watersones, inventing the idea of a modern department store years before Selfridges London store opened in 1909, an entirely new mode of shopping, leisure and excursion; the new urban activity.

it also defined the king st district as the most prestigious postcode in town, as banks, jewellers, fine tea rooms and other retailers set up home around it. in the 1840s, they had installed gas lighting and had a fleet of 50 horses drawing delivery vans around the city, and by the close of the century the range had expanded from drapery and fashions to include cabinet-making, funeral undertaking and consumer goods.

 

more than 900 staff were employed across sites on both sides of Deansgate and extravagant tearooms, featuring oriental rugs, palms and velvet-covered seats were the most fashionable venues in town. then in 1901, Kendals was appointed ‘Upholsterers to the Royal Household’ – the ultimate recognition of its preeminence in the department store wars!

 

purchased by Harrods in 1919 it was called Harrods for a period in the 1920s, but the name swiftly reverted to Kendals following protests from customers and staff. it was simply too strong a brand to mess with, patronised by influential ladies who preferred to buy their louis cardin, hardy amies and jaegar from the name that conjured up luxury and refinement manchester-, not london-,  style

never one to rest on its laurels, its new building was the last world in department store chic when it was unveiled on the eve of the second world war - the ‘original’ Kendal Milne is now Waterstone’s - but the two remained open until the 70’s, linked by a subterranean corridor under the main road, enabling a whopping 2000 staff to continue to lavish their clientele with ever expanding services, including a ground floor restaurant where models would present the latest clothes – remembered by British designer Betty Jackson as one of her earliest fashion memories.

in another twist of fate, the Harrods group together with Kendals was taken over by House of Fraser in 1959 with the store trading as Kendals until 2005. despite the re-brand the 'Kendal, Milne and Co' name is still clearly visible on marble fascias above the store's entrances. the present birthday celebrations seem to reignited kendals awareness and respect for the magnificent heritage.

 

our image from mikeyashworth’s flickr collection is an advert showing the 'new' store extension under construction, that was to open the following year in 1939. in the event much of the store was handed over to the Civil Service but trading continued in the basement, side by side with 16 air raid shelters. it’s thought that by 1944, 450 wounded troops were given meals in the store. what better end than its own J B Priestley quote;

"I believe in Manchester, because what really matters in the end is character, and Manchester has the right sort of character"!

 

kendal milne - modernist icon - oct 2010

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the big experiment - september's feature of the month

in a departure from the norm of localism, we are featuring Sheffields Park hill as our Icon of the month to examine and highlight the ongoing controversies surrounding the the past and future of mass social housing in this country.

in the aftermath of our recent Grand Day Out to Park Hill and the continuing saga of its rehabilitation into the gentrified cityscape, we thought it high time to have a gander at Modernisms big fat ‘elephant in the room’ – those infamous ‘streets in the sky’, the deck access schemes that attempted to improve the nations bomb damaged tightly packed streets and terraces with shared open landscaping and communal facilities wrapped protectively within concrete castles designed to buffer its residents against the noise, pollution and vicissitudes of life in the modern city.

once part of a blueprint for a ‘brave new world’, fit for the heroes and heroines of two world wars, whatever its good intentions the experiment in mass public housing remains a controversial episode in the urban story of Britain, remaining unremittingly unpopular in the public imagination, the contrasting fortunes of the likes of sheffield’s park hill and london’s robin hood gardens constantly making the news.

the stories of their failures, of the miseries endured by many in estates across the country are well known and righly told  - lest we forget that the problems planners and local authoritie were attempting to alleviate seemed all too soon to be replicated. in manchester alone the terrible conditions endured by the unfortunate residents of fort ardwick (coverdale crescent) and fort beswick make for sobering reading - soon after completion, the inadequacies of the building materials came blindingly to light, with concrete crumbling, supporting girders rusting, window frames falling out, cockroaches and rats moving in.

were the utopian dreams always doomed? time to go back to the beginning...

Park Hill, Sheffield, grade 2* 

Ivor Smith and Jack Lynn for City Architect, 1961 - present

park hill was designed in the late 50’s by Ivor Smith and Jack Lynn for city architect Jack Womersley, (yes the womersley of manchester’s arndale and the crescents) in a revolutionary interpretation of the ‘streets in the sky’ concept, on a slum cleared site near Sheffield's Midland station, nicknamed "little Chicago". the ‘revolution’ was that rather than re-house people in isolated towers, they attempted to replicate the tightly packed street life of the old area.

they created 3 different types of apartments to suit the various needs of a community ranging from single pensioners to families of 6 or more. the scheme also introduced to the UK important innovations of modular construction systems and the not to be underrated genius of district heating. incorporating the natural lie of the land, the block begins at 4 floors in the south and 13 floors at the northern end, resulting in an dramatic moated effect that dominates almost overwhelmingly from a distance, yet up close on the hill itself, its sculptural depths and details become more textured and softened albeit weathered and battered.

constructed in 1961 (the year this old mms-ter was born) this was the biggest brutalist building ever completed (10000 apartments over 13 hectares) and the epitome of the post war project which intended to create a better place for my generation. unlike the hulme crescents which largely ignored its social and geographical history, park hill was designed as an entire landscape with a preoccupation with habitat and sense of place at the forefront. and it proved  remarkably successful for the first generation with its shops, daily milk deliveries, nursery and community rooms, school, hairdressers, playgrounds, cafes and pubs – the local neighbourhood's entire world replicated with a modernist twist to improve the living conditions of what had been there before. care was taken to ensure that former residents were rehoused close to family and friends and a sense of continuity of identity, memory and place articulated through reuse of materials from the old estate, such as street signs and names, cobbles and bricks. those layers of bricks punctuating the raw exposed concrete were assigned into special colour codes too, a feature not readily appreciated after 40 years of industrial grime and smog or from a distance. but this again was the point – like a medieval castle or latter day iron age fort, this was designed to protect from the elements, industrial and environmental, revealing its amenities and facilities only to those inhabiting its space, a hidden self contained interior landscape.

watching some of the youtube clips of park hill in its heyday brings poignantly to life this social intent and community involvement. this was no mean rabbit warren of boxes but a social landscape that was enjoyed and well used in its first 20 years by the entire neighbourhood.

the decline of the steel industry finally did for the estate, coupled with the thatcher eras nationwide decision to depopulate many deck access and tower blocks and maintain to a minimum as so-called ‘last resort’ housing. the structure was rarely repaired and suffered terrible neglect. park hill glowered on the hill top, forlorn and decaying, for the best part of a decade, no-one quite knowing what to do with such a great big beast not conveniently tucked away on the peripheries but on show for all the world to see from the city’s railway station.

controversially for many, listing was secured in 1998, an acknowledgement of the architectural significance of park hill, despite the understandable desire of the city council who simply wanted to erase its public failure and start again with something all shiny and new.

its current regeneration began in 2003 under the auspices of Urban splash with their 250 year land lease and has taken the entire noughties to sort out. this journey, an uneasy triumvirate of city council, English heritage and private developer, has not been without its trials and tribulations, detractors and admirers, a veritable battle ground between ideologues, heritage types and regenerators. what made park hill deserving of its grade 2 star listing wasn’t only its architectural excellence, though it has this aplenty, but its social and progressive intentions. brutalism, whether you love it or loath it, was always inseparable from its utopian ambitions – always equally ethic and aesthetic.

can brutalism rise again at park hill or is it condemned to be always an empty shell, all marketing bombast and no heart? a quick scoot round the corner of the Urban splash site rewards with a section of the estate that has never been cleared, reclad or made otherwise ‘acceptable’ with ‘cheeky’ multi coloured aluminium sheets. here everyday life goes quietly on, inhabitants chatting on those broad walkways, kids playing on the slides and swings below, balconies awash with unruly riots of colour from laundry, potted plants, budgie cages and bric a brac of every kind.

architecture, it reminds us, is brought to life by people, by a neighbourly lively community. thats the challenge for urban splash and Sheffield city council now.

park hill - modernist icon - sept 2010

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Here comes summer! - out and about in the august heat....

its the height of summer - here at mms we've either gone on our annual hols or nipped out to the park for an afternoon in the sun. library research about the built environment looks for too hard work this month, so in lieu of our usual three written features, we wondered what would we have been doing on the average summer day back in the city's modernist heyday?

here's a little homage to some lazy afternoon hotspots in those mythical long hot summers in the city....

 

BELLE VUE ZOO & GARDENS, GORTON, 1836 - 1980 - 7

Belle Vue opened in 1836 and became a popular, nigh on legendary tourist attraction, hosting a zoological garden and offering Elephant rides. Other attractions included Lions, Monkeys, Bears, Giraffes and exotic snakes.

 

A circus visited annually and Belle Vue expanded to include a funfair, roller skating rink, dance hall, wrestling hall, grey hound racing and the speedway.

 

 

Although it was the Alton Towers of its day, the amusement park was finally demolished in 1971. And while the zoological gardens carried on for longer, it finally closed in 1982 . The speedway track at the site closed in 1987. It is fondly remembered to this day....

 

 

 

 

belle vue gardens & zoo - modernist icon - aug 2010

 

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much maligned modernist monuments 

Anyone with even a passing interest in architecture can’t have failed to notice that barely a week goes by nowadays without a modernist demolition story and the tone of reporting is often less than sympathetic, causing defenders such as the twentieth century society to worry that this casual but widespread antipathy is increasing the vulnerability of what remains of this fragile period, leading to imminent wholesale extinction.  

surveying our city recently, more systematically than during our personal random meanders - all part of our self imposed remit to investigate and document the surviving landscape of modernism in our urban environment and co-ordinate a database of information about the 20th century city – quickly demonstrated that the situation is no different here in Manchester.

so this month, with the wider crisis in mind and tales of doom from Plymouth and Gateshead amongst others ringing in our ears, we bring you 3 maligned modernist monuments of our own, each one a victim of unremittingly bad press.

but times and aesthetic judgments do change - after all Epstein, Picasso and Moore, three modernist artists now deservedly regarded as amongst our Greats, were once also considered quite peculiar, downright ugly, even perverse and offensive.

here’s hoping a similar shift in attitude doesn’t come too late...

 

THREE ABSTRACT SCULPTURES, WILLIAM MITCHELL 1967,

the junction of Fredrick Road, Salford University Campus.

 

If you think buildings get a bad enough press, try being a modernist public artwork!

 

Commissioned for the forecourt of the Allerton Building to adorn the new Salford Technical College, the sculptures in question were unveiled in 1966 by Prince Philip. The first words this trio of Mayan inspired totems ever heard were What the hell is that?’ followed by the artist declaring to the assembled press ‘I don't give a hoot if you don't like them, just as long as you look at them’.

Hardly an auspicious start.

Despite such early reservations, these modernist standing stones have happily guarded generations of students and Salfordians alike and are now rightly regarded affectionately by the public and (hopefully) the university estates department too. The untitled sculptures are typical sixties, abstract and democratic in spirit, totally unlike the tradition of bombastic bronzes that had been gracing public spaces since the Victorian era, usually of local bigwigs, classical figures or a reigning monarch, whose importance all too quickly fades to everlasting obscurity. In fact, they owe more to the anonymous prehistoric menhirs whose mysterious aloofness still affects us – it’s said that each of the three statues are positioned so that the evening and morning sunlight falls directly on their faces. perhaps we should test this one midsummer evening! 

So, what the hell are they, then? some lumpy bits of concrete hastily cobbled together to ceate some abstract anonymous forms? in fact closer inspection reveals a delightful amount of attention to detail, each figure quite specific and individual, with coloured mosaic tiles used to highlight particular features and patterns, mainly swirls, squares and shells. each one is a different colour too, sandy white, flaky black and pale terracotta. spend a little time perusing them and they exude character and charm; dare we say personality? they have certainly piqued the curiosity of the local and campus community, as in the typical absence of any imposition of meaning by Mitchell himself, they have been given many nicknames over the years, including freeman hardy and willis, according to its entry in terry wyke's Public Sculpture of Greater Manchester!

Mitchell went on to create the bell bower and the great doors for Liverpool cathedral and the Egyptian escalators at Harrods, large scale commissions taking up vast budgets. But he can be equally proud of his minutmen as he mysteriously refers to them on his website, more modest at £1,000 each but lavished with equal care and detail and equally imposing in their more personal and intimate setting at 15 foot high, & 4 - 5 tons in weight.

So, just what the hell are they? We’re with the Mayor of Salford Alderman Edwin Clark who answered Prince Philip with the wise words - "a remarkable piece of modern art".

 salford totems - modernist icon - july 2010

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mappa modernista june 2010

 

the Manchester Modernist Society, in partnership with Taylor Young Architects, introduce an interactive online map of 20th century Manchester’s architectural landmarks, presented as part of MADF2010.

 

our modernist map is not a regular A to Z street plan - it does not direct you through the brand new city of today. in fact It’s already out of date. Instead it is a map of the imagination, a treasure trove of memories, achievements of cultural and civic aspiration.  It is a palimpsest, an overlay or acetate, an excavation and a record of the Bold, Beautiful, Brutal and Beleaguered vernacular twentieth century city, already fading into oblivion - the city inhabiting the spaces between the glories of the Victorians and the pastiche and bombast of the post millennium redevelopments.  we have attempted to document it all, the great and the small, the successful, the experimental and the less successful.

collaborating with the Taylor Young team allowed the MMS to explore these notions of mapmaking and create something digital and sophisticated, an elegant interactive archaeology of the city that delves into the stratigraphy of the 20th century, combining the skills of the cartographer, the artistry of the graphic designer, and inspired by the endless methodologies of navigating the human experience – of transport maps, star charts and even the microscopic maps of our own genetics.

the result is an artefact and resource, an artwork and a database, the beginnings of a renewed relationship with the rich patina of our multilayered city, a living interactive experiment or laboratory that straddles the strangeness and literalness of the medieval mappa mundi, pays homage to the graphics of the 1950’s & 60’s and draws on the excitement and optimism of the post war vision of a modern utopia.

most of all, it is a map of the imagination, permitting us to relate not merely to individual, isolated buildings, as if they stand alone in cities entirely independent of the public realm they inhabit, but to the city as a series of coherent interconnected landscapes, where structures and the spaces in between relate and depend upon each other and the people who bring them to life with their day to day experiences and stories.

join us this month on our suggested voyages into the twentieth century city...

BOLD - this baker’s dozen amply illustrates the sheer inventiveness of a bold modernist landscape that still dazzles today. Relish Manchester’s exuberant and most audacious landmarks: the CIS tower, Express Building, Gateway House, Kendal Milne, Lee House, the Hollings Toastrack, Granada House, Pall Mall Court on King St, Oxford Rd Station and the whole of UMIST a complete Corbusian wonderland!

more classically inclined or a penchant for the elegantly glamorous? try our BEAUTIFUL List:

spanning the entire breadth of the Modernist era from the deco glamour of Sunlight House, the classic elegance of Central Library, or the mournful elegy of the Lutychens Cenotaph, the undiminished beauty of the twentieth century city sparkles all around us, worthy contenders for any stage.

take this little saunter through the splendours of Albert Bridge House, Appleby Lodge, Cenotaph, Central Reference Library, Crown Courts of Justice, Midland Bank/HSBC, Peter House, Redfern House, CWS, Roscoe Building, Manchester University, Ship Canal House, St Augustine’s RC Church, Sunlight House.

 

.....a twentieth century city that can still fascinate and inspire well into the 21st....

 

mappa modernista - bold & beautiful icons - june 2010

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tales from the red phone box

this month we’ve mostly been waxing lyrical about the good old public pay phone. you know, those bright red kiosks that used to be on every street corner from lands end to john o’ groats, as ubiquitous as the post box. much loved and recently declared a design classic, these national treasures have stayed in the public imagination long after their day to day utility has declined. after all when was the last time you actually got your 10 pence piece out, pulled open that iconic (and rather hefty) red door and climbed inside to make a call? not since your mobile became your laptop, camera, media player and all round personal assistant....

the phone box was first commissioned by the Post Office in the 1920’s to standardise the many different "call offices", "silence cabinets" and "kiosks" that had sprung up in shops, railway stations and other public places since the turn of the century.  by the 1960s over 60,000 of the familiar red boxes had been installed across the whole country. since then the rise of the mobile phone, email and social networking has made the public telephone box, once so ubiquitous and centre stage, largely redundant and financially untenable. and despite a conservation campaign in the late eighties when 2000 boxes were designated as listed buildings, the new millennium has seen it recede to the peripheries, a forlorn relic of bygone times, decommissioned, vandalised, misused or threatened with removal.

only 4 such boxes remain in Manchester’s town centre: nestled unnoticed in pivotal conservation areas they visually embody the evolution of the modern city; that original, modern city that the marketeers constantly evoke and exploit...

this little box seemed to us at mms a fitting metaphor for the entire modernist project and so the invitation by FutureEverything (link) to take part in their 2010 festival with its widened theme of The City offered the perfect chance to explore this notion via an art project, one which would re-connect these small buildings & listed structures with their surroundings, celebrate and commemorate their 75th birthday and raise their profile as at risk yet much loved structures.

hopefully many of you will have been to visit Ailis Ni Riain’s haunting sound installation in the MOSI red kiosk, so it seemed fitting to dedicate this month’s features to the story behind the smallest 20th century listed buildings in the country, maybe the world...

read on for all the history and drama of the K2, k6 and ill fated K8...

the original K2 here clearly dwarfing the later K6!

K2, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott

London 1925 – 1935

THE LONDONER


our story really begins in 1920 with the Post office’s first attempt to commission a standard public call box to replace the multitude of weird and wonderful ‘silent cabinets’ randomly popping up everywhere. the result was the concrete K1 with its noticeable red door. though hardly any survive (the concrete frame weathered predictably badly) it did pave the way for the subsequent model the K2 - the first proper, familiar looking red phone box.

 

the domed roofed and all-over red K2 was the result of a competition held in 1924 and won by Sir Giles Gilbert-Scott, who was to continue refining his iconic design until the 1960’s. learning the lessons of the K1prototype, he made it entirely of cast iron and weighing in at over 1 ton it certainly didn’t come cheap, limiting its production chiefly to the capital and the south east. consequently it’s probably the K2 more than the K6 that visitors to the UK think of when they think red call box. look closely in places where they coincide, as they frequently do in the capital and you’ll notice that the K2 dwarfs the later K6 and that its horizontal windows are of equal width. all K2 boxes are listed buildings, and though predominately a London phenomenon, a handful escaped to the provinces, notably Oxford. there are also several dotted around the UK in private collections and museums.

 

cost and bulk aside it was cleverly constructed and an instant success. ventilation was provided via the crown in the roof section - it was made up from small, round holes – and legend has it that the dome was Scott's homage to the 18th Century architect Sir John Soane, R.A. (1753-1837) whose family tomb is surmounted by a very similar feature. whatever the inspiration this is a proper roof, dealing effectively with the elements, rain and litter. an ingenious design suitable for town and country, just waiting that little bit of tweaking to take the entire empire by storm and revolutionise the way we all talked to each other....

 the Gilbert Scott Kiosk - modernist icon - may 2010

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this month we have mostly been eyeing up some of the weird and wonderful futuristic architectural whimsies gracing our city. futuristic that is in that distinctly thunderbirds, pans people, commodore-pet word processor kind of way.

 

Highland House, Victoria Bridge St, Salford,

Leach Rhodes Walker, 1966 - 1994.

 

at 23 storeys over the ubiquitous ground floor podium, you might be forgiven for thinking that this is just another 60’s tower but LRW who built Aldine House, also for the Inland Revenue, were at the peak of their game in the sixties, constantly experimenting with new techniques and innovations and changing the skyline with their bold endeavours. for Highland House, a central core was made with a continuously climbing shutter (sliding shutters which rise at c 15-38 cm per hour while concrete is poured and reinforcements are put in place) whilst pre cast concrete cladding panels made off site were lifted into position by tower crane. this brand new technique with its absence of scaffolding was cost effective and uber speedy, enabling clients to actually move in to lower floors whilst the upper floors were still being constructed.

but this type of bold experimentation wasn’t without its risks – the first attempt at installing those idiosyncratic windows or ‘funnel holes’ as Pevsner dubbed them, constructed of oven stove enamelled steel, famously fell out one dark and stormy night and landed all over Salford bus station! eventually the tower was completed, its groovy TV-screen windows punctuating the entire structure safely in place, with the ends of the building and service tower sprayed in its distinctive patent black and white finish. at 80 metres high it was the tallest building in Salford, slim, futuristic and elegantly quirky.

eventually the Inland Revenue announced plans to move out of Highland House to new premises round the corner (Trinity Bridge House also by LRW) and in 1994 Highland House was sold to the Bruntwood group, the developers most likely in this city to take on post war architecture and make it work for the 21st century.

between 1998 and 2000 the building was reclad, renamed and re-envisioned as a prototype Beetham tower, seeing the top twelve floors converted into apartments, whilst the lower ten were operated by the Premier Lodge chain of hotels.

in 2004 the president of RIBA declared the building 'dreadful', adding that it should be demolished, but to our mind this is a little slice of space age futurism bridging that imagined frontier between Salford and Manchester. long may it prosper....

***lovely images of the tower and its funnel holes can be viewed on mirkl's flickr photostream and we hope they don’t mind us directing to them & borrowing this beautiful shot!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mirkl/3269693093/in/photostream/

highland house - modernist icon - april 2010

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"Let's meet at the Odeon" 2010!

 

The Odeon Cinema, formerly  the Paramount, Oxford St,

F. Verity and S. Beverley, 1930 - closed September 2004.

 

The architects Verity & Beverley were Paramount's regular architects for their UK enterprise, also responsible for the Paramount Leeds, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Glasgow, Liverpool, Birmingham and  Tottenham Court Road, London, and this was completed in record time, accommodating 1400 in the stalls, 650 in the mezzanine and 950 in the grand circle and balcony.

Sumptuous and colossal with this seating capacity of 3000, the local press described it as the ‘last word in sound cinematograph entertainment’, but it nevertheless had to turn away over a thousand people on its famous opening night, which pulled out all the stops with a big US release The Love Parade, as well as presenting variety acts, a ‘parade of beauty’ (starlets from the American studio), and the Paramount organ, which dramatically rose up through the stage on the left of the screen.

Join us for an evening of celebration, featuring projections, talks and popcorn!!

The cinema might have closed its doors for the last time back in 2004, but the building, an art deco gem, remains. Surely the time has come to reclaim, restore or recycle this much loved landmark of the city.

Watch this space or join our facebook page.

***date and details to be confirmed.....

odeon / paramount cinema - modernist icon - march 2010

 

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Oxford Road Railway Station, Oxford Rd Station Approach,

Clendinning for MRAT, 1958-60

 

You can still enjoy a classic 1960s terminal every time you use Oxford Road train station. This has survived partly because it’s listed grade 2 and because its remarkable laminated wood roofs were braced a few years ago in a tactful restoration. In the late 1950s and early 60s the Midland Region of British Railways – remember them: a publicly-owned, integrated rail network? – began the electrification of the London, Liverpool and Manchester lines. At that time Oxford Rd was the city terminal of the Manchester-Altrincham electric line, now a branch of the Metrolink tramway. Platforms 5 and 6 saw a regular service of green, slam-door electric units to Sale and beyond. There were fewer cross-city transit services then to London Road and Mayfield stations. The station is built on a long but structurally weak viaduct (have a look at Len Grant’s viaduct photographs on platform 12 in Piccadilly). How do you build a light terminal and transit station on a triangular viaduct site? You use a prefabricated structure like a timber-shell roof.

 

In 1956 the Timber Development Association appointed Hugh Tottenham to research timber-shell roofs; Oxford Road is his best. He worked with British Railways’ Max Clendenning [a C, never a G] to design a timber structure of three conoid shells, 13 to 29 metres in span, supported on a cruck-like frame. Other crucks support the curved canopies over the platforms. Timber was also used for the buffet, ticket office and benches, making a cohesive design. Using timber made sense then: it was cheap, being promoted by Canada, and it saved scarce foreign exchange, if it was imported from the Commonwealth Sterling Area.

 

Oxford Rd station has a warm organic feel. Careful study of the lamination and structure reveals the skill and imagination of Tottenham and Clendenning. If only Northern Rail would restore the cute but empty wooden clock case above the ticket office...

 

*****thanks to Aidan Turner-Bishop, Chair of the North West Group of the Twentieth Century Society for this text. the image is from the ever reliable Looking At Buildings website.

 

Oxford Rd Station - modernist icon - february 2010

 

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Tatler News Cinema/ Cornerhouse 1, Oxford Rd,

P Cummings, 1935 - present.

Further up Oxford road stands Cornerhouse Cinema One on the approach to our very favourite station.

Today it is an integral part of Cornerhouse, Manchester’s centre for contemporary visual arts and the moving image, longtime champion of  independent film and experimental arts, complete with three cinemas, three galleries, a bookshop, bar and café/restaurant.

Opening with a flourish in 1985, it was ahead of its time, an arts venue that was also a cinema that was also a café. It was a little piece of Berlin or New York in Manchester and with its great location and glass fronted airy lookout, it quickly became a hangout for a generation of the city’s movie buffs, writers, artists and ne’er-do-wells. Novels have been scribbled, crossed out and agonized over endless refills of the legendary leaky teapots (the hallucinogenic Vurt by Jeff Noon is a classic drug fuelled 80’s vision of post apocalyptic Manchester), TV series and production companies were developed (Coogan, Aherne and Henry Normal made the table at the top of the stairs their unofficial office for many years before the money rolled in), music revolutions were hatched (Happy Mondays skulked midmorning, hung-over and worse for wear from a long night out, in the seats overlooking the station) and international footballers nurtured dreams of  becoming French philosophers(Eric Cantona spent so much time in the cafe it’s a wonder he ever got any football practice in at all…)

Over the past 25 years it has survived the advent of the mega multiplex, a dozen coffee chains, a refurbished City Art Gallery and the short-lived glitz of Urbis, its unique combination of contemporary film and visual arts programming, alongside international film festivals, major art events such as New Contemporaries, workshops, talks and informal quiz nights, readings and music events ensures that it remains a key cultural and social centre for the city and its visitors and generally deserves this month’s Iconic status. In particular, its largest cinema is of modernsit interest. Do read on...

Like our other two people’s palaces, this site houses many old ghosts of cinemas past, opening as the Manchester Electric Theatre as early as 1911. But as the days of the silent movie dwindled, the Majestic as it had then become, closed down for good in 1923 and was eventually demolished.

Cinema One as we see it today originally opened in May 1935 as the Tatler News Theatre, with a seating capacity of 300, designed by Peter Cummings, who built Appleby Lodge opposite Platt Fields, sharing its decidedly modernist shape and sleek minimalistic charms. Sited next to Oxford Road Railway Station this was in an ideal site for this 'drop-in' continuous programme of travel films, cartoons and newsreels including local items of interest, and this popular sub genre of cinema thrived here until September 1959, when the advent of television killed the need to leave the house and pay to watch the news.

After a brief closure the cinema reopened in 1961 reinvented as the Tatler Classic, becoming known as a home for movie buffs and discriminating audiences with a mix of subtitled European contemporary films and classic double bills. Derek Southall in his booklet Magic in the Dark remembers this second version Tatler fondly as having a ‘terrific programme’ but the cinema being a woefully rundown place (it took until 1997 to get that leaky roof fixed). Then in 1969 things took on a more exotic turn with another reinvention as the Tatler Cinema Club, specialising in uncensored films and occasional strip shows to club members only, a membership that handily could be arranged with an hour’s notice. As dismal as numbers often were (and as a young idealist involved in regular feminist raidings of the club, I can vouch for how empty many of the showings actually were! ps. Apologies for any distress caused to any former patrons who might be reading…I was very young and didnt quite realise that the club was more tragic than dangerous) the cinema remained open for business until 1981, when doors finally closed.

Then in 1985 the former Shaw’s furniture showroom was bought to be converted into an arts complex of 2 cinemas seating 170 and 60, with galleries, café and bookshop. It was quickly realised that the former news theatre would make the best and largest screen of the complex and so it has remained, arguably enjoying the most popular and successful period of its life. A happy ending for a worthy Icon you might think, but if this month’s features have demonstrated anything, it’s that no matter how resourceful and adaptable this most beloved form of mass entertainment has been, public taste and demand is fickle and mercurial. Oxford Rd not so long ago was rich in picture palaces, sumptuous, vulgar, restrained, exotic – whichever direction you looked was a visual treat for the eye.

As the millennium kick starts its brand new decade just be on the alert to the dangers threatening the last of our peoples palaces and the tradition of varied, independent and local entertainment they uphold. If you love the idea of independent cinema and innovative programming, please use it and support it. And nag them about that innovative programming, which might have lost its mettle a little of late….

It just might be the last (great) picture show in town.

cornerhouse cinema one / the Tatler - modernist icon - january 2010

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For December we continue our festive exploration of Wythenshawe's modernist churches with the old Forum Cinema, resurrected as a house of worship in 1976. A deserved Icon of the month......

 

Jehovah’s Witnesses Assembly Hall, Northenden,

formally the Forum Cinema, 1935, Grade II listed 2001

 

The Forum Cinema opened in 1935 and was built to provide entertainment for the inhabitants of Northenden and the newly built houses surrounding Wythenshawe Park at Northern Moor. In common with the hundreds of suburban cinemas built in Britain during the inter war years, the Forum was built to a high standard and of a size that now seems a little ambitious. Whilst initially very popular it was the suburban cinemas that suffered the most when televisions became commonplace in households. The story of The Forum’s demise as a cinema is a familiar one but one that thankfully has a happy ending.

 

The Forum did not suffer the sub division or conversion to bingo that many cinemas endured in the 1960’s and 70’s, and having been designed with a large stage to cater for theatrical productions from the outset, when cinema operations ceased The Forum became a theatre. When this venture failed The Forum seemed destined to go the way of many of its kind and be faced demolition. A saviour for the building, now showing something of its age, came in an unlikely guise.

 

In 1976 the Jehovah’s Witnesses were looking for a large building that could act as regional assembly hall for regular meetings.  The policy, at the time, within the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation was to try to find redundant buildings and convert to such use, this being the most economical and practical solution to their current needs. The layout of cinema buildings proved ideal for what the Witnesses required and with many cinemas closing at the time it was not hard to find a suitable building and a suitable candidate was to found at Northenden.

 

The Jehovah’s Witnesses faith involves little or no formal ceremony with worship mainly taking the form of talks and bible readings meaning the assembly halls do not need to be uniquely suited to the needs of worship. The former Forum, with its large stage and ample seating, offered everything that was required with the added bonus of being a building with great character and well located for visitors from across the region. The buildings former, less spiritual, uses held no problem for the new owners and they were able to start using the building almost immediately.

 

Since then the Witnesses have carried out a long and sustained programme of repair and renovation. The Assembly Hall is obviously a very important building to the group, the auditorium providing space for the meetings that see Witnesses travel from all over the northwest and the former café now serving as a teaching facility. It is clear that every effort is taken to make sure the building is well maintained but what is equally refreshing is the current owners’ commitment to retain the character of the building and in no way disguise its former use.

 

Great efforts have been made to decorate sympathetically and where fixtures, such as light fittings, have been lost in the past, every effort has been made to replace them like for like. The result is that, beside Stockport’s marvellous Plaza, the Jehovah’s Witnesses Assembly Hall is the best-preserved cinema interior in Manchester. When the building was Grade II listed in 2001 the current occupiers were worried that English Heritage would insist on retrospective renovations. But when English Heritage inspectors visited, it was deemed that any work that had already been done was not only of a high standard but clearly carried out in keeping with the style of the time.  The ‘art deco’ theme is followed a little too heavy handedly for my taste but anyone wishing to see a 1930s cinema looking as good, if not better, than it would have done in its heyday you could do worse than visiting The Jehovah’s Witness Assembly Hall in Northenden.

 

*** thanks to Eddy Rhead for his text and image for our wildcard Icon of the Month, Dec 2009

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the glass city – a glittering love affair…

The typical city of the 21st century is a skyward looking metropolis of towering shards of shimmering glass and blades of steel, a triumph of engineering hovering in space, sleek, sophisticated and futuristic.  And this penchant for glass, reflection and transparency is no flash in the pan, no recent trend – architects have been obsessed with creating the ultimate glass building for centuries, ever since the first glass blower offered the possibility of windows in those pesky arrow slits! The history of the cathedral alone is ample illustration of the battle to increase the possibility of light and scale without the bulk, the solidity, of stone, bricks and mortar…

Lately, this fascination with glass has become something of a cliché, our landscapes awash with identikit lego pieces, with little to tell them apart or merit awe and admiration. And Manchester is no exception.  Look around the city today and there is manifestation aplenty of our own love affair with all things shiny, dazzling, illuminative; Beetham tower, Urbis, the whole of Spinningfields. In itself this is no bad thing; god knows we crave light in this grey northern climate. But with a few notable exceptions, the trend has become repetitive and lack lustre, a lazy short hand for modernity…

So this month we dedicate our pages to three shimmering treasures of the 20th century, one rightly a celebrated asset to the cityscape, one currently under appreciated which we believe deserves the same accolades, and for our dear departed RIP section, something of a wildcard to surprise, delight and sadden….read on to wonder at the golden age of glass!!

Daily Express Building, Great Ancoats St, Sir Owen Williams, 1939, grade II* listed (1974)

For many this remains the definitive Modernist building, a classic art deco palace. The last of a trio commissioned by Lord Beaverbrook, the newspaper magnate,  in London, Glasgow and Manchester, the daily express building on the corner of Great Ancoats St and Oldham Rd was completed in 1939 and is the city’s only 1930’s listed building.

Like its sister depots it was built by Sir Owen Williams, a trained engineer who primarily designed buildings as functional structures sheathed with decorative facades, and is said to be an exact copy of the Fleet St site. But whilst they were built in collaboration with Ellis and Clark, in Manchester Williams took on the roles of architect and engineer. His other landmark sites include the Dorchester Hotel, the Boots pharmaceutical factory, as well as the M1 motorway.

Certainly the trio were created as prestigious eulogies to the new era of modernity and progress, and hailed by Beaverbrook as 'Britain's most modern building for Britain's most modern newspaper'. The figure of Beaverbrook in this little tale represents the archetypal press baron, self made, ambitious and political. The Daily Express was founded in 1900 by Cyril Arthur Pearson and bought in 1916 by the future Lord Beaverbrook, who set about its transformation. It was one of the first papers to carry gossip, sports, and women's features and the first newspaper in Britain to have a crossword. Trotsky wrote dispatches for the paper following his expulsion from the Soviet Union. Under Beaverbrook the newspaper achieved a phenomenally high circulation, setting records for newspaper sales several times throughout the 1930s.He was equally serious about his Manchester edition, moving his favourite journalist Arthur Christiansen to the city to edit the paper. As Ed Glinert explains in his highly entertaining and anecdote filled Manchester Compendium, Christiansen wasn’t best please to be posted though, writing in his memoirs, ‘Manchester can be a pretty awful town at any time of the week’.

The exterior with its all-glass frontage, sleek and flush in translucent glass and black vitrolite, deco’s trademark opaque glass manufactured by Pilkingtons and available in a variety of colours, punctuated with chromium strips and rounded edges, is both ambitious and spectacular, even today. The top layers are set back in tiers, topped with a turret on the left corner, including built-in planning for window cleaning, a trademark of Williams' architectural work. Cradles are suspended from a series of permanent arms projecting from the fifth floor balconies enabling the cleaners to haul themselves up and down the face of the building. Its piece de résistance though was the triple height press hall, an arrangement facilitating a spectacular sight for passersby, particularly at night when the presses were in full flow and the hall and basement brightly lit, the glass box becoming a conceptual device, not just for letting in daylight but as a window into the premises, all part of Beaverbrook’s ambitions to promote his newspaper empire as progressive, dynamic, fast paced and up-to-the-minute. This was in marked contrast to the usual enclosed world of industrial production, with the factory in effect becoming a shop window. A window into the new world of speed, efficiency and modernity...

Sadly, like the city’s long tradition as a thriving northern Fleet St, the printing hall and its offices fell into disuse in the early ‘80’s, standing empty and forlorn for too long, victim to the publishing revolution of the 80’s fuelled by Eddie Shah’s Today newspaper, which threatened the whole status quo with its use of computers to typeset and print the newspaper at a much cheaper cost.

The story of its renovation into predictable offices and luxury accommodation mixed usage can be read at Cube’s City Tours website

Whilst for engineering and technical stuff do have a peek at this site, which is full of fascinating details on the wizardry of this mancunian treasure.

The final word though should go to the lovingly created Lost in Manchester, whose affectionate tribute is demonstration enough for the special hold the Vitolite Liner has over the city and its citizens even today.  

daily express building - modernist icon - november 2009

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This month we are celebrating our 6 month birthday with the launch of our first mini publication, a set of 4 classic modernist Manchester postcards, so it seemed only right to dedicate our features of the month sections to these truly iconic beauties….

 

CIS Tower,Miller Street,

Gordon Tait / G S Hay, 1959 – 62 Grade II listed.

 

The CIS tower has long watched over the Manchester skyline and for many remains the iconic symbol of the city, despite having been recently overtaken in height at least by Beetham Tower at the other end of Deansgate. When completed in 1962, the CIS was the third tallest building in Europe and was the UK's tallest building outside of London for 43 years, only relinquishing its title in 2006 to Birmingham's Holloway Circus Tower, which itself was swiftly beaten by our own Beetham Tower later that year.

 

The tower sits in the heart of the whole Balloon St – Corporation St Co-operative headquarters, consisting of not only the 25 storey skyscraper, but a 5 storey lower part and the 14 storey New Century House, a complex created to be the Co-operative Society's flagship head office and administrative centre and add to the prestige of the co-operative society and movement.


To this end, no expense was spared. The design team, who included the Co-op's own G.S.Hay and Gordon Tait of the architects Burnett, Tait & Partners, visited Chicago as part of a fact finding mission to America and were inspired by the city’s  Inland Steel Building by celebrated architect/engineers, Skidmore Owings & Merrill. The Pevsner Architectural guide to Manchester, not always the biggest fan of post war architecture in the city is lavish in its praise for the CIS, attributing much of the success of the building to the company’s dedication and attention to detail, declaring this ‘a fact, no doubt, that explains the outstanding quality of the CIS building, which still holds its own among later more high tech city centre buildings today.’

 

Looking At Buildings, Pevsner’s online architectural survey of Britain, features the CIS and CWS in its ‘buildings in focus’ section with enough technical and engineering details, architectural language and long lingering descriptions of interior veneers, concrete cladding and curtain-walled slabbing to satisfy all your needs.

  

For facts, figures, building specifications and nerdily fascinating data on the 2006 solar recladding also take a look at the ever reliable skyscrapernews.com website

 

Public art fans and those interested in issues of public realm will need no reminding that New Century House contains an exuberant abstract relief by John McCarthy, whose water feature could benefit from some tlc and a long overdue declutter; the conference hall features figurative sculptures by Stephen Sykes; whilst the towers own entrance hall is graced by a bronzed fiberglass mural by William Mitchell.

 

CIS tower - modernist icon - october 2009

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Nibs Dalwood

& the case of the misplaced artist….


The MoberlyTower relief (see our August feature for details) long thought to be the work of Mitzi Cunliffe has been finally reunited with Hubert 'Nibs' Dalwood (1924 - 76) the renowned British sculptor who studied at Bath Academy of Art under Kenneth Armitage. He taught at a number of art schools including Leeds and the RCA and held a professorship at the University of Illinois before being appointed Head of Sculpture at the Central School of Art and Crafts in 1974. Throughout his career he continued to exhibit widely as well as take a variety of public commissions. In 1962 he represented the UK at the Venice Biennale alongside Robert Adams and was awarded first prize for sculpture.

 

Like many of his contemporaries his early work was largely figurative moving ever more towards abstraction, combining geometric forms with free and organic forms and juxtaposing extreme differences of scale. And Like his contemporaries he became fascinated with the relationship of sculpture to architecture and their relation to the body, explaining

 

'Scale is the important thing, above all else. That is what the Greeks were so good at, their greatest achievement, not shared with any other culture: relating their buildings and their spaces, even when very large, to the scale of a human being. That is what architecture is for me, and that is what sculpture is also.'

These concerns led Dalwood out of the gallery and the exhibition hall towards work in the public realm, including several public projects such as his proposal for a relief sculpture for the façade of the LeedsCityArtGallery and making work for universities at Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and Leeds.

 

The MoberleyTower belongs to this period, placing it firmly within these growing issues and concerns, a creative and intellectual desire to integrate the challenges of sculpture at the largest scale to our daily experiences directly in the urban landscape. The panel sits immediately beneath the long window panes running the full length of the side elevation, directing the gaze upwards along the towers impressive height. Its position just above natural eye level and directly confronting the pedestrian or passerby on the pavement both accentuates the buildings slender elegance and humanises the experience of gazing skyward, breaking up the angular abstract column of the structure with this pleasingly mysterious and textured design. The effect is, just as he wanted, rather like inspecting the friezes adorning the structure of the Parthenon, the mind boggling at the overall scale and height of the edifice, yet reassured by the familiarity and detail of the artistry of the decorative panels.

 

The knowledge that this dynamic geometric pattern, a series of interlocking giant tessera, abstract yet swirling with enigmatic organic motifs, is in effect one of a loose ‘series’ of similar commissions, re-unites this lonely mural with its ‘family’ of university commissions at long last, including the beautiful Bodington Hall frieze, similarly placed on the central refectory block.

 

Upon his early and unexpected death in 1976, already becoming overshadowed by a new generation made up largely of Caro’s protégés, the critic William Packer called him 'one of the best artists of his generation, a man who could have civilised and enlivened our cities and fired our imaginations.'

 

Let’s pray that the combined will of the University Estates Department, the Twentieth Century Society and the WhitworthArtGallery succeed in ensuring that this belatedly rediscovered treasure continues to 'civilise and enliven' Manchester.

 

MMS salutes you Mr Dalwood. Here’s to you and your forgotten frieze, reunited all too briefly!

Take a look at Tom Overton’ illuminating short essay for an overview of his life and career and this link for a view of Bodington Hall, Leeds University.

 

nibs dalwood - modernist icon - september 2009

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ps - special mention to salford's tree of knowledge – the twentieth century society celebrates the reprieve of the mural, demolition halted but not out of the woods yet, in the following press release....

 

‘Believed to be the only C20 ceramic mural in Salford, the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ mural was designed for the CromwellSecondary School for Girls by Alan Boyson, designer maker and then former lecturer at the School of Ceramics in the College of Art, Wolverhampton. It is an astounding piece of polychromatic work in mixed media designed with a direct association to the building’s main function.

 

The Society has been working closely with TACS in the past year to highlight the plight of many post-war murals across the country. The post-war period in this country saw a tremendous flowering of mural art and some of the very best remain unprotected. The listing of the Tree of Knowledge, along with the other recent listing of a William Mitchell mural in Islington, London, sends a clear message that good artworks should be protected in their own right. The listing was supported by the local paper, the Salford Star and many local people.

 

EH said the mural demonstrated clever use of colour, was a good example of integration between art and architecture and showed a high level of artistry’.

 

bbc online tells us the story of the local campaign to save salford's tree of knowledge here.

 

lets keep an eye on future progress!

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Mancunian Way,

the Inner Relief Way, 1965 -1992 to the present.

 

At first sight this might seem an odd even perverse choice, a mistake perhaps.

 

Have we gone too far with this adoration of the brutal, this ugly ode to the car, all round pollutant and bete noir of the green lobby, destroyer of much of central Manchester’s original pre-loft dwelling citizenry? Bear with us on this one dear reader and keep the urbanists greatest ally at the ready – a curious eye!

Daringly then, and to coincide with the theme of our next outing, ‘the mancunian way: the alchemy of concrete’, we thought this month’s Modernist Icon should be an exploration of the Manchester flyover, our own mini orbital, winner of the 1968 concrete award and pride of the Highways department, who close the whole 3.02 miles twice a year for a thorough shampoo and set!

The Mancunian way dominates the city - its presence an indelible part of Mancunian life and for some who actually live directly by it even more intrusive and intimate, so familiar as to have become invisible, ordinary and inconsequential. Indeed some of us no longer know how to sleep without the constant roar of lorries and juggernauts racing just a few feet from our pillows.

The architecture books and social histories either pay it little attention or condemn it as marauder of the old city, evil brain child of the infamous 1945 Manchester Plan, a concrete monster that cut through the city centre, driving a wedge between neighbourhoods and effectively sealing off the inner city, condemning it to backwater status with all its associated social and economic privations. Certainly if the plan had fully come to fruition we would now have very little of the city centre as we know it. Luckily it wasn’t to be and the city we see today is in many respects an accident of history, a hotch-potch of remnants, relics of ideas and visions half realised or that never made it off the drawing board.

Despite all this the flyover has its enthusiasts and not just the infamous concrete society. In fact a peruse of the internet quickly reveals we are not the first to fall for its charms and peculiarities or at least find it intriguing enough to physically explore and write about it.

The Manchester Zedders try it for size,click here and like minded urbanists that they are, they soon contend that the Mancunian Way is where Manchester’s smile would be if it had one…

 

Lets start our own exploration with some facts and figures:

 

The Mancunian Way was built by in stages, the first part from Chester Rd in Hulme to Upper Brook St built between 1964-67 by the city engineers and G Maunsell & Partners and included the first section of truly urban motorway to be constructed in the Region, the A57(M)/A635(M). It was officially opened by Mr Harold Wilson, on the 5th of May 1967, only the second time a section of motorway in the Region had been opened by the Prime Minister in office and as we all know in 1968, the Concrete Society awarded the Mancunian Way their highest honour.  A plaque commemorating this can be seen on the bridge over Upper Brook Street.

 

In 1992 the Mancunian Way was extended to the east by Pin Mill Brow with a new flyover at the A6, replacing the former roundabout and landscaped pedestrian footpaths. This 300 metre section is officially the A635(M) and is the shortest motorway in the UK, constructed with a composite steel and concrete deck. The City Engineer at this time was Sinclair Mcleod. Alan Goss and Tony Buller were the Design and Resident Engineers respectively.

 

The construction of the Mancunian way was a massive undertaking and a Parliamentary Bill was required to authorise its construction which received Royal Assent in 1961. Its primary purpose was to carry traffic, much of it commercial, between the industrial areas on the east side of the city to Manchester Docks and TraffordPark. The intention was that it would form part of a comprehensive network of urban motorways envisaged in the SELNEC (South East Lancashire and North East Cheshire) Highway Plan of 1962.

 

The Motorway Archive has all the details and takes up the story -

 

The project was carried out in two stages. Work on the first stage, which involved the construction of a 950 yard length of all-purpose length of dual carriageway east of A6, started in November 1963. It was opened to traffic in November 1965.

 

The second stage, between the A6 and the A56 was designed as a motorway and construction commenced in December 1964. It included the elevated section, which is a pre-stressed concrete structure 3232 feet 6 inches long between the end abutments. Of the thirty two spans, twenty eight are each 105 feet long, two are 60 feet to accommodate ground level features and the eastern and western spans are 97 feet 6 inches and 75 feet respectively.

 

Between Cambridge Street and Brook Street the layout changes from dual two-lane to dual three-lane carriageways. With a lane width of 11 feet, the overall width of the eastern part of the structure is 79 feet and elsewhere, 61 feet. Ramped connections from the local road system are provided at Cambridge Street and Brook Street.

 

If all this extraordinary detail, royal approval, involvement of prime ministers, innovative use of raised sections and the like isn’t enough to persuade you that the flyover is no ordinary roadway but a very special beast, then how about some structural detail?

 

The main structural element is a hollow box spine beam with the top slab cantilivered out on both sides. Over 85% of the superstructure is constructed with precast concrete units of uniform cross section. The transition section between the two and three lane parts of the structure is formed with in-situ concrete, and includes the ramps which carry a single traffic lane and in contrast to the Hammersmith Flyover, when three basic types of precast unit were used for the beams, cantilevers and deck slabs, the functions of all three were combined in a single unit. As a result, both the casting and erection were simpler and more economic.

An embossed copper waterproofing membrane was laid over the entire carriageway area followed by a 2¾ inch thick double layer of hot rolled asphalt surfacing whilst the bridge over the River Medlock was constructed with a deck of standard precast prestressed beams spanning 38 feet 7 inches.

 

And if the technical stuff fails to impress then how about the softer detail, the extra care to soften its hard veneer, temper the engineering ingenuity with decorative sections in places that cars wouldn’t ever travel?  

 

The eighteen pedestrian subways included in the scheme were designed as reinforced concrete box culverts with the walls finished in glazed tiles. The traffic islands beneath the elevated section were extensively landscaped in order to provide attractive secluded rest areas for local residents. Areas flanking the road along its entire length received similar treatment.

 

The Mancunian way is in short a most curious monster, a Frankenstein creation, an intriguing phenomenon twixt science, engineering and art, and once you get the bug its hard not to be obsessed.

 

The view from the roadside is one thing; a blur of tarmac, a hinterland of unknown districts, the odd flash of urban graffiti, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. The view from beneath, from under the belly of the beast is quite another matter, revealing a wealth of architectural detail and ingenuity as great as the inside of any medieval cathedral, providing entertainments, a range of urban activities both legitimate and unsavoury, and nurturing an unexpected wealth of species and wildlife in its secluded stretches of wildscape. 

 

Love it or hate it, do join us on Thursday 27 August for a hike along its undercarriage or perhaps at Urbis later. Inspect this legendary beast from a different perspective and perhaps understand why we felt bound to include it in the mms hall of fame. From this new vantage those glazed tiles and bursts of geometrically patterned concrete add texture, even charm, and reveal a vulnerable side to this mighty car carrier. The landscaped borders so crucial in providing a sound barrier for residents now offer shelter to urban foxes, colonies of hedgehogs and respite to all manner of passing swans, Canada geese and lone prehistoric looking herons. There’s even an allotment and wild garden doing its best to survive its unlikely conditions…

 

You never know, you might even learn to love it for the peculiar kind of beauty that it is.

 

mancunian way -Manchester icon and urban dragon, august 2009

 

***Thanks to The Motorway Archive, for a wealth of fascinating structural and engineering details -see

  here , and the Guide to Civil Engineering in Manchester see here.

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Midland Bank,

corner of KingStreet & SpringGardens,

1929-35 – present. Grade II Listed.  

 

Resplendent on its island corner at the east end of the street, the former Midland Bank, ziggurat, wedding cake, rubbick cube, classical temple, effortlessly holds its own amidst a plethora of impressive banking establishments clustered around the conservation area of Spring Gardens and King St. Designed in 1929 and erected 1933-35 this deceptively austere beauty is by the celebrated Lutyens of St Peter’s Square cenotaph fame, in collaboration with Whinney, Son & Austell Hall.

 

Sir Edwin Luytens (1869–1944) is an undisputed doyen of modernist British architects. Known to most of us for his epoch defining cenotaphs, he began his career designing small houses in Surrey prior to his most noteworthy public achievement, the planning of New Delhi, India. Other principal works include domestic and public buildings at Hampstead garden suburb; the HamptonCourtBridge; and the British embassy at Washington, D.C. In the 1920s and 1930s, he produced the designs for several commercial buildings, notably the Midland Bank in Manchester (1933–35) and the bank’s head office in the city of London (1921–39).

 

The Manchester Midland, latterly HSBC bank but affectionately referred to still as either the Midland or simply ‘the Luytens’, is imposing yet compact, affording striking views from every angle. The epitome of classical, restrained deco-esque modernism, it made a mundane trip to the cash machine a glamorous occasion, especially if you chose to enjoy the showshopping internal facilities, rather than the hole in the wall outside. Personally I sporadically ‘lost’ a switch card just for the joy of collecting my replacement from the basement deposit vaults and luxuriating in the harmless pretence of visiting my own exclusive ‘ladies’ club! The Pevsner Guide to Manchester (editor Hartwell) takes up the description –

 

It is a nearly square block and treated as such, with the upper motifs identical on all four sides. The two angle porches are in King Street, and the entrances all have pilasters which die away and disappear, as at his Midland Bank on Poultry in London. The elevationsteps back and contracts and the tops of the centre motifs have French pavilionroofs. Sheer walls with simple openings contrast with the texture of the lower entrances and the upper stages. The proportions are ingeniously calculated, as Lutyens in his later years adored to do. The top stage is two-thirds of the stage from the obelisks to the next set-back, and that middle stage is two-thirds of the bottom stage. Also the walls above the first floor sill have a very slight batter: 1 in. in every 11 ft (2.54cm in every 3.4m). The banking hall could not be sky lit, so Lutyens gave it arcading on all four sides and wooden galleries much as in Wren churches. The galleries have large arched windows to let enough lightin. The Delhi order, with bells, which Lutyens devised for the Viceroy’s House in New Delhi (1913-29), is used.

 

Elegant description as usual but for more anecdotal details where better to turn than Discovering Manchester (Barry Worthington), for these humanising nuggets –

 

Lutyens wanted to create an imposing building by combining mass and solidity with simplicity. A tall steel frame is clad with Portland stone but the corners and upper storeys are proportionally cut back, with the windows and architectural feature designed to emphasise distortions of height and perspective to create a structure that seems to soar. But Lutyens didn’t quite get free reign with this commission – the bank chairman Reginald McKenna not only foisted the fussy top storey onto the design but insisted that plans to install a marble border around the banking hall be omitted, due to the dangers of slippage to the largely hobnail wearing Mancunians. (He was talking about boot wearing businessmen and manufacturers, not just bank employees. At that time, older ‘city gents’ in these parts still considered shoes and wrist watches a sign of decadence!) It’s said that Lutyens never ventured north again!

 

Empty since June 2008 when HSBC moved to the soulless premises of their super boutique branch in St Anne’s Square, where head phoned hostesses stalk the lobby like disinterested Armani sales assistants, despite much talk of restaurant or luxury retail conversation which has never materialised, there is apparently still a planning application lurking somewhere by Stephenson Bell for high spec offices and top apartment.

 

Up to date information most welcome on what’s beginning to look a forlorn and cobwebby masterpiece. A cenotaph indeed, to the death of the banking palazzo, to drama and vision in commercial buildings…

 

midland bank - modernist ziggarat & icon,  july 2009

manchester modernist society © 2009