Friday, 16 July 2010

mappa modernista manchester

the manchester modernist society recently introduced an interactive online map of 20th century manchester’s architectural landmarks as part of MADF2010, a collaboration with the graphics and cartography departments of taylor young architects. i've been involved in some of the research, planning, many walkabouts and endless conversations about this rather massive task, so forgive me for indulging a little in this journal about the current state of play and some of the ideas behind this ongoing project, the first stage in a comprehensive archive of the twentieth century city.

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 in fact it’s already out of date.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 - a 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.

delve into the map as you wish, but here to start you off are four 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....

each month we dedicate one of our 3 features to those buildings that have left these earthly shores and departed to the shades of lethe, so in their honour, lest we forget is our BELEAGUERED list – revisit the fading landscape of the modernist city in our guide to treasures long gone or already earmarked for the bulldozer. take a hanky – this mournful homage is not for the fainthearted:
Bernard House, Cumberland Square, Northcliffe House, the Gaumont Cinema/Rotters on Oxford St, the Maths Tower on Oxford Rd, Mobberley Tower and the beautiful Dalwood Frieze, Loxford Tower, the controversial Hulme Crescents (given the Park Hill Urban Splash treatment they might have become the Barbican of Manchester!); and hanging on by a thread the UBO Offices on Aytoun St, Manchester House and the Old Odeon on Oxford St.

last but not least is a landscape that remains much maligned and misunderstood, an attempt to create architecture with an honesty and simplicity that celebrated the new materials and experimental nature of the modernist movement. possibly taken from Corbusier's ‘breton bruts’, translated into English it became something harder and ragingly controversial to this day...

BRUTAL - a dozen brutalist beauties, totemic monuments and landmarks of the Manchester skyline, love ‘em or loath ‘em, they embody the uncompromising spirit of their age. so consider anew our own shortlist – re-imagined as everybody’s favourite antiheroes, the city becomes alive with a veritable league of brooding Mr Darcys or moody but magnificent Heathcliffes! make a dangerous liaison with Aldine House/Riverside, Fairburn House/Renaissance Ramada Deansgate, the Arndale Centre, Bank of England Charlotte St, Lowry House & Post office Tower Spring Gardens, Piccadilly Plaza, Holloway Wall UMIST, RNCM Oxford Rd, the Kantoravitch University Campus. be careful you might fall dangerously in love...

these examples arent exhaustive, just a starting point of course.

but wherever it takes you here’s hoping the mappa modernista enriches our relationship to the city, treasure its faded careworn edifices a little more, and let it inspire a 21st century landscape to be proud of.

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