Sunday, 8 August 2010

manchester's magnificent South Bank

for many modernists, the South Bank is the epitome of Londons iconic skyline, and seen largely undisturbed in an entirety that we rarely get elsewhere, it's truly a feast for the soul. a trip to the capital for me wouldnt be complete without a stroll along its banks to enjoy its many splendours, a happy marriage of riverside life, inspirational architecture and the best of modern art. this short stretch has something for everyone, punctuated as it is with the legacy and progressive ambitions of the 1951 festival of britain - the royal festival hall, the national film theatre, the heyward gallery - with the brooding bankside to relish at the other end, an extraordinary building sensitively restored and imaginatively reused.

and once back home, its all too easy to feel peeved after a saunter through such obvious treasures, impoverished at the lack of similar grandeur on our own doorstep. its harder being a flaneur in your own city, more difficult to appreciate what we still have to enjoy or uncover. yet we are privileged to have a secret south bank of our own, hidden away on the salford/manchester border. no, we’re not talking about the Thames & the Tate but the Irwell and the Peoples History Museum. this is where the manchester modernist society's latest project, the mappa modernista comes into play, with its exhortation to don those metaphorical x-ray specs and revisit the half forgotten landscapes of the 20th century city, lurking shyly down some side street or behind an unfortunate respray or gaudy recladding.

so next time you're feeling a little jaded with the relentless change and fashions of the city, why not rediscover your very own modernist haven, complete with magnificent museum on its left bank! here's a suggested route to start your ongoing adventures along the riverbank....

.....begin your mini modernist trail on deansgate opposite the cathedral, turning down chapel street to take in the space age splendour of Highland House and the unexpected pleasure of the service aspects of the brooding hulk of the often maligned Fairburn House, currently the Ramada hotel. seen from the riverside its intricate levels of stairwells, podiums and swirling car park ramps are crisp, intricate, positively delicate, if a little careworn. a short walk over blackfriars bridge rewards with a hidden descent to the river under the east is east restaurant.

from there you can saunter towards the graceful calatrava (trinity) bridge usually accompanied only by the resident cormorant and a cheeky gaggle of marauding seagulls. contemplate the marvels of its elegant engineering ensconced in the sweeping amphitheatre seating below, before turning to take in the sophistication of albert bridge house and its classic tripartite composition, a view only possible from this very spot. ahead lies perhaps leach rhodes walkers finest hour, the irrepressible aldine house, now Riverside, with its trademark concrete ribbing and saucy porthole windows.

a swift hanger right leaving the river allows you to join the path round the side of the complex rounding back up on to bridge street and the newly revamped pump house with its lovely cafe and mighty selection of cakes. here, weather permitting, take your afternoon tea on the terrace for a riverside seat and a peek at the swans and new cygnets that tend to hang out by the mark addy kitchens.

oh & dont forget to visit the reinvigorated museum, always well worth the trip, and reacquaint yourself with the history of the people who made the industrial revolution & the 20th century city happen; the likes of you and me. for this is not the story of captains of industry, bigwigs and famous leaders, but of the mill girls, the dockers, the suffragettes, the unionists, the clarionettes and weavers - the millions of 'ordinary' people who lived in, recorded and created such extraordinary times. the story of us...

key buildings encountered:

Albert Bridge House - EH Banks, 1958-9, ministry of works, for the tax office, hence perhaps its classical elegance. 18 storeys of reinforced concrete, it is clad in portland stone despite austerity era restrictions. sunlight glinting against its blue glass windows gives a jewelled luxury to the simplicity of the front elevation. from the riverside however, the tripartite composition really comes into play and reveals why Ian Nairn called it 'easily one of the best modern buildings in manchester.'

Aldine House - Leach rhodes walker, 1967. phased development for the land commission and home to the MEN for a while (hence the typeface-named baskerville house) the complex was designed around a peaceful court to provide a sense of community, suitably dressed with sculptures, water features & peaceful nooks, sadly now closed off. distinctive vertical cladding and porthole windows add a nautical flavour. the miesian aldine house itself was added by the firm in 1975 as their own hq, clad in polished black granite, and best viewed from bridge st.

Fairburn House - designed by Cruikshank & Seward, 1965 as offices, and later converted to a hotel, this is something of a grubby brute from the deansgate elevation, saving its unexpected delicacy for the riverside...

Highland House - leach rhodes walker, 1966. a glorious 23 storeys of towering elegance, punctuated with its funnel holed windows of stove enamelled steel, its dignity somewhat diminished by a gaudy purply respray over the original black and white patent finish.

Trinity Bridge - designed by santiago calatrave in 1996, this flagship footbridge between the 2 cities is a sculptural tour de force. a single strut supports the y shaped bridge and ramp by tension cables, resembling the mast of a simple fishing boat, listing salford-wards.

ps. note for fellow edwardians - the pump house is itself a significant building - the only surviving Edwardian hydraulic pumping station in the city, it used to supply power to the warehouses, wound the Town Hall clock and even raised the curtain at the Opera House!

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.

Friday, 9 July 2010

the manchester kiosks - a note on Gilbert Scott.

Giles Gilbert Scott(1880 –1960) was last in a distinguished line of architects. his grandfather was Sir George Gilbert Scott, who built the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras station and the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens, whilst his father after a promising start was to languish in asylums and family hideaways for much of his adulthood.

our Scott is famous for his blending of gothic tradition with modernism. he was to become a towering figure in 20th century architecture, creating iconic buildings wherever he went. he was RIBA president for its centenary year 1933, completed battersea power station in 1933, the new bodleian library in 1937-40, rebuilt the commons chamber at westminster palace after the 1941 bombing had destroyed it, and designed bankside power station now the magnificent Tate Modern.

yet he is perhaps best-known for his work on Liverpool Cathedral. when the competition for a 'Design for a twentieth century cathedral' was announced in 1902, he was a junior employee at his firm and an inexperienced 21 year old - he had previously only successfully designed a small pipe rack! nevertheless he was one of the five architects selected for the second round of the competition (his employer's designs were rejected) and subsequently went on to win in 1903. it was to become his life’s work which he worked on until his death in 1960; the cathedral was finished in 1978.

he is now buried with his wife outside the main entrance to Liverpool Cathedral where a K6 can also be found installed in his honour.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

K8 - new estates, modernist railway stations, remote windswept spots, 1965 - 1985

the young pretender -

designed by Bruce Martin, the funky K8 was the first serious challenger to K6. it was used primarily for new sites, around 11000 were installed, replacing earlier models only when they needed relocating or had been damaged beyond repair. the K8 retained a red colour scheme, but in a slightly brighter 'Poppy Red', which went on to be the standard colour across all kiosks. it was sassy, sleek and groovy in a tomorrows world, pans people sort of way, with its full glass panes and streamlined edges. less heritage and altogether more with it, more pop! spot one even today, and it looks modernistic, exciting and futuristic.

yet ironically, its relative success was partly due to its K6 inheritance. it took on some aspects of the failed experiment of the K7 (ie. a modern door handle, and full panes of toughened glass on three sides) but remained constructed of cast-iron, greatly adding to its resistance to the UK climate, and with some exceptions the all-over red livery was considered too important to be dispensed with - some K8's in Liverpool and Manchester were painted a distinctive 'Telecom Yellow', as opposed to 'Post Office Red'.and it never completely replaced the old war horse; K6 and K8 survived together into the 1980's, when the death knell for both were sounded with the arrival of the KX100 series.

this marks the real end of our story. the sad story of the red phone booth - they lost their domed roofs. then their red uniforms, and finally even their doors. they were on their way to becoming little more than posts with phones attached when a conservation movement in the 1990s persuaded BT to renovate, and even re-install, some of the old K6s. but this was all too late for the poor K8, now so rare as to be of special interest to the twentieth century society and a focus for one of their at risk campaigns.

at the last count only a handful of K8 remain. estimates vary from 12 to 20. if you see one, give us a ring and let us know!

Saturday, 3 July 2010

K6, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, one on every corner, everywhere, 1935 – 1965

designed once again by Sir Giles Gilbert-Scott in 1935 to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George V, this was the first truly national or nationwide kiosk, often referred to as the "London" or "English" phone box. it’s the one tourists the world over have their photos taken inside and still evokes the UK landscape whether bustling city or windswept countryside.

that essential tweaking of the K2 can also be spied throughout - the windows give greater visibility with the central panel of each horizontal band being wider that the others, whilst for night use there was an interior light (on a timer). the K6 also featured a writing shelf and, according to the GPO, "combined a smaller exterior with a roomier interior."

about 70, 000 k6’s were installed across the length and breadth of the country from 1936-1965 including four major design changes. boxes from the original 1936 Jubilee Kiosk programme of 8000 boxes have the entry and exit holes for the cable runs on opposite sides of the rear base of the box. from 1939, improved security measures called for a redesign that saw window frames rivetted rather than screwed, improved coin box fixings and the cable runs now brought together on one side of the box. also until 1952 all kiosks bore the Tudor Crown, until the present Queen introduced the St Edward’s crown, the one used for all coronations. this change happened in 1955 affecting all public telephones across the Empire, a useful dating clue for those obsessed by typological ordering.
although we think of the K6 as the red phone booth, there are some notable exceptions - kiosks installed in Hull were not fitted with a crown at all as they were installed by the Hull Corporation & were painted cream. they are also distinguishable by the complete absence of the crown, tudor or otherwise!

meanwhile there were battles fought across the land about the strident red colour, which wasn’t immediately well received and exceptions were made to appease their roll out - boxes for use in areas of outstanding natural beauty, could be painted Dark Battleship Grey with PO red window bars.

such teething problems ironed out, the K6 was to dominate the landscape for the next 30 years until the break-up of the gpo and the introduction of the new generation telecom boxes. in reality people increasingly had a phone in their own home, then came the mobile phone, the home computer and wifi, changing the way we communicate yet again, and making the need for these miniature buildings almost entirely obsolete. decommission was inevitable by the late 1980’s. yet the redundant k6 had an army of devotees, and a series of public campaigns led to some protection for some of the stragglers, with around 3000 becoming listed.

nowadays any surviving K6 can be designated a Grade II listed structure. the 4 survivors in city centre Manchester (two in st peters square, one on the corner of deansgate and Liverpool rd, and one on the top of st johns street) fall into this lucky category. they are in a pitiful state despite residing in prominent conservqtion areas of our 'original, modern city'.

pity that marketeers tag doesnt extend to the truly original & modernistic K6.....

Friday, 2 July 2010

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....

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

tales from the red telephone box

this spring has been truly busy at mms, seeing us waxing lyrical about the good old public pay phone. 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 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.

the result was Ailis Ni Riain’s haunting sound installation which premiered in MOSI's red kiosk and remained installed throughout the festival. we have plans to expand the project in the future, but in the meantime here for the historically minded is 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...