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!

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