Manchester UK

Modern Manchester Buildings (1)

Manchester’s building boom began in the 19th century,
and the city still retains much of its Victorian grandeur. However,
like many other UK cities it has also suffered from the excesses of
high rise building in steel and concrete in the 1960s and 70s; the
Crescents in Hulme, now thankfully gone, being possibly the most infamous
examples, and some of the city’s best buildings were demolished to
make way for many of these 20th century monstrosities. Fortunately,
there were some excellent buildings to offset the others – here are
the best and a few of the worst.

Gateway House

Station Approach, Piccadilly Rail Station,

Running along the whole length of Piccadilly Station Approach, Gateway
House is one of the visitor’s first views of the City of Manchester.

Gateway House, ManchesterGateway House, Piccadilly, Manchester
Gateway House, Piccadilly Station Approach

It was carried out as part of a greater improvement
and refurbishment of Piccadilly Station in the 1960s, and was actually
completed in 1969. Designed by Richard Seifert & Partners, its
sweeping curved glass frontage adds a somewhat baroque sense to the
old London Road approach to Manchester. At ground floor level are
shops. The site formerly houses several derelict warehouses of the
old Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway (the MS&LR).
Only one, the London
, still survives, nowadays as a new high class luxury
apartment block. See Also: Railway

Marks & Spencer Department

Corporation Street, Manchester.
On 15 June 1996, a 3,000lb terrorist car bomb exploded in Manchester,
ripping into the fabric of the city’s main shopping centre – among
them the original Marks & Spencer Department Store. See

IRA Bombing
. In the aftermath, the old store had to be completely
demolished, but M&S decided to rebuild – bigger, grander and better.
What resulted was the largest M&S department store in the world,
measuring over 32,500 square metres of space on four floors.

Marks & Spencer Old StoreMarks & Spencer New Store
Left: the original M&S Store – now demolished. Right: the new
M&S Store

The designers, Building Design Partnership, conceived
a monolithic concrete form, poured on-site, covering a footprint measuring
65 metres by 100 metres. Reinforcement of the concrete took 4,200
metric tons of steel, erected by the Bovis Company. Most of the exterior
is covered by glass curtain walling, with masonry in Jura Limestone
cladding. The whole project, computer designed had to be constructed
and completed over a two year period. The new building is umbilically
joined to the Arndale Shopping Centre by a superb glass suspended
walkway bridge to replace the original which was fatally damaged in
the bombing. The new building presents essentially glass wall on all
facades and has a major access point at the newly created Exchange
Square side to the north.

Piccadilly Plaza

Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester
Designed by Covell Matthews & Partners and built between 1959
and 1965, this was, from the outset, one of Manchester’s most controversial
buildings. Its sheer size out of all proportion to its architectural
merit or importance. Dominating Piccadilly Gardens on the south side,
it was remodelled and refurbished in 2001 by Leslie Jones Architects.
The complex is effectively four discrete units, the horizontal podium
block, the Piccadilly Hotel block, Sunley
Tower, and Bernard House, (currently under demolition and replacement).
The ground Floor of the podium contains shops, and there is underground
car parking. For many years the Plaza been home to Manchester’s Piccadilly

Piccadilly Hotel & the Sunley TowerSunley Tower, Piccadilly, ManchesterPiccadilly Plaza, Manchester

For much of its life, the Plaza’s untreated concrete
has grown ever more shabby, and in such a high profile central location,
nobody quite knew what to do with it.
In many ways, however, it is architecturally quite daring. The hotel
slab, with its cantilevered block overhanging Portland Street below
is initially quite breathtaking. Conversely, the office slab, Sunley
House, rises 24 storeys above the podium showing a rather blank concrete
side face to Piccadilly Gardens and the bus station below. This aspect
is actually surface decorated with concrete printed circuitry motifs
standing out in relief – a detail that has always failed to be recognised
by passers-by, and none but students of architecture have ever identified
them – a complete waste of time and effort. The Plaza is a good example
of the” Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and Mancunians tend
to either love it or hate it.

Arndale Centre

By the mid-1960s, the inner city area lying between
Withy Grove, Corporation Street, Shudehill and Market Street, was
ready for some serious redevelopment. It had grown up haphazard and
hotchpotch, many of its old cobbled streets were shabby and congested.

Manchester Arndale Centre ExteriorManchester Arndale Centre interior.Arndale Centre Tower, Manchester

Begun in 1972, by Arndale Property Trust, headed
by Sam Chippendale, on completion in 1979 it was the largest covered
town shopping centre in Europe, encompassing some 30 acres in the
old city centre, with over 200 shops, major department stores, restaurants
and fast food outlets. It has become a busy and active shopping arcade
with over 75,000 shoppers a day!
The Centre also houses an 1,800 space multi-storey car park, shopping
malls on two levels, office space in the tower, residential flats
at roof parking level, and the Arndale Centre Bus Station at Cannon
Street, (closed by the IRA bombing
of Manchester in 1996, and not yet reopened – its future somewhat
The design for the Centre was made by the architects Hugh Wilson and
Lewis Womersley, who had already redeveloped the University Precinct
on Oxford Road, as well as a considerable involvement in the redevelopment
of housing in the Hulme area.
It was a controversial development, obliterating some of Manchester’s
old streets and alleys, and stubbornly defying all the old Victorian
grandeur surrounding it, with its massive monolithic concrete forms
and unrelieved ceramic cladding. The whole project cost some £100
million – a then unthinkable sum.
The land earmarked for rebuilding had been designated as a “Comprehensive
Development Area” by the City Council. Many different companies
had bought and owned the land through the 1970s, but it was eventually
to be built by Town & City Properties, who, in the face of mounting
financial difficulties and substantial underwritten loans of over
£16 million, sold the lease to P&O Properties, who managed
the complex until 1998 when it was taken over by the Prudential.
The Centre houses many major department stores and famous High Street
names, including W H Smith, BHS, Littlewoods, Mothercare, Tandy’s,
etc, as well as innumerable other smaller concessions.
It’s very large beige coloured tiled cladding is looking a little
tired nowadays, despite having been designed as “self-cleaning”
– an experiment that clearly failed! The whole northern frontage in
Corporation street has been completely rebuilt in the aftermath of
the bombing, and presents an altogether more attractive aspect to
the newly created Exchange Square.
Generally, though its interiors provide a pleasant enough shopping
environment, the exterior is widely disliked for its blandness and
scale: there are many (residents and visitors alike) who feel that
this mid-1960s concept is too gargantuan an edifice to dominate the
city centre, surrounded as it is with so many other fine period buildings.

A complete renovation of the much-hated exterior of the Arndale Centre
has recently been completed as well as revamping Market Street. Work
began in February 2003. Its infamous yellow tiles have disappeared!
A new entrance atrium, Cromford Court, has been created and floodlit
at night. Further redevelopment is currently in progress at the Cannon
Street-Shudehill end of the complex.

The CIS Tower

The Co-operative Wholesale Society, Miller
Street, Manchester
Probably the best of all the 1960s high rise Manchester
office blocks – it rises some 25 storeys, over 400 feet above ground
level. Building began in 1959, and this tall tower dominates the approach
to Manchester from Bury and Cheetham Hill in the north.

CIS Tower, Manchester

It was to be the Co-operative Society’s flagship
head office and administrative centre in Manchester.
The design team, who included the Co-op’s own G S Hay and Gordon Tait
of Burnett, Tait & Partners, had actually visited Chicago in the
USA to study the Inland Steel Building by celebrated architect/engineers,
Skidmore Owings & Merril to gain inspiration for the project –
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.
Three aims had been dictated by the owners – 1) the building should
create prestige for the company, 2) it should complement and improve
the skyline of Manchester, and 3) it should provide a first class
working environment for the staff. It was deemed to have fulfilled
all three requirements on completion in 1962.
The building is really two stuck together – one a steel and glass
tower, which is the working offices area of the building, and the
other adjoining as a windowless mosaic covered concrete service tower.
No expense was spared on quality – all steel was black enamelled,
and the mosaic covering, though expensive, was designed to protect
and render the concrete virtually maintenance-free. Both materials
have withstood the subsequent 40 years of Manchester grime, and the
building still looks relatively smart after four decades of exposure
to the worst that Manchester has thrown at it. The spacious entrance
hall carries a fibreglass mural by William Mitchell. The interior
cherry and teak veneers were researched and recommended by Misha Black
and the Design Research Team.

Former National Westminster Bank

55 King Street, Manchester
In its time this National Westminster Bank building was
the most expensive in Manchester, costing over £12 million.
Designed by Casson, Conder & Partners between 1966-69, it is a
fortress-like edifice, purposely built in black stone to resist the
(then) notorious Manchester soot which covered virtually all the buildings
in the city centre. This sombreness was also thought appropriate for
the bank’s former northern headquarters, overseeing 700 branches throughout
the northwest of England.

NatWest Bank, King Street

Eventually to be knighted, Sir Hugh Casson was
senior member of the design partnership – it had been he who had laid
out the Festival of Britain in London in 1951. Later he was to become
President of the Royal Academy. The bank was constructed in situ of
monolithic poured concrete with steel reinforcement, as an all-concrete
shell with transfer beams and external voids for window apertures
– a simple elegant design solution.
It’s rough hand-tooled vertically ribbed dark cladding of Swedish
granite is perhaps its most distinctive external feature, apart from
its great bulk as it dwarfs other commercial buildings around it –
though only six storeys above ground it has an outstanding massiveness
which dominates King Street. There are also 3 basement storeys below
street level. The building’s ground floor is now a small retail shopping

See also:

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© John Moss, Papillon Graphics AD 2013 Manchester, United Kingdom – all rights reserved.
This page last updated 22 Nov 12.