Manchester's always taken pride in its innovativeness - this is where the first atom was split and the first computer built.
Many of the city's new buildings are huge glass and steel structures - created by indigenous talents such as Ian Simpson Architects and Hodder Associates, and international names such as Daniel Libeskind, Michael Wilford, Michael Hopkins and Arup Associates.
Just as glass and steel are of the moment, Manchester has always been interested in avant garde design. Manchester's healthy architectural past includes the likes of the Daily Express Building at Great Ancoats Street by Owen Williams (1939), and Edwin Lutyens's impressive 1929 bank at 100 King Street. The interior has suspended bells which the architect also used in the Viceroy of India's House, indicative of Manchester's industrial past, when it was the powerhouse of the British Empire and began trading with far-flung continents. In this city, grand Victorian redbrick buildings and warehouses stand testament to the those days and, crucially, the new buildings sit happily alongside the old. Manchester has come through a period of industrial decline and is displaying a new confidence.
Last year Manchester was adorned with a host of exciting new buildings and parts of the skyline became distinctly glittering. Architect Michael Wilford's stainless-steel clad Lowry Centre, a few miles from the city centre at Salford Quays, near Old Trafford, welcomed a shiny new neighbour in the form of the Imperial War Museum North by architect Daniel Libeskind, covered in aluminium. In the town centre local architect Ian Simpson created two buildings: an apartment block at 1 Deansgate and an extraordinary narrow sand-blasted glass tower to house the Urbis museum in. Also down town Michael Hopkins Architects extended the Manchester Art Gallery, doubling its size, in a Â£25 million scheme.
While Manchester United thrives in the lost opportunity that is the Old Trafford stadium, Manchester City FC has got a racy new stadium, courtesy of the Commonwealth Games (the reason why so many buildings were finished last year). The Â£77m stadium by Arup Associates is an impressive structure of masts, elegant curves and spiralling entrance towers.
The Lowry Centre and Imperial War Museum North are away from the city centre in a part of Manchester that was in very poor shape only 10 years ago. Both are extroverts which boast their presence across the still rather undeveloped landscape that separates this area from the city centre.
Both metal-clad buildings were created by architects who, coincidentally, owe much of their international reputation to buildings they designed in Germany. Libeskind was born in Poland, became an American citizen and registered as an architect in Germany where he designed the Jewish Museum Berlin, which opened in 2001. Michael Wilford joined the late Jim Stirling's practice straight from architectural school, worked with him for 33 years and took over the firm on his partner's untimely death in 1992. The pair designed the acclaimed Staatsgallerie in Stuttgart in 1984, and Wilford recently designed a music school in Mannheim.
The Manchester War Museum, LibeskindÂ¹s first British building, is testament to the architectÂ¹s unusual design inspirations. His Berlin museumÂ¹s outline was, he says, determined by lines he drew, on a map, to and from certain homes in the old Jewish quarter, and the Manchester museumÂ¹s three curving sections are said to represent earth, air and water. As Libeskind, currently on the shortlist to rebuild the World Trade Centre, says: "The IWMN is fundamentally based on the contemporary world shattered into fragments and reassembled as a fundamental emblem of conflict. These fragments, shards or traces of history, are in turn assembled on this site and projected beyond it." Some sceptics scoff at such rationalisation, not least someone (who shall remain nameless) who has worked closely with Libeskind, but the war-torn shards make for nice imagery.
The building's three interlocking shards comprise the museum space, which signifies Earth; the entrance hall which conveys Air and the restaurant, deck and performance space overlooking the canal, that symbolises Water. The building is a typical Libeskind structure, knitting high design and low cost (Â£15m). One visitor says it works perfectly as an anti-war museum as it is so oppressive she had to run back out again within 20 feet of the entrance.
Michael Wilford's Lowry Centre, a Â£100m theatre and art gallery, houses the world's largest collection of works by Salford-born artist L.S. Lowry. As with the War Museum, this building is a composition of various shapes in metal and glass that express the simple internal layout. Built on a triangular site, amid former docks, you enter beneath a giant, free-standing canopy. Beyond the entrance area is the lofty, tilted auditorium structure and on the two wings are rectangular art galleries. The circulation space, between entrance, auditorium, galleries and restaurant feels suitably grand, marking the occasion of your visit.
With the surrounding area not yet fully resolved, comprising a collection of object buildings that aren't all co-ordinated in a coherent urban plan, not all buildings at Salford Quays have been of such grand design - there are plenty of dull apartments and office blocks. Right opposite the Lowry Centre is a designer outlet - those who hanker after cut-price Karen Millen, Whistles and ski gear will have to let their lust for a bargain override their aesthetic sense.
Back in the city centre, the merging of old and new has been successful, with worthwhile old buildings being revamped, such as the Royal Exchange Theatre, which marked the start of Manchester's regeneration in the 1970s. It was transformed by Levitt Bernstein, which is now working for Ballymun Regeneration.
Few people loved the 1970s Arndale building, which bore the brunt of the bomb. At the site of the blast is a new tubular glass footbridge by Hodder Associates. Manchester also has a bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava, who has now created one for Dublin which can be seen, near completion, on the Liffey near Heuston station.
Also on the former bomb site is a new glass apartment building at 1 Deansgate. Responding to the weather conditions, and our love of conservatories and balconies, the apartments have a double glass skin, with the second layer sheltering the balconies. Replying to criticism of the building, architect Ian Simpson displays local pride: "You could have brick built housing with punched windows and a zinc roof, but I think Manchester deserves better than that."
Simpson also designed the nearby Urbis exhibition centre, another shimmering glass-clad giant, this time long and thin with a dramatic curved end that demands attention. It has reopened a part of the city that was for many decades a car-park cut off from the heart of Manchester by the Arndale centre. This is only Simpson's second new building and shows how brave Manchester City Council has been.
IT'S NOT all wonderful, there are some distinctly dull commercial developments in Manchester, but it's easy to look across the water from here and say; "I want that." Physically Manchester is not far off the size of Dublin, although it supports a population of more than 2.5 million. It is also situated in a country dominated by London, so it shows just what "second" cities can achieve.
Manchester City Council won an accolade from the RIBA Journal (Royal Institute of British Architects) for consistently commissioning exciting urban buildings. This is the sort of recognition that Temple Bar achieved: let's not stop there.
- Old Master
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