Modernism Manchester And Me Cultural Studies Essay

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This essay's genesis emerged during a walking talk by Maureen Ward of the Manchester Modernist Society. I had believed I was familiar with the Manchester landscape, and was surprised to discover a whole complex of buildings that had never registered on my cultural radar. The remarkable buildings of Arthur Gibbons, almost luminous on a dark late autumn afternoon, seemed to belong to a different city, and I was not surprised to discover they had been inspired by Oscar Niemeyer's [a] Brasilia constructions [ii] . It is not intended to describe the use and function of these buildings, Pevsners 'Architectural Guide to Manchester' [iii] , provides brief descriptions for each building. This is a contextual overview, outlining the concept of modernist architecture and the origins, function and possible future of these particular buildings.

There are many buildings in the Modernist style in Manchester, there is a magazine 'The Modernist' and web site [iv] that list many of them. The buildings in consideration here are the buildings I refer to as the UMIST [v] or UMIST complex. However I have also included some buildings that are in close proximity to the campus, and although not part of the campus are designed on Modernist principles.

Modernism has it's roots in post war Europe, in particular in architecture "The International Style created in the 1920's principally by Le Corbusier, Gropius and Mies van der Rohe." [vi] , According to Judith Attfield, the period ended in the early 1980's "a moment when the paths of modern and post-modern design crossed, when 'modern' became old-fashioned and no longer applied to contemporary life" [vii] .

The style is relatively easy to recognise, constructions are simple, clean lines, little decoration, little that is superfluous. New techniques in construction are enabled by new materials such as concrete. There is also reference to the machine age, as Penny Sparke pointed out when Bauhaus began making objects of this nature, 'modern architects had been been developing the idea of the 'machine aesthetic' for some time' [viii] . But open more or less any page in Le Corbusiers Radiant City [ix] and it is obvious that improving people's lives is his priority. There are constant references to light, space and confusingly perhaps in the twenty first centaury, to lungs. At the time heavy pollution, primarily existed at ground level, building a house on top of a house, houses in the sky, an obvious solution.

'Organised societies has been making artificial sites from the beginning!

And I am called a madman because I propose to carry this tradition further by increasing the number of these superimposed and equipped artificial sites, because modern techniques make it possible to perch 20 or 30 or 50 artificial sites on top of one another.'

Le Corbusier

When first approaching UMIST, standing at point A on the map shown in Fig 9, many of the design objectives can be seen clearly.

Note the buildings operating on different levels. The UMIST campus reflects many aspects of these schemes throughout. As in the above quick sketches, the buildings are constructed on several layers, pillars are used to hold them up, so you can walk beneath them, steps and bridges connect layers together.

This layering technique had to be created.

Manchester's landscape, located on a valley floor, is flat. This landscape is as artificial as the buildings upon it,

These buildings were constructed in the post war period. The area consisted of older commercial and housing stock, these are illustrated in the photograph below. The photograph also indicated how flat the landscape is. I have placed a red line approximately where a motorway, The Mancunian Way will eventually be located. All buildings were demolished, and the UMIST complex was built between the Mancunian Way and an existing Railway line.

The Buildings were designed principally by Manchester architects and designers. Manchester at the time was radically different to present Manchester. The industrial revolution had ended but pollution was still severe and most buildings were dark, almost black. This was combated throughout the 1960s and 70s by clean air acts, the below chart shows how the levels of pollution were drastically reduced.

Two aspects of the complex are immediately apparent, the first, as mentioned, the colour of the buildings, the polar opposite of the existing surroundings, many were brilliant white. The second was the scale and integration. Manchester was used to large buildings, having huge warehouses and mills, but they were ad hoc. These buildings were built as a complex, each building constructed in relation to each other, connected by walkways, under and over passes and bridges. The general impression was of a new and entire city being placed in the Manchester landscape.

This city was new and in a sense alien, not only by aspect but by intention. The 'aspect' is obvious, the impression was almost space age, as may be expected if Modernist buildings are placed, in a very short time, in a Victorian city. The 'intention' requires some explanation. These buildings are University buildings, aimed at the academic world. There is no reason why the general population should venture there. There are no shops or bars or any points of interest for the general public. It is not a gateway or throughway to anywhere else. The area is not included in most guide books, for example not one building is mentioned in 'Manchester Architecture Guide' [x] and only scant reference in 'Manchester An Architectural History' [xi] . In an unscientific poll, I queried many friends and relatives many who had been to University's elsewhere, and nobody was familiar with this complex. As most people that attend this University are not from Manchester it is possibly true that more people living outside of Manchester are familiar with this complex than people that live in the city. UMIST is almost a Hidden City within the city.

Popularity, recognition or fame is not the register of importance. Although this complex may only be familiar to the initiated, and obscure to others, these buildings are as much a part of the fabric of the city as the town hall. Academic Manchester is as important as Industrial or Commercial Manchester.

A list of the buildings that comprised the first wave of UMIST buildings.

Chandos Hall; Cruickshank &Seward 1962-4.(W.A.Gibbon)

Renold Building; Cruickshank &Seward 1962.(W.A.Gibbon)

Six stories. A key hub with more than a dozen lecture theatres of different sizes.

Barnes Wallis Building; Cruickshank &Seward 1963-6.(W.A.Gibbon)

Staff House; Worthington 1960

Pariser Building; Fairhurst 1963

Mathamatics and Science Building; Cruickshank &Seward 1966-68.(W.A.Gibbon)

Ferranti Building; Cruickshank &Seward 1969

Faraday Building; Fairhurst 1967

There are a number of buildings in the complex that I have not included either because they predate the Modernist period [xii] , or are on the periphery.

Many buildings, some post modern, have been added and some aspects of the initial design disrupted. The original wide open, imposing steps shown below gave this part of Manchester a European influence, they have now been reduced by more than half, and hardly register as a design feature.

It is interesting to note the differences between the buildings. Most are by Cruikshank and Seward. It is their influence that appears prevalent, all their buildings being white or at least very pale in colour. These buildings seem to be making a statement of intent, a clear statement of use. The Ferranti building for example is clearly a building where science happens, it has a laboratory aesthetic.

Other architects such as Fairhurst, approach was different. The Pariser Building , although contemporary appears pedestrian in comparison. This could be an anonymous office block anywhere in the city. This is not a criticism of the buildings functionality; at a functional level it no doubt equals the surrounding buildings. It may even be more suitable as this building appears to be multi purpose and may be adaptable for changing use. The Ferranti building on the other hand is doomed for destruction if the nature of its build intention, changes.

Although the periphery of the campus has changed, in some parts radically, the heart of the complex is much as it would have been the day it was competed. The Renolds building is an exemplary example.

Below are a series of photographs that show the building first as a model, then shortly after completion including annotation, then a photograph I took in November 2012. The vantage points are different, but the building is as uncluttered and as pristine in my image, as in the picture taken shortly after completion. The staircase is a classic example of Modernist design, it is a necessary artefact presented as spectacle. Not only is it striking, in use with people descending and ascending it is, and was intended to be, a captivating sight.

The Barnes Wallis building opposite is similar. Unfortunately I could not locate any photographs of the building very early days, and public photographs have unreliable dates, but my photograph shows remarkable similarity to numerous others, the example below being typical. The building looks more like it has just been constructed in a recent photograph (on the left), than photographs taken nearer that time.

As discussed there are significant differences between the different architectural practises, but there are differences in style with the same architects. As illustration, the Mathematics and Science building and the Ferranti building were both executed in the later half of the sixties, both modernist in style, both by the same architect.

The Mathematics building, the tallest building in the complex, and a landmark, one of the tallest buildings in Manchester at it's time. Clad in concrete, and at points windowless, it is in a style often referred to as 'Brutalist' (possibly from the French beton brut [xiii] ). The building is imposing, solid and austere.

In contrast the Ferranti building is low and sleek. Also made of reinforced concrete, the finish is completely different. Imagine touching each building, the first would be rough and harsh, the second smooth. The Ferranti building is unique but there are buildings similar in style, some by Le Corbusier or Hans Scharoun's hostel building in Breslau. The style is European, the style of the Mathematics and Social Science building, on the other hand is principally British. Brutalism is not exclusively British, but the weather worn concrete façade that can also be seem in for example London's South bank Centre, is mainly manifest here [xiv] .

Separated slightly by location and time was the BBC building, New Broadcasting House, 9 on the 'UMIST map'. Designed along modernist lines and completed in 1975 by the BBC architect R.A. Sparks [xv] . By 2012 this building, like the UMIST buildings, was found surplus to requirements. No other use could be found for the building and it was demolished.

In December 2012 the UMIST complex is has also declared surplus to requirements [xvi] parts of the complex, such as the Mathematics and Science Building are already empty. The buildings future is uncertain; no building has been listed, though curiously the Hollaway Wall has been [xvii] . The future like the BBC block may be demolition. There is another building, on the 'UMIST map', just south of the BBC building, the National Computing Centre, like a number of the UMIST buildings by Cruickshank &Seward completed 1964, and would look completely in place as part of the UMIST complex. . This building has found a new use and its future looks secure. Though the matter is complex, there are many variables, and each building may have a different future. The current situation is temporary, the situation is already in flux. The buildings must find a new use or be brought down. It is unlikely that all buildings can be suitably reconfigured, so it is unlikely that the complex will exist in the same form in the near future.