Thursday, 12 November 2009

Ten Years After

Julian Holder's review of MANCHESTER ARCHITECTURE GUIDE appeared in The Architects' Journal 27 May 1999

Nearly 10 years ago Deyan Sudjic ridiculed Manchester's aspirations to bid for the Olympics in the year 2000 by reason that its architectural character was defined by razor wire, security doors and industrial warehouses, writes Julian Holder. Since then a lot has changed, not least through losing the Olympics bid and having the heart blown out of the city by the ira.

With the wraps now coming off new buildings at a rate of knots, this guide is a timely contribution to the current renaissance of architecture and civic pride in Manchester. The last such guide was by Dennis Sharp in 1966. Then a Victorian building such as the Midland Railway Hotel was ridiculed for terracotta that looked like 'jellied liver'. Like it or not (and not so long ago we didn't), such commercial architecture is one of the glories of Manchester, while some of its public buildings created new standards in the nineteenth century.

If it's a while since you've seen Manchester, this handsome guide, genuinely pocket-sized, will be an eye-opener. This is not merely for the exciting new works it illustrates, such as Stephenson Bell's Quay Bar, but for the quality of James White's photographs, which give a Claudian golden glow to the former 'rainy city'. Courtesy of global warming, this reputation is now undeserved as Manchester has, allegedly, a lower annual rainfall than Madrid. In truth, you have to get up early on a summer morning to see the city quite like this, but the photographs make you want to.

With an authoritative introduction by John Archer, the guide's only danger is being overtaken by the present rapid pace of development in Manchester. Descriptions of the 69 sites, from the thirteenth-century Chetham's School to Calatrava's Trinity Bridge of 1996, are brief but sensitive, and the layout and overall design are excellent. Given the number of visitors expected for the Commonwealth Games in 2002, it should be a winner. Aimed at the incomer and tourist, the guide has useful maps for the six colour- coded routes around the city centre, together with suggestions for eating and drinking, a glossary, and an index of architects. It is a model that many other cities could follow in search of the heritage pound.

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