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something that could be located in any city in any country anywhere in the world.


And yet Manchester has one of the strongest identities of any British city, one of muscular buildings with richly-modelled facades of depth and texture through the use of stone and brick. It’s a pity then that the universal contemporary architectural language of glass could not have been modified here of all places, especially given the presence of the Gothic John Rylands Library at the eastern fringes of the site (which has been given an extension. Of glass). And the city’s legacy of intricate passageways is not best served by anything here.


Spinningfields will undoubtedly be successful on its own terms and its shops will be popular. Its streets will certainly be busy, but do all streets deserve to be so animated? Quietness is sometimes a good thing, and a city needs contrasts of activity and stillness as well as of scale and function.


There is a curious, ironic postscript. Given the fate of most of the post-war buildings on the site, it is odd to say the least that the new scheme has actually resurrected a crucial element of the 1945 plan for the city. A processional route now leads through to Deansgate in a direct line from the ceremonial entrance steps of the Crown Court, although these have been rather brutally cut back, the flanking foundation stones re-set and the court’s perimeter lawn reshaped.


Finally, to be clear; the foregoing is not a plea for stasis. Cities change. It is, rather, a consideration of the nature of that change and what it can mean, using one recent example. For that reason, Manchester matters.






Posted 26 January 2011


Spin - MC #3
Spin - MC #4

The main entrance lobby of the YRM building from the mezzanine, showing its generous height and travertine cladding, and one of the court floor waiting areas

Chris Rogers  |  Writer on architecture and visual culture

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