Last month Julian Cross, Design Lead Europe from Woods Bagot, took up our challenge of curating an architectural London Landmark Tour, we are thrilled to continue our series with Nicki Hearne, Associate Interior Designer at 5plus Architects, landmark tour of Manchester.
Which Manchester Landmark do you find most architecturally exciting?
Manchester has some wonderful, iconic landmark buildings so it’s a tough choice. For me, it would have to be The Corn Exchange as I have had the privilege of being involved in its restoration over the last few years so the excitement is personal. It is a beautiful, grade II listed building that began life in the late Victorian era as a bustling hub for the trade of produce. Declining trade led to its closure in the mid-20th Century and it was subsequently used as a somewhat eclectic market hall before being further reinvented as the Triangle Shopping Centre in the 1990’s. Many of the original internal features were concealed with the fit out of The Triangle and the building lacked connection with the busy city outside its walls. Watching the layers of modern intervention be peeled away has been like finding buried treasure. Beyond the dramatic, glass dome-topped central volume of the main hall, the stair cores and corridors are rich with ornate tiled walls, terrazzo floors and delicate wrought iron balustrades. It’s great to see such an amazing building come back to life and for its original features to be uncovered and celebrated.
Which Manchester building is a hidden/undiscovered/underappreciated gem?
It has to be The Hidden Gem, otherwise known as St. Mary’s Catholic Church. It is tucked away in a narrow back street between The Town Hall and John Rylands library, concealed by relatively modern and considerably less elegant neighbours. It is a curious mix of beautifully simple and highly ornate details that doesn’t quite hang together. The timber roof structure and stained glass windows are simple and unimposing yet, for me, far more beautiful than the hugely detailed stone carvings of the altars and shrine. The walls are lined with a series of very large canvasses painted in a modern, bold expressionist style that demands your attention. It’s a patchwork of the ages in an unlikely location and it’s fascinating.
Which Manchester outside space do you like to spend time in?
What Manchester lacks in green spaces it makes up for with vibrant street culture and I am fortunate enough to work in the city’s Northern Quarter, an area bursting with character, creativity and colour. The shops are small and unique, selling everything from art and craft supplies to reptiles to hipster threads, there are one-off cafés, bars and restaurants in abundance and the amazing street art changes almost daily. Outdoor café culture is alive and kicking (in spite of Manchester’s notoriously unpredictable climate!), the human traffic is delightfully eclectic and the juxtaposition of the area’s industrial era heritage and cutting edge modern-day culture means there’s never a dull moment.
Which historic Manchester building do you find inspirational?
London Road Fire Station. It occupies a prominent site opposite Piccadilly station so I have seen it almost daily for years. It’s a beautiful building with an interesting history that was sadly neglected for a long time by its former owner. However, it was sold a couple of years ago to current owners, Allied London, so it’s future is looking up. I’d love to get inside and explore. I have always had a thing for slightly decrepit spaces and places… I find it exciting to imagine what they once were and what they can become.
Which Manchester contemporary building (or extension) have you been excited to see unveiled?
The Whitworth Gallery extension. The original red brick gallery is over 125 years old and sits against the backdrop of Whitworth Park on the Oxford Road corridor. The new extension is unashamedly modern, doubles the internal display and storage space and allows a much stronger connection between the gallery’s interior and the park. The design and materials are clean, simple and minimal but sympathetic to the original building and to the park. What rounds it all off for me is the meticulous detailing of small but important internal features, such as wayfinding signage and timber handrails so perfectly smooth and tactile they actually stop you in your tracks.
Which Manchester interior do you enjoy being in?
John Rylands Library. Naturally, it’s a serene environment so it’s a great place to escape the noise of the city when you want some peace. Apparently it houses some amazing collections of books and manuscripts but I’ve always been far too enchanted with the building to notice. Stairwells and corridors are no less interesting than the grand reading room. The original building is neo-gothic and heavily detailed but without being fussy somehow and there is a modern extension that is pared back and minimal. I love the point where the two meet. It’s a sensitive connection and extremely successful to my eye. It’s like the new building is protecting the old.
What would you select to be on your architectural tour of Manchester? We would love to hear from you if you are interested in writing a tour of your home town?
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