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Manchester Architecture (Manchester International Festival Walks, 2017)
Fri 7 July 2017, 13:30 – 15:30 BST
According to The Builder magazine: “One can scarcely walk about Manchester without coming across frequent examples of the grand in architecture. There is nothing to equal it since the building of Venice.”
Okay, that was written in the 1850s because for 19th century grandeur Manchester is hard to beat. There are Classical meeting halls and clubs, Italianate cotton palaces, Gothic towers and spires, and Baroque banks – and all of it is stolen, stolen from grand European creations which hopeful architects had sketched on their Grand Tour and then reproduced across the city.
The Gran Guardia Vecchia in Verona provided Edward Walters with a model for the Free Trade Hall; the St Mark’s Campanile in Venice was adapted by Thomas Worthington for the Police Courts on Minshull Street; Ypres Cloth Hall became Manchester Town Hall.
In the 20th century the new architects adopted a similar approach, but this time it was the gleaming skyscrapers of Chicago and New York that enthused them. However those in charge of Manchester refused to let progressive architects such as Harry S Fairhurst and Joe Sunlight fill the skyline with granite and glass, and so Manchester missed out on one of the most exciting periods in building history. Restrictions on height eased after the Second World War but Manchester was – and still is – nervous of reaching for the stars. Beetham is our only serious tower, but it is a dwarf, a stripling compared to the glories that Adrian Smith, Chris Wilkinson and Renzo Piano are creating across the globe.
We examine the city’s building legacy as we twist in and out of the city centre streets, straining our necks for a glimpse of a glorious Gaudi-like gable, a Venetian vista, a Greek giant order; a stroke of sacred geometry.