Ex-changing Squares

Exchange Square

As long ago as the early nineteenth century Joseph Aston observed in “The Manchester Guide” that the town had no civic spaces of any merit and it would appear that fine tradition continues.The Manchester Evening News reports that two recent attempts to design public spaces ‘New’ Piccadilly and Exchange Square in Manchester are to be refurbished only a few years after their completion. The lawns of Piccadilly, a prominent feature of EDAW’s redesign of the space, are to be made less accessible to the throng they attract, and Exchange Square, originating from a project by Martha Schwartz, is to have its lighting/paving replaced by materials better able to withstand use. Olive trees and strawberry trees are to be introduced, in perhaps an as misguidedly optimisic gesture as the palm trees Schwartz specified in the late nineties. If the pessimism of this posting is a little too jaded, one only has to remember the prophetic redundancy of the 1981 Royal Wedding fountain in Lincoln Square, and the short-lived obelisk-clock on Market Street to realise that Manchester’s history of public realm projects is lamentable. Those with some semblance of urban memory might recall that the old Piccadilly Gardens were ruined by the city fathers’ introduction of a funfair (including a big wheel) in the late eighties, and so one naturally wonders what will follow the removal of the present big wheel from Exchange Square? Still, this frequently changing situation does at least help attract international attention, as is demonstrated by Exchange Square’s induction into the New York based “Project for Public Spaces: Hall of Shame” where the citation includes the observation that

“Its fancy paving, sweeping design statements and hidden water feature dress the square up, but leave the user with no place to go.”

Project for Public Spaces

Festschrift for John Archer

JHGA Nov 04

Thursday 11 January saw Continuity in Architecture attending a celebration for the eightieth birthday of the architectural historian John Archer. John is a former lecturer at the University of Manchester School of Architecture, and the event was hosted by the Manchester Metropolitan University, the successor institution to the Manchester Municipal College of Art from which he graduated in 1953. The evening was organised by the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society, and John was presented with a specially bound volume of their new book “Making Manchester: Aspects of the History of Architecture in the City and Region since 1800: Essays in honour of John H.G. Archer” edited by Clare Hartwell and Terry Wyke. Among the collection of essays is one by CiA contributor Andrew Crompton entitled “The Destruction of Durnford Street School, Middleton” recording the demise of a pioneering work by Edgar Wood, the architect who has been the subject of constant research by John since his undergraduate days. In the photograph John is pictured outside Wood’s most celebrated and extraordinary work, the First Church of Christ Scientist, Victoria Park, Manchester.

Heaven Up Here

St Walburge
Up close

Historic buildings in the care of the Catholic Church in England and Wales have an uncertain future – particularly in inner urban areas where congregations and income have dramatically declined. English Heritage (link: Paradise Lost) admit the relative lack of attention given to these buildings. Of 3,465 Catholic churches and chapels in England and Wales, only 625 are currently listed (St Walburge’s in Preston, in the picture above, is one of them). As English Heritage states: “The fact that the history and architecture of Catholic churches and their importance as part of our heritage has gone largely unrecognised has compounded the problems now facing Catholic dioceses.” The lack of attention and interpretation is being redressed to some extent by the funding of ‘inventories’ of buildings in the Dioceses of Lancaster and Arundel and by the recent publication of A Glimpse of Heaven by Christopher Martin (alternative link).

building In the distance

In the near future a large proportion of the Catholic churches in the centre of Preston (for example) will have lost their original function. Will local authorities be prepared to fight for the survival of these crucial definers of the city’s image and structure?

overvieweast In the ‘fifties

? The question we’ve all been asking. Not.


What mysterious fate awaits this curious piece of unoccupied land in central Manchester? Is the area formerly known as Gaythorn, between the former British Council HQ (the square gasometer) and the Hacienda apartments (on the site formerly occupied by Fac 51 The Hacienda nightclub) going to witness an astounding addition to the cityscape? Or will the oversaturated residential market receive another example of late-post-neo-loft-living? One thing is certain. The marketing strategy will have more to recommend it than the architecture.


Separated at birth?


We have been surprised to note the similarity between the recently completed housing by FAT in New Islington, Manchester and the Golden Nugget in the resort of Morecambe. Eschewing the attractions of this hitherto unresearched area of the Lancastrian vernacular, which can span between “Dutch gables” and the ‘Wild West” (perhaps a too, too clever reference to New Amsterdam? ) the principal differences would appear to be in the nuances of car parking etiquette. Unlike the desperadoes of Morecambe, the cowboys of the new frontier which is New Islington have nowhere for tethering horses.