In a brief period of warmth during the Cold War a waggish Whitehall mandarin was no doubt responsible for the designation of the 1967 telephone exchange at 34 George Street in Manchester as Rutherford House, subtly indicating (with that reference to the scientist who had worked in the city and experimented on the atom) the presence of the atomic bomb-proof nuclear bunker code-named ‘Guardian’ (Ho ho!). The Russkies would never have worked it out!
A ‘rather drab and innocuous telephone exchange’ is how it is described by the property company Bruntwood which suggests only a passing interest in the subtleties of this fine piece of utilitarian design. Canniffe and Jefferies described it rather more positively in the Manchester Architecture Guide (1999).
Despite its dilapidated condition, this building demonstrates a sophisticated and controlled design aesthetic. Its Italian Rationalist inspired elevation to George Street refers to the work of Giuseppe Terragni. Plane and grid are skilfully manipulated, articulating the fenestration to reflect the activities taking place in the offices within and expressing the framed structure of the building.
Refurbished and extended by Stephenson Bell, and rebranded as The Exchange the original qualities of the building have been maintained and updated with the addition of a glazed entrance pavilion to the ‘New’ York Street which connects to some of Bruntwood’s less sensitive developments, demonstrating the positive values of a contextual approach.