Stockport – Pillar Boxes

I’m ashamed to say I pass by you almost every day, yet never even break step to say hello.

On occasion I’ve paused to post a card or letter, yet never let-on.

Things are about to change.

Today I stopped, stared and snapped – hot footed it home to read all about you, yes you.

Just you two.

A pair of Type G EIIR pillar boxes – it say so here.

Royal Mail Post Boxes – A joint policy statement

Developed from an earlier design of 1968 by David Mellor, so he’s almost your dad!

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He has a shop, factory, heritage installation, exhibits in the Design Museum and a well kept grave, sadly he passed in 2009, I don’t suppose anybody bothered to tell you.

Wallpaper (asterix) magazine wrote all about him and his Hathersage Heritage.

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They even make mugs to commemorate you and your kind, you and your British Colour Colour Council BS538 post office red complexion, don’t look so embarrassed.

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The British Colour Council was founded in 1931 in an attempt to standardise colours in use by government and industry throughout the UK. Official indexes of British Standard colours, each given its own colour name and number, began to be produced.

So here you are, my two new friends, ignorance is not bliss.

Posting is.

 

 

Water Towers

There are vertical features in our landscapes.

Prominent architecture, largely functionalist.

We can travel from pylon to pylon, spire to spire.

I espy water towers, and espouse the recording thereof.

I was first aware of the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher  many years ago, as a young art student I developed an empathy for their matter of fact photography, and a warm sense of the familiar with the largely industrial, everyday subject matter.

I have often made light hearted reference, to their austere conceptual grids.

The bungalows of Humbertson Fittes Lincolnshire

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The British Rail freight van stables of Greater Manchester

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And of course water towers, some are familiar to me in the areas around south Manchester, easily accessibly by bicycle across the Cheshire Plain. So over time I have set out with a clear intent or serendipitous disposition, a modern day Don Quixote, sans Sancho Panza, tilting and snapping at towers.

Access is not always easy, or permitted for that matter – there are gates and fences to overcome, brambles and barbed wire to catch yourself on, but it’s always worth it. As a typology they are various, in design, structure and materials.

Summer 2014 I cycled from Hastings to Cleethorpes, following where possible a coastal route, in search of nothing in particular. Needless to say I found several water towers, eight of note – amongst other things.

Ghosts – Blackpool

“Each time he took a walk, he felt as though he were leaving himself behind, and by giving himself up to the movement of the streets, by reducing himself to a seeing eye, he was able to escape the obligation to think, and this, more than anything else, brought him a measure of peace, a salutary emptiness within…By wandering aimlessly, all places became equal and it no longer mattered where he was. On his best walks he was able to feel that he was nowhere. And this, finally was all he ever asked of things: to be nowhere.”

Paul Auster – City of Glass.

 

Blackpool – repository of ghosts, dreams, closure, openings, opaque glass.

They come and go on the tide, swept aside before they’re built.

Lost, amongst the listless signs of disappearing possibilities.

There’s no time to bury the past.

Unjustly, it just weathers wearily away.

 

 

Wilko’s – Blackpool

Formerly the site of a much larger, much busier Blackpool North Station – a time when trains arrived sixteen coaches long.

As seen in this archive film of the 1940s.

Cars and closures caused the station to withdraw up the road, to its current much smaller site.

Subsequently Fine Fare arrives with a fanfare of moulded plastic panels, and cast concrete walls.

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Opened on May 22nd 1979 by the Goodies.

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Superseded by Food Giant, Gateway, Dunnes Stores, Kwik Save and Somerfields – possibly others, currently Wilkinson’s Wilko Superstore and Age UK, retaining at all times the attractive integral car park.

Wilko is now to be relocated and the site redeveloped as part of the second phase of the £220m Talbot Gateway – whereby trams will link the promenade with the Station.

Possibly.

The tale is the typical mix of Council, Developer on/off, binary obfuscation, secrecy, smoke and mirrors.

Councillor Fred Jackson says:

“We are in talks with our development partner Muse but there is a confidentiality agreement so there is very little I can say.”

Whatever the outcome I do hope the panels are saved, having notified Historic England several weeks ago, I eagerly await their hurried and considered response…

In the meantime get y’self on the choo-choo to Blackpool North toot sweet, and have a gander at a fine Fine Fare plastic panel or two, before you can’t.

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Preston Bus Station – Step Inside Love

Much has been written, snapped and said about the exterior of this fine building, so much so that its primary function is often forgotten or overlooked.

Architectural tourism aside, day in day out, people and things are moved from here to there, shelter and information are provided as standard.

Sustenance is offered, in one form or another.

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After all’s said and done, and snapped it is a bus station.

What do you expect?

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Burnage – Garden Village

Spring’s in the air, let’s take a walk down leafy lanes, far from the traffic’s roaring boom and the silence of my lonely room – well not that far.

Burnage.

 

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The housing estate of 136 houses known as Burnage Garden Village, a residential development covering an area of 19,113sqm off the western side of Burnage Lane in the Burnage ward. The site is situated approximately six kilometres south of the city centre and is arranged on a broadly hexagonal layout with two storey semi-detached and quasi detached dwelling houses situated on either side of a continuous-loop highway. The highway is named after each corresponding compass point with two spurs off at the east and west named Main Avenue and West Place respectively. Main Avenue represents the only access and egress point into the estate whilst West Place leads into a resident’s parking area.

The layout was designed by J Horner Hargreaves. Houses are loosely designed to Arts and Crafts principles, chiefly on account of being low set and having catslide roofs.

At the centre of the garden village and accessed by a network of pedestrian footpaths, is a resident’s recreational area comprising a bowling green, club house and tennis courts. The estate dates from approximately 1906 and was laid out in the manner of a garden suburb with characteristic hedging, front gardens, grass verges and trees on every street. 

 

A rare and almost perfectly preserved example of Edwardian Mancunian suburban architecture, save a uPVC epidemic of identical doors and window frames. On a sunny day the variegated brick and render simply sings, like so many chirpy sparrows.

These homes are a variation on a theme, a fugue of tile, brick, pointy counterpointed gable, light and shadow – linked by scale, style and well laid wide concrete roads, filled with good intentions and cars.

Take a hike or bike south of the city, now that Spring is here.

Police Station – Blackpool

I’ve been here before, innocently snapping – without incident.

A super-large Roger Booth cop shop and courts, concrete combo.

So why not go back just one last time, prior to demolition and redevelopment.

So I did.

Following the acquisition and demolition of Progress House the Bonny Street Station is to be relocated, and the former site, under the ownership of Blackpool Council, set to become who knows what – who knows?

Progress House, Clifton Road, Marton.
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The Council knows, it plans to develop a new site for the defunct Central Rail Station

A giant of the steam age that became a car park

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It is 50 years since Central Railway Station closed with the land being used for a car park ever since. It was proposed as the site for the super-casino until that bid failed to win government backing. Since then plans for an indoor snow-based attraction have also failed to make any progress.

Today happily, snow-based attractions are still failing to make any progress.

Blue skies and chill early March air greeted me, across the wind swept, precast concourses and piazzas – warmish grey, against brightish blue.

I simply didn’t expect the boy in blue – ten minutes of light/half hearted interrogation.

“Who, what, why, where are you?”

Responding in a clear concise and non-confrontational manner, I was free to go about my legal business, taking these pictures for you.

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Police Station – Morecambe

It seems that post-war Lancashire police stations are under threat, often the work of County Architect Roger Booth, and to my mind buildings of both interest and quality, they are nevertheless disappearing fast.

Wigan is now a smart new hotel, now cracks a noble heart good-night, sweet prince; and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest – in your merrily clad Premiere Inn.

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Blackpool and Bury are both to be demolished.

What is going on, are we running out of crime?

On the day of our visit to Morecambe, there was no obvious evidence of miscreants on the prowl, though appearances can be deceptive -consider this incident of  March 2008:

Morecambe Police Station was evacuated on Wednesday night after an elderly man took a suspicious package into the building. 

Police said the man brought the object into the reception, said it was suspicious and quickly left. 

Officers called the Bomb Disposal Team from Chester who said it was an ‘improvised device’. All houses near to the station in Thornton Road were evacuated and the area was cordoned off for two and a half hours. 

 The area was declared safe shortly before 8.30pm. 
 
Further research reveals:
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Though locals are also encouraged to use online services:

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The modern day cop shop faces an uncertain future it seems. So get out there toot sweet, take a look behave responsibly at all times and remember folks it’s not a crime to snap a Bobby or their place of work.

It is not illegal to take photographs or video footage in public places unless it is for criminal or terrorist purposes.

There will be places where you have access as a member of the public, but will have to ask permission or may be prevented altogether. These could include stately homes, museums, churches, shopping malls, railway stations and council or government buildings. You need to check the situation out on a case by case basis.

County Archives – Preston

The things that you see from a passing train, those things that arouse your curiosity.

Blackpool bound, to the left a horizontal slab on stilts.

Well, well.

Whatever could that be?

Well we shall see, shall we?

Some days later alighting at Preston Station, I hotfooted it hurriedly down the road to who knows where.

Peeping coyly from behind the surrounding trees, in the shadow of County Hall – the Lancashire Archives, yet more of Roger Booth’s handiwork.

A low stone clad block stood elegantly on slender supports, inside the courtyard, a grid of aluminium and glass, the people peeping out. The core of the building shrouded in a solid serrated brick screen.

It really is a treat.

Go see for yourself

The Lancashire Archives

Haymans and Coverley Point – Vauxhall

Vauxhall a London borough south of the river, a drained marsh.

– A home to earlier market gardens.

Vauxhall former site of the renowned Pleasure Gardens.

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Vauxhall post war housing development, including two adjacent tower blocks Haymans and Coverley Point. labelled as a concrete jungle home to mainly manual workers, forty percent non-white, amid a mix of Eastern European and Portuguese emigres.

Vauxhall playground of the free-runners, film location and thrill seekers:

Haymans Point is an imposing, concrete, council estate tower block in the north of Lambeth, part of the Vauxhall Gardens Estate, which has an active residents and tenants association. The rooftop is fairly restricted in terms of outlook due to its high walls, but some interesting features are available including atmospheric interior corridors, outdoor walkways and underpasses over public spaces.

They are currently undergoing a transformation from problem area to greener pastures, through a collaborative community regeneration project.

– It’s also giving young Lambeth citizens work experience in the construction industry.

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Vincenzo  got his interest in construction from his Mum, who was a Brixton-based painter and decorator, and his original work experience with London charity Build-it was decorating Lambeth Council blocks in Blenheim Gardens. “I’m fanatical about learning things. I like moving about and in building you’re always somewhere different. Nadine from Build-it said this job would be hard work, so I was right on it”

Two blocks without a chip on their respective shoulders, set in a green sea of history.

Go take a walk in the garden, go take a look.

Mayfield House – Bethnal Green

Building Conditions in Bethnal Green – Post 1945

“The immediate problem after the war was to house those whose homes had been bombed. Longer-term objectives were to complete and extend earlier clearance programmes in order to reduce the population density and separate industry from residential areas, as reaffirmed in the County of London Plan of 1943. Some 5,000 people lived in temporary housing, including requisitioned properties and hutments or mobile homes, prefabs, of which the L.C.C.’s first in East London were in Florida and Squirries streets. All but 15 of its 190 ‘prefabs’ were in use in 1955, together with 309 requisitioned properties; at least 48 mobile homes were still in use in 1966.  War damage had been repaired by 1953 and attention shifted to slum clearance; flats were to be allotted to those in cleared areas rather than by a waiting list. The L.C.C. and M.B. co-operated in drawing up five-year plans:  by 1954 there were 16,852 permanent homes of which 2,434 were unfit, 1,711 in the L.C.C.’s clearance areas and 675 in the M.B.’s, together with 48 individual houses. The L.C.C. demolished 510 and the M.B. 550 between 1956 and 1960 and the M.B. demolished another 151 unfit and 46 other houses in 1961-2. Most were replaced by municipal estates, although both councils also acquired sites scheduled for industry, business, or open space. It was estimated that to find a site and build an estate took six years.” 

Thanks to http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol11/pp135-147

The six-storeyed Mayfield House opened with 54 flats in 1964 on the east side of Cambridge Heath Road, south of the town hall.

Exploring London in an accidental and often tangential manner, often offers many surprises. Ostensibly in search of the V&A Museum of Childhood I tumbled into Mayfield House. The whole area, as can be seen in the above link, is home to several estates and homes, designed by the eminent architects du jour, Mayfield receives no such attribution, possibly the work of the borough office.

None the worse for that a building of some note, famously housing one of London’s first coin operated laundries, as seen in the promo video for The Streets – Dry your eyes.

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The flats also contain a Somalian Centre, Bethnal Green having been home, for many years to Somali seamen – the subject of a recent photographic exhibition by Sarah Ainslie

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Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

Ali Mohammed Adan – Seaman

“I first came to London by ship in March 1958. I stayed in Aldgate for a night and went to Newport where my cousin had a house. There are many Somalis there. From that day until I retired in 1990, I was in the Merchant Navy, and I brought my family over from Somaliland. In 1970, I moved back to London to Bethnal Green but my wife and daughters chose to stay in Newport.

In Somaliland, I owned over a hundred camels and sheep. Nobody keeps camels anymore, everyone sold them and moved to the city. They say, ‘It’s too much work.’ But keeping camels and sheep and living on a farm, it’s a good life because you eat every day. Everybody wants to do it again now.”

 

An intriguing structure with a dominant grid on the front elevation, sharp signage, extravagant exterior rear stairs, modular concrete screened, low-level car parking and a recently enclosed glassed gallery.

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London – city of surprising surprises.

 

Library – Morecambe

I love libraries.

I love Morecambe.

Therefore I love Morecambe library.

Built and opened in 1967, designed by the County Architect  Roger Booth who was also responsible for a whole host of buildings in Lancashire between 1962 and 1983.

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Almost fifty years on, the building still speaks of modernity, optimism, light and learning. It’s well used and loved by the public and the charming and helpful staff – many thanks, for your time and assistance.

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Application was made for listing, this was not accepted – there have been significant changes to both the external and internal structure over time.

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The vertical, impressed cast concrete panels, shown above, have been replaced by brick.

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The original suspended *bean can* lighting system has also been replaced. At night, I was told it was hard to navigate the building using the limited spot illumination, so a box of bike lights were kept and handed out, to permit the safe, well-lit passage of library users.

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Concentric hexagonal rings of suspended strip lighting are now in place.

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Sadly the vivarium, contained  in a glassed link corridor, was short lived.

Archive photographs from Lancashire Lantern Images

The staff were more than happy to allow me take photographs, I was even afforded, at my own risk, to access the roof area through a very secret door!

I urge you to visit Morecambe and its charming library soon.

http://www.lancashire.gov.uk/libraries-and-archives/libraries/find-a-library/morecambe-library.aspx

Queen Elizabeth Hall – Oldham

Attached to the Civic Centre, developed and opened in 1977, to commemorate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, she ain’t no human being, she’s a building.

An low exterior slab of classical municipal modernism, with a series of wonderful and surprising new attachments, ideal for all occasions!

The most amazing set of heavily patinated, square sectioned, inorganic pipes which are precipitously cantilevered  onto the front elevation.

Illuminating!

The lobby boasts further exotic lighting, this time on the ceiling, and applied metal reliefs attached to the back wall and booking office.

I’ve never been in the main auditorium, yet – but life is full of little surprises.

Others have – boxers, boozers, bands, concerts, carousers, dancers, thespians – the lot.

The council have a mind to put a stop to all this wayward architecture and replace it something new, shiny and anonymous.

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But they’re having to wait for the Men from the Ministry to cough up the cash – which may or may not be tied up in a nearby Northern Powerhouse, Mr Osborne may just have to be lead up the A62 by the nose, with a promise of the most popular Tea Dance in the area.

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I do advise you to go and have a look before you can’t.

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Milbank Tower – London

Millbank Tower is a 118 metre or 387 feet high skyscraper in the City of Westminster at Millbank, on the banks of the River Thames in London.

The Tower was constructed in 1963 for Vickers and was originally known as Vickers Tower. It was designed by Ronald Ward and Partners and built by John Mowlem & Co. It is a landmark on the London skyline, sitting beside the River Thames, half a mile upstream from the Palace of Westminster. The tower has been owned by David and Simon Reuben since 2002, while still being managed by its former owner Tishman Speyer Properties.

It is a Grade II listed building.

From 1995 the Labour Party rented two floors in the base at the south of the site for use as a general election campaign centre, including the ground floor, which had a lecture theatre, and also a meeting space that was used for press conferences. Labour ran its 1997 General Election campaign from these offices; after the election, the party vacated its headquarters at John Smith House, Walworth Road SE17, to move to Millbank. Just five years later, however, the £1 million per annum rent forced the party to vacate the tower and relocate to 16 Old Queen Street.

The United Nations also had offices in Millbank Tower, but moved out in June 2003, also citing high rents. Other public bodies have continued to occupy the building, including the Central Statistical Office, the predecessor of the Office for National Statistics, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, the Local Government Ombudsman, the UK India Business Council and the Records Management Service.

Since 2006, the Conservative Party have based their campaign headquarters at 30 Millbank, in the same complex as Millbank Tower.

Other floors in the tower are occupied by various organisations and commercial companies, including Environment Agency, the World Bank, Altitude 360 London, foreign exchange specialists World First; the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, the UK India Business Council, the Audit Commission, event caterers Salt and Pepper, Private Food Design, the firm Lewis PR, the London office of the Open Society Foundations, the Local Government Boundary Commission for England and XLN Telecom.

I know because a computer told me so.

It feels like a hub of power, its location, scale and sheer physical presence speak of it.

Say it loud – I’m block and I’m proud!

So I wandered around one cold bright sunny Sunday afternoon, unchallenged.

Exploring your ramps, car parks, piazzas and intimate spaces.

Fight or feel the power.

Space Tower – London

Richard Seifert’s Space Tower what a pleasant surprise, as you veer slightly from Kingsway and collide happily with One Kemble Street, first meeting the smaller slab of  Aviation House, then the conjoined concrete cylinder – the perfect none identical twin.

Part Marineville, part Seifert’s modular concrete, and Y shaped supports, a building Derek Meddings would be proud of, anything can happen in the next half hour.

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Predating the current rash of Brutalist models, the child of the 60s never had it better.

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Seifert designed 1 Kemble Street, then called Space House, in a drum shape to reduce the lateral forces that can stress a slab-like block thus reducing the engineering requirements and cutting the cost of construction. 

He originally designed the building to be a proper tower almost twice as high that would have served as a luxury hotel, but objections from Camden Council saw it reduced in height to what has been built today.

Defining the look of 1 Kemble Street are the pre-cast concrete panels that clad the building, much in the same way as Seifert and Oldham Estate approached Centre Point.

Seifert’s signature Y-beams are also highly visible around the base of the building. Each of the modelled concrete cruciform units has a dimension of exactly ten feet in width and height and three feet in depth. Looking closely at the facade clearly reveals the grid of the building.

Skyscraper News

Take a walk, have a look around and around, full of surprises, accidental gentle collisions.

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Civic Centre – Oldham

“The Civic Centre tower is the Oldham’s centre of local governance. The fifteen storey building has housed the vast majority of the council’s offices since its completion in 1977. Standing at the summit of the town, the tower stands over 200 feet 61 m high. It was designed by Cecil Howitt & Partners, and the topping out ceremony was held on 18 June 1976.The Civic Centre can be seen from as far away as Salford, Trafford, Wythenshawe and Winter Hill in Lancashire, and offers panoramic views across the city of Manchester and the Cheshire Plain.”

Part of the building joins onto an older office block which dates from the mid-1960s. That was originally headquarters for Oldham’s Regional Health Authority before their move to St. Peter’s Precinct.

I just stand back and gaze in wide wonder at this white giant resplendent against deep blue late Winter skies. High above the surrounding areas of Greater Manchester, it is more than a sum of its parts. The finest materials and finish, bold, optimistic and modern, singing of a civic pride that refuses to be diminished.

Having survived the slow and painful exodus of the cotton industry, and the consequent years of municipal under funding, Oldham is rebuilding itself, with this gem at its centre.

Further info and thanks to: East of the M60

 

Halifax Building Society HQ – Halifax

Why are we here?

The Halifax was formed in 1853 as the Halifax Permanent Benefit Building and Investment Society. The idea was thought up in a meeting room situated above the Old Cock Inn close to the original Building Society building. Like all early building societies, the purpose of the society was for the mutual benefit of local working people.

Why are we not here?

In 2006, the HBOS Group Reorganisation Act 2006 was passed. The aim of the Act was to simplify the corporate structure of HBOS. The Act was fully implemented on 17 September 2007 and the assets and liabilities of Halifax plc transferred to Bank of Scotland plc. The Halifax brand name was to be retained as a trading name, but it no longer exists as a legal entity.

What have we here?

The Halifax Building was designed by the architecture firm BDP and constructed in 1968-74, as the headquarters for the Halifax Building Society and built with an unusually high budget. The rapid growth of the society over the twentieth century prompted the requirement for a new headquarters building, and in 1968 the aim of the architects was to design not only a practical building but a bold building for a confident client.

The building was Grade II listed in February 2013

In their report, English Heritage comment that:

“Though necessarily large in scale, and centrally located in the town, the design is one of humanity, respecting both the townscape in which it was placed, and the employees it was to house…The high budget was reflected in the building’s finishes inside and out. Externally a limited colour palette and use of York stone cladding gave a homogeneity and showed consideration to the local character of the stone buildings of Halifax. Internally, materials were high quality and colour co-ordinated, with landscaping to both the public ground-floor spaces and the executive fourth floor.”

Ian Nairn thought well of it –

 

I wandered around amazed by the sheer mass of the main volume of the building, and the thin slithers of sunlight and blue sky which abutted its glass and stone skin.

When approached by a curious security guard, I quickly allayed his initial fears, on production of my Manchester Modernist Society membership card and badge.

However fellow urbanists, take care, for the public is often mutually private and public at one and the same time, don’t step over the line.

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Go take a look make of it what you will.

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