Manchester Walk #1

Leaving Port Street and the Modernists new HQ we find ourselves in Lever Street – home to Griffin House.

Several storeys of variegated concrete panels cladding and glass – a voluminous yet relatively low rise development of the 1960s.

1967

It has been updated with an extensive entrance, whilst otherwise surviving intact and still well used.

Around the corner to Great Ancoats Street and the former Daily Express Building.

Grade II* listed building which was designed by engineer, Sir Owen Williams. It was built in 1939 to house one of three Daily Express offices the other; two similar buildings are located in London and Glasgow.

Originally, it was possible for passers by to peer into the main hall to see the large newspaper printing press. When the building was converted during the 1990s, the glass was made reflective so outsiders cannot see the interior of the building. This has subsequently been removed as yet again the building is repurposed

Nikolaus Pevsner described the building as:

An all-glass front, absolutely flush, with rounded corners and translucent glass and black glass and a most impressive sight from the street, particularly when lit up at night.

1937/39 Manchester Evening News

The end of the paper’s print run saw the building used as office space, and partially converted to flats with further redevelopment work currently being undertaken, with a view to becoming a tech-hub.

Onward along Swan Street and a brief encounter with something of a rarity in functionalist modern Manchester – the sighting of two Art Deco buildings.

This now and happening pet shop.

And the former NATSOPA trade union offices – National Society of Operative Printers and Assistants trade union offices – the area once being alive with print and related industries, also no longer.

On the corner of Rochdale Road there stands the former CWS fresh fruit fish and veg offices and warehouse – we are on the very edge of Co-op land.

Sadly the CWS clock turns no more and the steel framed windows have suffered the indignity of uPVC replacement.

The Cooperative Wholesale Society dominated a whole swathe across the east of the city and beyond, encompassing manufacturing, banking and insurance.

The icing on the empire’s cake being the 1960s CIS Tower.

The Co-Operative Insurance Society (CIS) Chief Office was built between 1959-62. Its aim was to provide the company with a headquarters in the north comparable to anything in London. Operating from ten different sites in Manchester following the war, the company wished to consolidate their activities within a landmark building, and took advantage of a bomb-cleared site on Miller Street. The architect was Gordon Tait, of Sir John Burnet, Tait and Partners, who was brought in to collaborate with the already appointed Chief Architect in Manchester, G S Hay.

CIS Tower was the largest office block to be built since the war, reaching 25 floors in height. The design was heavily influenced by a trip to the United States, which resulted in a taller, more centralised building that made use of curtain walling. The brief was for an open plan office building, to house 2,500 staff.

Twentieth Century Society

Currently under wraps is the CWS Redfern Building 1928 WA Johnson & JW Cropper – a delightfully functionalist brick moderne building in the northern European manner.

I do how however have a personal preference for the tower’s relatively diminutive neighbour New Century House and Hall – particularly John McCarthy’s concrete screen wall water feature.

New Century House was designed by G. S. Hay and Gordon Tait and constructed by John Laing & Son for the Co-operative Insurance Society in 1962. The attached New Century Hall has a capacity of 1,000 people. New Century House and Hall were listed in 1995 as Grade II as a good example of a high-quality post-war office building. It is considered one of the finest modernist towers in the United Kingdom alongside the sister building CIS Tower – It is described in its listing as:

A design of discipline and consistency which forms part of a group with the Co-operative Insurance Society.

I am told that the current work will see the building used as a music school and venue.

Let’s take a quick look at some more modern Modernism the Cheetham’s School Extension.

This building was designed to incorporate the Chetham’s Music School, the Academic School, an outreach centre, a 400-seat concert hall and a 100-seat recital hall. It sits on the site of a former car park which itself was created on a vacant lot left following the demolition of railway company offices.  This is the first stage of a project that will provide the school with 21st Century facilities.  The next stage will involve the demolition of the former Palatine Hotel and a number of other modifications that will improve access to the medieval Chetham’s Hospital and Library.

The architect Stephenson Bell says of the project that:

Our brief was to create a unique contemporary new building for the musical and academic teaching facilities, providing a state-of-the-art environment which will be a fitting platform for the students. The building itself will, alongside ongoing regeneration in Central Manchester, provide an iconic opportunity for the educational and cultural standing of Manchester to consolidate its position on the international scene.

Just around the corner we encounter the once two-toned towering tower of Highland House across the River Irwell in Salford.

The building was designed and built by Leach, Rhodes & Walker for the Inland Revenue, and was completed in 1966. 

The tower was built using the then innovative technique of using a continuously climbing shutter to cast a central core; pre-fabricated cladding was then lifted into place using a tower crane. This technique led to rapid construction, avoided the need for scaffolding, and allowed the lower floors to be occupied while building continued higher up. The combination was very cost-effective, but was not flawless by any means. On a windy night the windows of the building blew off, ending up in Salford Bus Station.

It changed hands in 1994 for £7.7 million. The Inland Revenue announced plans to move out in 1995 in an early example of a Private Finance Initiative, shortly afterwards the building was sold by London & Regional Properties to the Bruntwood group. Between 1998 and 2000 the building was reclad, converted to its current use and renamed, at a total cost of £4.5 million. In 2004, the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, George Ferguson, said that:

The building, along with the Arndale Centre, was dreadful and should be demolished.

It currently seems to almost be a Premier Inn.

Almost instantly we’re back in Manchester and booking into the Ramada Hotel and exploring its riverside piazza and car park. Formerly Fairburn House the work of Cruikshank and Seward 1972.

Pausing to observe a mysterious ramp to nowhere.

Once connecting the office/hotel complex via a footbridge to the now defunct Shambles Square and its equally mysterious array of long gone retail outlets.

Downriver now to Albert Bridge House – an imposing block eighteen storey tower, concrete framed and stone clad – designed by EH Banks for the Ministry of Works, surrounded by lower outlying buildings – featuring a delightfully wavy roof, and an almost playful Corbusian service tower.

Look a little closer and you’ll see a delightful group of defunct letter boxes and a hidden mosaic – playfully tucked away above the doorway to the Assessment Centre.

Ian Nairn in Britain’s Changing Towns, believed it to be:

Easily the best modern building in Manchester, and an outstanding example of what good proportions and straightforward design can do.

Just across the way is Aldine House 1967 Leach Rhodes Walker – the extruded cast concrete curvy windows echoing those of Highland House.

Now there’s just enough time to pop into Besty’s nearby boutique and pick up some fab mod gear.

All archive photographs Manchester Local Image Collection

3 thoughts on “Manchester Walk #1

  1. I enjoyed our walk very much. Thanks Steve. One thing, I believe the Owen Williams Daily Express Building that fronts on to Great Ancoats Street was not converted to residential. Carol Ainscow developed the later addition, to the rear of the building and introduced residential as well as commercial use.

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  2. The Ramada ramp to nowhere was a compulsory requirement by the council, intended to be a system of aerial walkways and bridges to move people around above the traffic. A similar requirement operated on Oxford Rd around the university with remnants visible today.

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