Civic Centre – Wigan Again

I’ve been here before, no not in some strange déjà vu sense.

I’ve been here before – look!

Three years on, now in the shadow of the newly built Life Centre, you stand alone unloved – empty.

But the future of the Modernist landmark, which was first put in service by the borough in the early 70s, remains unclear. There is speculation that the Millgate building, first unveiled by Wigan Mayor John Farrimond, could become a hotel.

Last October the Wigan Observer revealed how the council had enjoyed mixed fortunes when it came to marketing elements of its existing property portfolio.

But the council has been successful in offloading some venues, with Ince Town Hall now home to Little Giggles nursery.

So who knows what fate awaits you – the town I am told is on the up.

Let’s hope that the Civic Centre is not coming down

Castle House Co-op Store – Sheffield

So here we are outside, you and I in 2015 – it seems like yesterday.

Whereas yesterday I was inside not outside, but more of that in a moment.

It seems that you were listed in 2009 and deservedly so.

1964 by George S Hay, Chief Architect for CWS, with interior design by Stanley Layland, interior designer for CWS. Reinforced concrete with Blue Pearl granite tiles and veneers, grey granite tiles and veneers, buff granite blocks, glass, and brick.

There’s just so much to stand and stare and marvel at.

Vulcan by Boris Tietze commisioned by Horne Brothers 1961 for their head office building No. 1 King Street. Glass fibre on a metal armature the 8 foot high figure holding a bundle of metal rods.

You were just about still open then, then you weren’t, then you were again – but a Co-op no more alas.

Fast forward to 2018

Work is underway on plans for a tech hub in Sheffield after a funding package was agreed.

Followed by a casual stroll towards 2019 where we are talking a peep inside courtesy of owners Kollider and book shop La Biblioteka.

I’d never ever seen the interior, save through the photographs of Sean Madner who captured the key features in 2014, prior to refurbishment.

So the Modernists and I pitched up this Sunday afternoon, the conclusion of our Sheffield Walk.

Lets take a look at the end stairwells, two very distinct designs one dotty one linear, both using Carter’s Tiles.

Configured from combinations and rotations of these nine modular units and two plain tiles.

Configured from combinations and rotations of these twelve modular units and two plain tiles.

The site has retained some of its original architectural typography.

The former top floor restaurant has a suspended geometric ceiling with recently fitted custom made lighting.

The timber-lined boardroom has a distinctive horseshoe of lighting, augmenting the board room table – which is currently away for repair, oh yes and a delightful door.

High atop the intoxicating vertiginous swirl of the central spiral stairway is the relief mural representing a cockerel and fish made of aluminium, copper and metal rod, with red French glass for the fish’s eye and cockerel’s comb.

Illuminated from above by this pierced concrete and glass skylight.

Many of the internal spaces have been ready for their new tenants.

This is a fine example of Modernist retail architecture saved from decay and degradation by the timely intervention of a sympathetic tenant.

Long may they and Castle House prosper – Sheffield we salute you!

St Mary’s RC Church – Denton

Duke Street Denton Manchester M34 2AN

I remember you being built.

I remember our visit with the Manchester Modernists in 2015 – arranged by Angela Connelly and Matthew Steele of Sacred Suburbs

I popped by to see you yesterday – a truly remarkable structure set amongst the terraced housing of an unremarkable street.

The foundation stone for the present building laid by Bishop Beck in August 1962. He returned to bless and open the church on 25 June 1963. The new church was built from designs by Walter Stirrup & Sons – job architect Kevin Houghton, at a cost of about £60,000. The church is notable for its dalle de verre glass, by Carl Edwards of Whitefriars.

The church is a very striking and characterful building with a hyperbolic paraboloid roof rising in peaks on four sides, with clerestory lighting in the angles, that on the west side jutting out to form a canopy over the entrance. It was described by Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘wildly expressionist’.

Taking Stock

I suggest that you do the same and pop by to see St Mary – Our Lady of Sorrows soon.

Forton Services – M6 Lancaster

Possibly the most famous modern motorway services in the entire land.

Though I’ve never been to see you – I’ve seen your picture reproduced a thousand times or more, particularly your Pennine Tower.

Your even found your way onto a Manchester Modernist’s shirt.

I ride a bicycle, which seriously restricts my access to the world of the M – one and six or otherwise. Having a more than somewhat ambivalent outlook on motor cars and their ways I have nevertheless written a short history.

So to satisfy my idle curiosity, and fill the damp wasteland of a Bank Holiday Sunday afternoon, let’s go on a little trip back in time by means of archival images.

What of your history?

Tendering documents were sent out in 1962 describing it as a 17.7 acre site, requiring at least a £250,000 investment, including an eastern corner reserved for a picnic area, and an emphasis that the views to the west must be considered in the design, and facilities must be provided on both sides. Replies were received – from Telefusion Ltd, J Lyons, Banquets Catering Ltd, Granada and Rank

Top Rank’s plan came consistently highly rated by all the experts it was passed between. It showed a restaurant and a self-service café on the west side, the restaurant being at the top of a 96ft (29m) tower. At the top of the tower was a sun terrace – a roof with glass walls, which they had described but hadn’t included any suggestions for how it could be used, adding that maybe it could form an observation platform, serve teas, or be reserved for an additional storey to the restaurant.

Including a transport café on each site, seating was provided for 700 people, with 101 toilets and 403 parking spaces. A kiosk and toilets were provided in the picnic area.

“The winning design looks first class. Congratulations.”

Architects T P Bennett & Sons had been commissioned to design the services, along with the similar Hilton Park. At £885,000, it was the most expensive service station Rank built, and was considerably more than what had been asked of them. They won the contract, but on a condition imposed by the Landscape Advisory Committee that the height of the tower was reduced to something less striking.

Lancaster was opened in 1965 by Rank under the name ‘Forton’. The petrol station opened early in January, with some additional southbound facilities opening that Spring.

The southbound amenity building had a lowered section with a Quick Snacks machine and the toilets. Above it was the transport café which had only an Autosnacks machine, where staff loaded hot meals into the back and customers paid to release them. These were the motorway network’s first catering vending machines, and the Ministry of Transport were won round by the idea, but Rank weren’t – they removed them due to low demand.

In 1977, Egon Ronay rated the services as appalling. The steak and kidney pie was an insult to one’s taste buds while the apple pie was an absolute disgrace. He said everywhere needed maintenance and a coat of paint, the toilets were smelly and dirty, and the food on display was most unattractive.

A 1978 government review described the services as a soulless fairground.

The Forton Services and the typology generally have had a chequered career, rising and falling in public favour and perception. Purveying food and facilities of varying quality, changing style and vendors with depressing regularity – knowing the value of nothing yet, the Costas of everything.

Ironically the prematurely diminished tower has taken on iconic status in the Modernist canon – listed in 2012 yet closed to the public, admired from afar – in a car.

The Pennine Tower was designed to make the services clearly visible – the ban on advertising had always been an issue, and the previous technique of having a restaurant on a bridge, like down the road at Charnock Richard, was proving expensive and impractical. Rank commissioned architects T P Bennett & Sons to capitalise on the benefits of exciting design while trialling something different. The tower resembles that used by air traffic control, summarising the dreams of the ’60s.

The central shaft consists of two lifts, which were originally a pentagonal design until they were replaced in 2017. They’re still in use to access the first floor, but with the buttons to higher floors disabled. There are then three service lifts, and one spiral staircase – satisfying typical health and safety regulations.

At the top of the tower stood a fine-dining waitress service restaurant, offering views over the road below and across Lancashire. Above the restaurant the lift extended to roof-level, to allow the roof to serve as a sun terrace – although Rank admitted they weren’t sure what this could be used for, suggesting serving tea or eventually building another level.

In reality social changes and cost-cutting limited the desirability of a sit-down meal, and this coupled with high maintenance costs made the tower fall out of favour. The ‘fine dining’ restaurant became the trucking lounge that had been on the first floor, before closing to the public in 1989. It then soldiered on for another 15 years, partially re-fitted, as a head office, then staff training and storage, but even this became too impractical, and the tower is now not used at all.

Although the tower is unique to these services, the concept of large high-level floors can be seen in many Rank services of the era, the idea of each one being to have a visible landmark and a good view of the surrounding area, such as at Hilton Park. The lower-level restaurant at Forton sticks out over the first floor, and partially in to the road, to give an optimum view. Toilets and offices were in the ground floor buildings below.

There are lots of myths flying around that the tower was forced to close by safety regulations, and that it is about to fall down. Like any building which hasn’t been used for 30 years it would take a lot of investment to get it open again, and with roadside restaurants across the country closing due to a lack of trade, nobody has come up with an convincing plan to justify investing in the Pennine Tower.

Many thanks to Motorway Services Online

Take a look at you now.

No more postcards home – y’all come back now, set a spell.

Sunday Walk – Park Hill Sheffield

My thanks to all those happy souls who braved the cold winds, sunshine and threat of snow on Sunday 28th October 2018 – Steve.

Sharing ideas, memories and animated conversation, as we circumnavigated the fenced perimeter of Europe’s largest listed structure. In search of a personal photographic response to the site.

This was the online outline plan.

These are the results.

Lynne Davis

 

Gary Wolstenholme

 

 

Jenny Owen

 

 

Peter Clarke

 

 

Brian Parkinson

 

 

Jacqui Dace

 

 

John Gibson

 

 

Michael Ford

 

 

Julia Beaumont

 

 

Ruth Robson

 

 

Linus Westwood

 

ICL Tower – Gorton Manchester

Designed by architects Cruikshank and Seward in the Sixties, to house the cutting-edge computing power of the time, the ICT later ICL Tower, towered over Wenlock Way, Gorton in East Manchester.

A landmark for many from bus, train, car, Shanks’s pony or low flying VC10.

A place of work for thousands.

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At a time when modern technology looked a little like this:

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Sadly ending like this:

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Two weeks into the demolition process the east elevation is no more, revealing a concrete honeycomb of torn steel and fresh air.

A few weeks time and it will be little more than so much dust and memories.

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Galt Toys – An Exhibition

Cheadle, Stockport, Greater Manchester 1962 – and the grey post-war fug of austerity is blown away, almost forever. Though very much a local enterprise their toys, games and puzzles display a strong European influence and were distributed globally.

Educational in nature, non-gender specific, simple, bold, well constructed, collaborative not competitive – employing sound modernist principles and design, they were at that time almost unique in the UK toy industry.

James Galt & Co Ltd. were established in Manchester in 1836 as a manufacturer and publisher of educational books and toys, relocating to Cheadle in 1956.

Ken Garland had worked for the influential Abbatt Toys, formed in 1931 by Paul and Marjorie Abbatt. Paul and Marjorie had collaborated with Modernist architects Oliver Hill and Ernő Goldfinger – committed to designing and producing educational childrens’ toys influenced by the new European movements in art and design.

Paul emphasised the importance of play, described as:

‘A force which can be used for development and valuable experience, a force which, if it is not thwarted by the wrong choice of playthings, develops into the power behind the successful architect or engineer.’ 

In 1955 Edward Newmark, who had established the Astu Studios toy company, was taken on as a junior partner by Paul and Marjorie. He remained only five years, leaving in 1960 to go to James Galt and Co. Ltd. He was joined the designer Ken Garland, who, between 1958 and 1961 had designed the Abbatts’ catalogues and advertisements, creating their distinctive house style.  His practice Ken Garland & Associates, formed in 1962, employed a small rotating group of designers over its 47-year period. Prior to forming the studio, Garland worked with editor Michael Farr at Design magazine, where he held the position of art editor from 1956 to 1962.

Ken set about smartening up the Cheadle based company, hauling it into the heart of the Modernist Sixties, the company name shortened to GALT TOYS and a sharp new Swiss style typography was adopted. Together they created flexible corporate identity, which as Ken says: they were determined not to let the Galt Toys logo become a sacred cow, not to be mucked about with.

It would, indeed, be mucked around with, but only by us.’

The style was maintained consistently for 20 years. The letterforms chosen for GALT TOYS were from a very recently issued typeface, Folio Medium Extended. The Folio type family was the creation of the Bauer Type Foundry, Frankfurt, then a close rival to the Helvetica and Univers type families.

The product line which encompassed a whole range of educational toys, games, school fixtures and fittings henceforth embraced a Scandinavian ethic of clean functionality and truth to materials. Though central to the reshaping of the brand, Ken is keen to emphasise that this was a collaborative process, involving several other designers within a flexible team.

The toys and games were modern in very sense, child-centred, none gender-specific, simple bright and colourful – employing simple graphic shapes, illustration and type, attractive and durable. The newly designed shop in Carnaby Street, with Verity & Beverley as architects, and a retail/factory/café in Cheadle were equally forward thinking in design and layout, purposely encouraging children to play with the stock, prior to possibly purchasing.

His ancillary work on the design of packaging, catalogues and in-store graphics was similarly ground-breaking, mixing image and text, very much in the mid European manner, pioneered by the likes of Max Bill and Richard Paul Lohse.

Connect exemplifies the best of Garland and Galt, twelve squares of card each with a simple linear motif, which can then be combined in a succession of seemingly infinite permutations – following a simple set of rules, the players can then produce a carpet covered in exciting abstraction. The connection to Harry Beck’s London Underground map is clear, Ken wrote and published Mr. Beck’s Underground Map in 1994, a tribute to the clarity, functionality and modernity of good design. This imaginative use of a single unit  which continually unfolds from limited graphic means to limitless possibilities, was further developed in Ken’s Trap Snap and Anymals.

Bob Chapman and I spent a lot of time developing Connect, based very loosely on dominoes, which turned out to be a best-seller, and still is, in a modified form now produced by Ravensburger Spieleverlag of Germany.  Another associate, Daria Gan, found a most satisfying outlet for her drawing skills in the card games Anymals and Upside-Down Jigsaws.’

Octons was designed by William Edward David Ryan, he was educated at Preston Grammar School and Harris Technical College/School of Art pursuing architecture. He became a member of Royal Institute of British Architects in 1965 and a partner in Derby Fazackerley Wood & Ryan Architects, Preston from 1965-1993. It is an eight sided modular construction toy manufactured in clear, coloured plastic, a slot cut into each face, permitting their interconnection in a mind boggling array of three dimensional forms. Further exemplifying the principles of simplicity and inherent stimulation of the child’s fertile imagination and explorative creativity. It is one of the few Galt games which has remained in production until the present day.

Fizzog remains a firm favourite, a fabulous name, a fabulous game of many faces. Pairing pairs of halved fizzogs, the better to produce ever more inventive and laughter inducing visages.

Kenneth Townsend was based in Hastings and worked as a freelance designer for Galt along with Hornsea Pottery, Chance Brothers, Cuckoo Bird Productions and Merit. His lively and stylised illustrative style enlivens both Super Snap and Remember Remember – these were produced, alongside several other matching games in the golden age of Galt. Employing yet again the use of strong graphic shapes, bold colour and a happy go lucky playfulness that were central to the company’s output. Developing shape recognition, numeracy, colour identification and a simple love of the visual world through play and fun.

So for some twenty years Galt and Garland et al injected some much needed life into an otherwise moribund world of play, their catalogues and products finding a way into the majority of Britain’s schools and homes, from Bauhaus to your house.

Many thanks for the loan and/or sourcing of exhibits to Wayne Astbury, Dawn Bunnell, Gemma Burgess, Paul Burnett, Sue Cook, Gail Eagle, Alison Heffernan, Sarah Moss and Alex Stone.

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