One of the things that struck me on my recent visit to Dublin was that there are some wonderful old buildings and some impressive modern buildings, but that they often seem to be juxtaposed without any thought as to how they fit together. A street of old brick town houses might be interrupted by a vertical finger of glass and steel for example.
Manchester faces similar challenges, yet to my eye seems able to resolve them.
On the on hand it is a modern city whose skyline is punctuated by tower cranes and the structures they work on. No wonder Elbow, who originate nearby, felt inclined to write a song entitled “The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver”. Viewed from the morning tram, the city that casts its shadow into the waters of the Ship Canal is perhaps becoming Manc-hattan!
But for all its shiny verticality, it has a heart of stone and brick, a heart that continues to beat when many other cities would have torn down the dirty and old-fashioned, Manchester has nurtured them and found new uses for them.
Train stations become exhibition spaces, warehouses become apartments, Georgian houses become smart offices, and where the old meets new they seem to fit, even when integrating a modern extension onto a 19th century structure.
Probably my favourite part of the city is the area around King Street, formerly the banking district, where it seems that every other building is listed. These include the former Midland Bank building which is now The Gotham Hotel, a stepped white art-deco structure which, if a little taller, would not be out of place in New York, and my favourite of Manchester’s gems, The Reform Club.
The term “Venice of the North” is applied to various cities in Northern Europe such as Amsterdam, Bruges, Stockholm and more. The title is based solely it seems, on the qualifying criteria of having a network of canals. In the UK the term usually refers to Birmingham, which prides itself on having “more canals than Venice”. Not so difficult when you consider that Venice only has three!
Surely Manchester has a greater claim to the UK version of the title having both canals and Venetian inspired architecture. Whilst not alone in adopting this style, The Reform Club building truly embraces it. Viewed from a distance the building impresses with its turrets, oriel windows and polychromatic arches, but get closer and you see it is encrusted with finely detailed carvings of beasts both real and imaginary.
The Reform Club itself was wound up about thirty years ago, which might have spelt the end of this beautiful edifice, but thankfully not. A number of different tenants share the building now, but perhaps none more Mancunian than the clothing emporium created by Liam Gallagher.
For me this conservation area is truly an oasis!