Category: Blots on the Landscape


After the recession in the construction industry that’s been going on since 2008 with few new projects beginning and some old ones being mothballed, we seem to be building stuff again. As well as No 1 St. Peter’s Square, some apartment blocks are about to begin in the city centre. With people not able to get mortgages to buy houses because the banks won’t lend, people are having to rent places. This has meant that practically all of Manchester’s apartments are filled and people can’t find anything to rent. Rental prices are soaring and people are paying more in rent than they would if they were on the mortgage that they can’t get! Crazy!

Another project that is getting started is the one planned for the old BBC building and the studios on Oxford Road. Sandwiched between the universities and the city centre, on a huge prominent site, it wasn’t going to stay empty for long. The building is one of my ‘blots on the landscape’ and one company wanted to buy it and just do it up a bit which would mean we would be stuck with it for many decades to come. Fortunately, a company that said they wanted to raze it and begin again won the competition to buy it. They will replace the BBC buildings with a hotel, offices, apartments, retail space and a new public area. I was worried that when they had the building they would back track on what they said and decide to do a cheap tidy up instead of the £200,000,000 project they had promised.

This hasn’t happened and it’s ‘bye bye BBC’ on Oxford Road at the moment, as the demolition gangs have moved in to remove the buildings prior to the build. I like the view in the last picture with the clock tower of the Palace Hotel rearing up from the rubble of the BBC building. It’s weird, I never liked the BBC building but it’s kind of sad to see it in rubble this way as it was an important building in the city. I hope they are keeping the trees. They are big, beautiful and healthy but that didn’t save the ones in St. Peter’s Square did it? And I think the rest of those left in the square are likely to go before that scheme is finished and the pretty, lilac flowered Empress/Princess trees are installed.

Across the street, the Art Deco cinema buildings that now house the Dancehouse Theatre have disappeared behind tarps. They aren’t being demolished but are being given a much needed makeover on this important route into the city centre from the south. ODDER BAR is under there somewhere!

 

One of the buildings that I featured in my ‘blots on the landscape’ tab is about to bite the dust! The old BBC Manchester HQ building in Oxford Road is going to be demolished, starting in July. It’s an ugly, brooding, stained concrete building that has ruined that part of Oxford Road for far too long. I will be glad to see it come down.

 

The Manchester Evening News published a picture of what will be replacing it (see below). At the moment this building doesn’t have any planning permission from the city. But, given the site’s prominent position on one of the main routes into the city centre through the universities and 5 minutes walk from all the redevelopment in St. Peter’s Square, it’s unlikely that this site will be left empty long. And it is a huge site. The office block is what most people see but behind that are huge studios and stages that will have to come down. They stretch right to Upper Brook Street.

There are plans for a hotel, apartments, a huge supermarket that will serve the growing city centre population, restaurants, a public open space and so on. The supermarket idea is interesting. They have lots of little food stores across the city centre but no big market where you can do a weekly shop. To do that you have to go to Sainsbury’s on Regent Road or ASDA in Moss Side, both a bit of a trek and both in less than salubrious neighbourhoods, so a big supermarket in the city centre would be good. Can we have a big Waitrose please? And if they have this one big store, hopefully that will stop every other shop in Manchester city centre turning into a TESCO Metro. 

It doesn’t say who the architect is but I think this new building looks like it had Ian Simpson’s fingerprints all over it. It has the same treatment of glass that he used on the Hilton Tower and the student blocks near the Mancunian Way. I may be wrong of course. I’m pleased to see that they seem to have kept the mature trees that are in front of the BBC building now. I’m pleased about that as we don’t have too many trees in the city centre and we can’t afford to lose the ones we have. And those trees have done a sterling job hiding and softening the BBC building for the last 25 years.

I think this will be my last post about ‘blots on the landscape’ for a while. Manchester may not have run out of blots but I have run out of pictures of them. I have, however, got some good pictures of the nicer and more interesting side of the city and I want to post them now.

For my last blot I present you with the Renaissance Hotel at the bottom of Market Street and St. Mary’s Gate where it becomes Blackfriars Street. Not the hotel I hasten to add, it is highly thought of in the city, but the building it is unfortunate enough to occupy. It is right next to the River Irwell by the bridge that crosses into Salford. So as you leave Manchester city centre it kind of gives you a taste of things to come in Salford, with its ugly tower apartment blocks and all the ‘brave new world’ of the 60s that crumbled into stained concrete.

This is a stinker of a building. It was designed as an office block but it never found any tenants even when new. It is built on top of a multi storey car park which is hard to get into and a nightmare to get out of  that rises from the banks of the River Irwell. People usually like to be by water but this is the River Irwell, it’s not the Seine in Paris, the Thames in London or the Tiber in Rome. It was once one of the most polluted rivers on the planet and while it has been cleaned up considerably, it is not a thing of beauty as it makes its way through central Manchester marking the border with Salford.  There is a row of shops on one side of the building. The first unit you come to contains a decent Italian restaurant where we used to eat. But the city now has so many good Italian restaurants in better buildings where the ambiance is better that we haven’t been there in ages. The units further up the row have been occasionally inhabited but the businesses don’t prosper and the units at the top have never had any tenants since the building went up in the 70s.

Many years ago they decided to convert the unloved office tower into the Renaissance Hotel. It is a 4* one which must mean it’s a lot better on the inside than it is on the outside. It is made of a very white concrete with a fair amount of glass. The concrete has vertical grooves in it that couldn’t be better at catching the dirt. The building looks filthy on the outside. I’m sure the hotel is immaculate on the inside but I wonder what people who don’t know the city, who book into the hotel, think as their taxi approaches this place.

Before 2008 the building had been bought by a development company who was going to tear it down and build something stunning on this important site by the Cathedral and across the street from the main shopping district. Harvey Nichols has a view of this place but they don’t shout about it. But the company had a lot of business in Ireland and when Ireland narrowly missed going bankrupt, this scheme stalled, along with their other on the banks of the Rochdale Canal, across from Canal Street. The last I heard the Irish government owned these sites in some way because of the money they had thrown at all those overstretched Irish banks. So goodness knows when anything will be done about this horror.

There used to be some other buildings, equally ugly and in the same style, across Deansgate from this one. They were linked by a footbridge. When the IRA exploded their bomb in the city in 1996, the others were badly damaged and were torn down to be replaced by New Cathedral Street and high end shops like Selfridge’s and Harvey Nichols. Sadly, the blast from the bomb didn’t damage this one beyond some shattered windows. In the ITV drama, ‘Cracker’, filmed in Manchester, one of the characters committed suicide by throwing himself off this building and that just about sums it up.

For my next blot on the landscape, we will have to move across the city centre to Marble Street just off Market Street. And the building in question is called Lowry House. It was named to honour local artist L.S. Lowry and a more unsuitable building to honour him with it would be difficult to find. He wasn’t keen on the city centre of Manchester, preferring to paint the mills and houses and people of the working class districts of the city. I think he had an appreciation of some of the grander architecture of Manchester, such as Central Library, but this horror is hardly in the same class as that.

It’s a sixties office block. There is a low podium along Marble Street currently occupied by the NAT WEST Bank. They moved here from their grand building on King Street a few years ago. What were they thinking? At one end of the podium there is a 15 storey tower. I like tall buildings but this one only pretends to be one. It looks tall surrounded by smaller buildings but it is nothing compared to the Hilton Tower and would be totally lost in New York. And given that it is so ugly, it really shouldn’t be sticking its head above the parapet anyway.

Its built of a pink/brown coloured concrete. Panels were manufactured elsewhere and brought into the city and hoisted into position on Marble Street. It would have grown quickly I think. I believe the style is called ‘Brutalist’ and there are moves afoot to get buildings built in this style of architecture to be listed as part of the nation’s architectural heritage. That would make it difficult to do anything with them at all. I hope this isn’t one of them.

It may have looked better in stone or in a different colour concrete. I’m not sure. Someone obviously shared my dislike for this building because recently they have re-clad the lower floors of the tower with stone, tile and plate glass. This has given that part of the building a modern and not unattractive feel as you enter the building. But don’t look up at the tower or along Marble Street at the podium! Why couldn’t they have gone the whole hog and done the entire building. They did it with the nasty 1960s Post office building across the street and that turned out rather well.

I think I’ve done a good job of convincing people that the MMU Campus is an architectural disaster. I haven’t started yet on the University of Manchester campus and the building I spent 4 years of my life in. I will leave that area for the time being and turn my attention to Peter Street in the city centre.

A while ago I did some posts that sang the praises of buildings like the Midland Hotel, St. George’s House, the Theatre Royal and the Free Trade Hall wing of the Radisson Edwardian Hotel as they line up along Peter Street like ageing beauties in a swimsuit competition. A bit battered about the edges but still have the ability to stun!

However there is one building on Peter Street that is on my list of buildings to be flattened. It’s called Petersfield House and it’s what you see, across the street, if you sit in the restaurant of the Radisson enjoying your afternoon tea or a cocktail.

It’s another horror from the 60s. It’s a six storey block made of glass (mostly unwashed) and concrete (stained of course). At some point someone has tried to clean or paint the concrete but they seem to have given up 2/3 of the way along the top. This gives the building an even more neglected look than it would have had if the stained concrete had been left as it was. To one side it is joined to the Victorian exhuberance and decoration of the Albert Hall (which TROF are taking over) and on the other side it is joined to an attractive, honey sandstone Victorian office block. It is set back from the original street line and so it draws more attention to itself than is wise in a building this ugly. If it was level with the two others is wouldn’t look as bad (well maybe). And as they have set it back, they should have, at least, planted a few trees on the pavement that might have hidden it and given the diners in the Radisson something better to look at while they toy with their outrageously expensive salads in the restaurant. 

The ground floor is occupied by offices where you can go if you want to be shot at in Afghanistan and some kind of club called ‘ Electric Boogaloo.’ I will be avoiding both these places! I seem to remember that in the 17th and 18th centuries, recruitment officers for the navy used to get likely candidates rolling drunk and then get them to put their mark on some recruitment form. The hapless lads would wake up with a sore head and find themselves at sea on one of His Majesty’s ships! Could this be happening in Electric Boogaloo?

I think Petersfield House used to be two buildings before this one was here. At ground level there is a little street that goes through the building to the police station beyond. It is notoriously difficult to close streets in the UK to be built on, as many have been rights of way for 100s, if not 1000’s of years. So when they built this they just decided to leave the street and just build over it. It was a feature of 60s and 70s buildings that they thought looked cool but I think it just looks ugly and unlooked after. The tops of these openings are usually dirty with exhaust pollution and festooned with the cobwebs of long dead spiders that were choked on car fumes.

This ugly building needs to be brought down, if not for the sake of the diners in the Radisson, at least for the drunken guys in Electric Boogaloo who might wake up in a fox hole in Helmand Province with the local Taliban bearing down on them!

I’m not sure if this is a blot on the landscape or just a building built in the wrong place. It is St. Augustine’s RC Church at All Saints. It is on the west side of the gardens between a pretty Victorian building and what, at one point, must have been a rather grand house. I’m not sure what was here before, possible an older version of St Augustine’s, and have no idea what happened to it. The area was bombed in WW2 but probably suffered a lot more from town planners in the 60s and 70s. It’s a grim, but true, joke in the UK that the town planners of the 1960s and 70s did more damage to British cities than Hitler ever did. Hitler left nothing more offensive than piles of rubble.

Its a red brown brick, blocky church built. The front facade is rectangular with a rectangular extension jutting out on the left hand side. It may serve a purpose if it houses something in side the church, a little chapel or the like. On the right of the entrance are four brick pillars which seem to serve no useful purpose than to break up the boring facade. The entrance to the church looks like the entrance to a cheap 60s office block and when you peer through the plate glass doors you get no sense of looking into a church.

They have, I think, tried to build a piece of sculpture but have failed as it’s in this dreadful brick and in the wrong place in the city. If it was out in Wythenshawe with it’s rows of identikit houses, if it was surrounded by manicured lawns and clipped trees, it would be a welcome distraction in a dull area. It could possibly look good as a sculptural form in the landscape. But here I feel it is out of place and I guess it’s not worth moving it.

The front has some decoration. There is a very 70s bronze of Mary and Jesus. And there is a decorated roundel with a stylised cross and bishop’s mitre. I quite like both of these.

If the front is bad, the side and back are worse. The side wall I could get to was featureless apart from more of the pointless columns. Attached to the back is a building that looks like a 70s primary school, the kind that was thrown up in poor areas of the city where you wouldn’t send your child to be educated because of the asbestos in the walls! However, you do get an idea of how it would look surrounded by trees as I said in my fantasy. The side faces onto a new MMU building and they are creating a little garden in front of the entrance. These beautiful silver birch trees with their white bark and their feathery branches contrast nicely with, and break up the darkness and the boring dullness of the walls. And when they are in full leaf they hide the wall and the asbestos filled (possibly) extension. i like the way the naturalness of the trees breaks up the strict geometry of the building.

 

This

I have to close my eyes tight when I drive my Mini along the stretch of Oxford Road near the John Dalton Building of MMU because across the road from it is ANOTHER of Manchester’s ugliest buildings. Fortunately the  Mini realises this and is able to steer himself through the traffic without me.

The building in question is the BBC’s former Manchester HQ before they decamped to the wide open spaces and glass buildings of Media City where it is difficult concentrating on the presenters because of the stunning views outside especially at night when they light up The Lowry and the Imperial War Museum.

I’m not sure if the same architect who did the MMU buildings may have had a hand in this one. There are a lot of similarities in style. There’s a long, low office block fronting Oxford Road. The street level presents more of that dirty red brick that features in the University buildings while the upper storeys are all stained concrete with mean little windows. The windows may be perfectly adequate to let in light but they are overwhelmed by the concrete. Attempts have been made at various points in time to paint the concrete but it wasn’t successful. Through time the BBC has changed its logo slightly. Each time that happened they changed it on the front of the building. Now it has been closed you can see the ghosts of logos past on the facade on top of one another. Behind the office block there are the studios and sound stages entirely covered in the  dreadful red bricks. And Manchester does that beautiful shade of red in bricks that soaks in teh sunshine and reflects it back out, why didn’t they use that type? It is a very depressing building.

When the BBC moved the site was sold off. Several developers were after this valuable site close to the city centre but also next to the University district. I seem to remember one of the developers wanted to refurbish the building, but with Media City up and running and Granada TV deserting the city centre for a new home by the canal, the chances of finding a company that wants a studio complex here was remote. The company that has got it has promised to pull it down and build new! Amen to that I say!

The university buildings around All Saints are positive icons of modern architecture compared to the one they have put up on Oxford Road. It’s called the John Dalton Building and is named after the Manchester scientist whose ground breaking work on atomic physics led to the nuclear power industry and the atomic bomb. Maybe we could use a small one…..

It is a full blown horror. There is yet more of that dirty, dark red coloured brick at ground level and a whole lot more of the stained concrete throughout the building. There’s an awful lot of glass in this building  and the architect made all of it slope. This could have been interesting but it catches all the dirt that falls in the rain and there doesn’t seem to be a way to clean the windows effectively. I don’t think they have been clean in years. I’ve never spotted a window cleaner anywhere near this ugly building and the sloping sides to the building don’t lend themselves to one of those cradles that you see on the side of glass towers.

The Oxford Road facade used to be continuous but at some point they decided to punch a huge new entrance into the glass wall. It was surrounded by copper plate which has gone that nice verdigris green that oxidised copper does and the entrance is glazed with some more of the brightly coloured glass that was put in the All Saints Building.

This dreadful, badly designed monstrosity is one of my candidates for the ugliest building in the city.

I’m not sure if this building is part of the Manchester Metropolitan University, it doesn’t seem to be on their official map. It is occupied by the Student Union and will be used by lots of the students from the university for their various student affairs. We have more of the ugly red brick and stained concrete as it was built at the same time as the All Saints Building which it faces across Oxford Road. A few years ago they added, I’m not sure why, the breeze block effect tower and the plate glass entrance on the corner. Possibly in an attempt to improve the look of the building. I suggest a pile of rubble and let’s start again would be a much better option.

The south side of All Saints is dominated by yet another nasty building owned by Manchester Metropolitan University. Actually it’s two buildings but I defy anyone to find the join. Facing onto Oxford Road is the All Saints Building and next to it is the Sir Kenneth Green Library. Sir Kenneth Green was a former Vice Chancellor of the Manchester Metropolitan University apparently.

Both buildings are built of the the ugly, red brick and the stained concrete that the other buildings in the area were constructed of and dominate the little gardens. At some point someone has added the odd new entrances that jut out at peculiar angles and are glazed in a variety of different coloured glass. They add nothing to the buildings apart from being peculiar. The best things about these buildings is that they are hidden for most of the year by the trees. Sadly, in Winter, the trees are bare and the buildings are revealed in all their ugliness.