Thursday, 17 August 2017

Architectural Colossi and the Human Body: Buildings and Metaphors

I am very pleased to announce that my former postgraduate research student Dr. Charalampos Politakis has had his first book 'Architectural Colossi and the Human Body: Buildings and Metaphors' published by Routledge. Dr. Politakis was awarded his doctorate in 2014

From the book's description

'The human body has been used as both a model and metaphor in architecture since antiquity. This book explores how it has been an inspiration for the exterior form of architectural colossi through the years. It considers the body as a source of architectural and artistic representation and in doing so explores the results of such practices in colossal sculptures and architectural praxis within a philosophical discourse of space, time and media.
Architectural Colossi and the Human Body discusses the role of Platonic and Cartesian philosophy and how philosophers such as Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, and theoreticians such as Frascari and Pallasmaa, have seen, described and analysed the human body and the role of architecture and perception. Drawing upon three key case studies and by employing theoretical ideas of Venturi and others, this book will provide an understanding of the role of anthromorphism and the relation and use of the human body with reference to selected architects and artists.'

The book, published as part of the Routledge Research in Architecture series, is available here

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Further Comments after the Third Public Consultation on the St. Michael's Project 12 July 2017

I write with comments on the proposed St. Michael's development further to those made at the consultation event in the Manchester Central Library on 12 July 2017.

1. Overdevelopment
Although the present scheme considerably reduces the accommodation squeezed onto the site, by virtue of the height of the proposed single tower it still represents overdevelopment as the tower will still overshadow its neighbours on Jackson's Row and of necessity require the demolition of the present building of the Reform Synagogue. The presentation in September 2016 indicated a series of alternative arrangements had been considered, the lower ones of which are more appropriate for the surrounding cityscape, the form and scale of which maintains a high degree of physical integrity as a pre-eminent example of a Victorian city. The new scheme will still harm neighbouring buildings and the working life of their occupants, although there are potential compensations in the treatment of the streetscape.

2. Privatised Public Space
I applaud the decision not to create a privatised square at the corner of Southmill Street and Jackson's Row. However the current scheme still proposes an ungainly stepped roof terrace which clings to the idea that it is a contribution to the public realm and therefore compensates for the height of the tower. As in the previous scheme it is essentially a private drinking and dining terrace though positioned now in an unresolved manner adjacent to the retained facade of the Police Headquarters. The apparent need to accommodate this dubious element of corporate landscape compromises the effective treatment of the architectural heritage.

3. Street Fontages
The retention of the facade to Southmill Street and the creation of active street frontages that respect the existing street lines on Bootle Street and Jackson's Row are an opportunity to create new streetscapes along these routes which use materials that complement the existing mix of stone, brick and terracotta. While the juxtapositions of scale between the Georgian, Victorian and various periods of the Twentieth Century present challenges to the new development, the use of familiar materials and textures should help integrate the new design into its broader surrounding context.

4. Synagogue
It remains a source of great concern that this historically and architecturally significant building awaits demolition. If it is to be demolished the public presence of any replacement on Jackson's Row needs to be emphasised to maintain historical continuity on the site. The opportunity of its visibility from the new public space crossing from Bootle Street to Jackson's Row provides a further chance to reinforce the community's continued presence.

5. Sir Ralph Abercromby
The decision to retain this historic pub is a good one, both for its benefits to the streetscape on Bootle Street and for the decision to enhance its setting with the proposed public space crossing the site from Bootle Street to Jackson's Row, connecting to wider street networks and passageways in Manchester. However the juxtaposition with adjacent proposed structures, their size, scale, frontages and materials need careful attention if the pub is to given its proper due as a significant site in the city's history.

6. Permeability
Permeability across the site, as discussed above, is much improved and provides for a variety of routes across the city away from major traffic routes which offer the potential to complement the alleys and passageways identified as being part of the nationally significant townscape of Manchester by Ian Nairn as long ago as 1960. It is particularly important that this new space is public domain and access to it not restricted by gates or excessive monetisation.

7. Overshadowing
The proposed height of the single tower still presents significant overshadowing to the buildings along the north side of Jacksons Row. The model shown at the latest consultation appeared inaccurate in terms of height, especially when compared with that of Beetham Tower which either was represented at too small a scale, or the new tower was represented at too large a scale.

8. Colour
As stated above the material character of the area is largely stone, brick and terracotta and the new buildings should reflect this palette. At the present time much interesting architecture in the U.K. and Europe is being produced in brick and so the project offers the opportunity for both an authentically contemporary expression and a sympathetic contextualism. It might also present an opportunity for different architects to produce the various components of the masterplan to create contrast and variety on what is quite a big site.

9. Wider negative impact
While the positioning of the single tower has helped reduce the impact of the proposed development from Albert Square and St. Peter's Square, the impact from St. Ann's Square would still be considerable and presents an unfortunate jostling effect with Beetham Tower. This underlines the need for a clear policy regarding tall buildings in the central historic areas of Manchester.

10. Conclusion
The complete reconsideration of the previous project is to be welcomed wholeheartedly but the present project still attempts to put too much accommodation on the site leading to problems beyond the site's boundaries in terms of overshadowing and impact on views. It is imperative that the more positive consultation process now embarked on continues before a new planning application is submitted.

Eamonn Canniffe
Manchester School of Architecture

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Having Lutyens for lunch  (OR 'This piece of cod that passeth all understanding')

Manchester seems to have a severe lack of understanding for its two works by Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944). Firstly we had the vandals' proposal to remove his Cenotaph (1924) which now has the temerity to find itself in the path of an expanded tram junction.

Secondly we have the re-opening of the banking hall of the former Midland Bank (1929) as a branch of the 'Jamie's Italian' chain. Good as it is to see the building in use again after four years of closure the refurbishment does little to meet the exalted standard set by the greatest British architect of the early twentieth century. Calamitous decisions in planning and decor illustrate the sadly reduced aspirations of the city, and its inability to tolerate the few fragments of sublime architecture which are in its care.

The interior designers are clearly embarrassed by Lutyens's generous abundance of space and seem impelled to fill it up with unnecessary obstacles. The most prominent of these is the back bar unit which is too tall and placed too far forward across the centralised space, thereby destroying its symmetry and obscuring the view of the vaulted ceiling from the entrance area. If the bar had been placed between the two corner entrances (and BOTH of them maintained as entrances) the back bar unit would have conveniently decorated the essentially blank wall beneath the three great arched windows with their framed view of Edward Salomons's Reform Club (1871) across King Street.

Compounding this error of positioning there is the provision of lighting fixtures. I counted SEVEN different types from my perch, which was itself a pretty indifferent piece of furniture. The metallic framing over the bar, with its curious carriage lamps is so laughably poor a contribution to this prestigious interior one can only assume it must have come very cheap.

The main dining area (concealed behind that ill-proportioned back bar unit) just appears prosaic and character-free, a generic space wastefully concocted from a really special one. Diners will have to hope that the naff displays of oven gloves are not the start of even more cheerfully inauthentic branded clutter in more oddly placed furniture.

Verdict? I don't care who the chef is, this dish is being sent back to the kitchen!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Urban Degeneration

Swift has been the response from government and city fathers to the damage caused by looting and riot in Manchester on the night of 9 August. zero tolerance, retribution, firm staterments of intent have been deployed to outline a strategy of 'business as usual'. But what business? Planning policies that marginalise the status of the war dead and represent the administration of the law as just another lifestyle option in the bureaucratic-commercial complex. This is the debased state of the civic landscape in Manchester after nearly a quarter of a century of trickledown urbanism.

I refer, of course, to my perennial hobbyhorse of the pitiful quality of public space in the city. I remarked in my book 'Urban Ethic: Design in the Contemporary City' on the predictably poor examples of contemporary public space which Manchester had produced in the decade after the 1996 IRA bomb. A further five years on, after countless more CABE design review sessions, and a gravy train of expensively remunerated consultants can we discern that the situation has improved? Economic slump has probably slackened the pace, and austerity measures have trimmed the consultancy budgets but terrible judgements in taste and dubious values continue to produce cynically compromised projects.

The proposal for St. Peter's Square, Manchester, has been discussed elsewhere but the question might seriously be asked that if Charlie Gilmour deserves 16 months in prison for desecrating the Whitehall Cenotaph what would be an appropriate term be for those planners and traffic engineers who are unable to cope with the inconvenient position of the Manchester Cenotaph and propose chucking it aside in their own transport tantrum?

At the other end of what was once a great civic route Crown Square has been looted of all dignity. Surrounded by taller and vulgarly aggressive neighbours, chav-ery erected into a form of city-building, the sombre dignity of L.C. Howitt's Crown Court is now confronted by a weirdly rustic haven 'The Oasthouse'. This bizarre intrusion into the public space - yet another pub in a city drowning in licensed premises - makes a permanent feature of last Christmas's temporary 'ski lodge'. Every scrap of available space in the city has to be turned into a source of income and be available to the highest corporate bidder. Respect for the law? Get another round in - and make mine a large one!

It is at least a decade since Manchester's exclusive new apartments took shape behind hoardings lined with warnings on how to avoid drink-fuelled urban violence but the continuing situation at ground level shows no sign of improvement. An apparently non-judgemental state shelled out support for the unloved offspring of one night stands between rampant developers and architects with the metre running, planning authorities observing this messy congress like panting voyeurs. Illiterate to every sense of urban value or decorum the resulting monsters require the most exclusive brands to achieve the most lucrative turnover. Manchester City Council now appears to exist primarily to facilitate the expansion of these corporate brands, and predictably then feigns shock when chaotic individuals mistake this service as a free offer. The misreading of private commerce as the public realm, the downgrading of the collective against the encouragement of individual gratification, preferably paid for on credit, is the degraded cause of our urban malaise.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

James Stirling: Notes from the archive

The work of James Stirling, on exhibition in the Clore Gallery at Tate Britain (until 21 August) represents the first major exhibition reassessing his contribution to twentieth century architecture since his unexpected death in 1992. The display of so many small drawings dredges up in my tmind an observation from a personal friend of his 'It's hard to imagine those big hands producing such tiny drawings'. The key motif of the work is a crystalline geometry which persistently returns from the student project for the hexagonal mountain rangers' station to the later arts complexes with their sophisticated multilevel circulation strategies.

The exhibition is disappointingly staged. An efficicent subdivision of the oeuvre into early, middle and late periods is fitted snugly into the three gallery spaces. Material which tends to be rather small in size, (although it being the work of Stirling big in scale) is presented in a deadpan but methodical way with drawings on the walls and models associated with particuar projects isolated in groups on centrally placed tables. The judicious use of Stirling's trademark vivid palette would, perhaps, have added a little impact to the display. Inexplicably, a useful timeline of Stirling's career is marooned on a separate floor with a slideshow of photographs. The attention is so completely focused on Stirling that little context is offered to explain the successes and disappointments of his career, the relative paucity of British projects built after the university series and the greater esteem with which Stirling was held in Europe and the United States.

What gives pause for prolonged reflection is less nostalgia for the imagination of a vanished genius than rather more mundane matters. Major buildings are just not produced in this way any more. A whole plethora of digital systems have replaced Stirling's, his partners and assistants manually produced exploration of space and form, leaving the student of architectural evolution with a much harder task to trace the development of a project through repeated iterations of forms in different juxtapositions. The abiding impression is of the archaeology of the recent past, a slightly puzzling display of fascinating forms which continue to be worthy of exploration.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Death and the monument

(Keen observers should note the irony of the tram name in this photograph)

When I saw two men urinating on The Great Stone, oblivious to it's dedication to 'The Glorious Dead' last October I should have realised the extent of the threat to the city's memorial to its war dead. The news splashed gleefully across yesterday's Manchester Evening News that the city fathers are considering moving the cenotaph in St.Peter's Square to make way for more efficient tramlines follows in a long and tragic line of municipal waste when it comes to their judgements about the public realm. Who can forget such previous  triumphs for the council as the mysteriously vanished Market Street obelisk, the similarly vanished 'B of the Bang' or the continuing calamity which is Piccadilly Gardens?

In the Cenotaph's current arrangement one has a rare ensemble of monument and civic buildings which work to dignify the public realm and to lead citizens through their city. The current siting of the tram stops is a problem, but fails to fundamentally impair the beauty of the relationships between the Lutyens monument and Harris's library, with Library Walk, and with the broader confluence of Oxford Street, Peter Street and Lower Mosley Street. The more sensitive projects displayed for St.Peter's Square last summer recognised the importance of this piece of grand urban composition. The obvious solution is to move the tram stops closer to Princess Street, since there is a large ill-defined territory designated as the Peace Gardens, but hardly shown any respect as such.

Would Liverpool consider moving its memorial from outside St.George's Hall, or Sheffield consider moving its memorial from the beautifully restored City Hall? So why should Manchester even contemplate it? Do it's echoes provide some problem to potential investors in the office scheme to replace Elizabeth House? We should be told, but are unlikely to hear that from the MEN or the city council. At least presently the Cenotaph is spared the indignity of being exiled to Spinningfields, but I might come to regret that suggestion.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

The Future of Urban Architecture?

The closure of the 2010 Venice Architecture Biennale gives the opportunity to consider the representation of the urban condition as displayed in a number of pavilions and installations. The cityscape of the future, and its suburban outposts, are predicted to be weirdly accumulated from commercial products and the grimly repeated repetitive architecture one can instantly recognise as the centres and peripheries of Springfield or even Shelbyville. 

They are cartoons, the timid response of the creative mind to the often hectoring diagrams and statistics which featured in the previous Biennale. Perhaps by the time of the the next opening in the Giardini the city will receive some serious representations and designs which deal with the often difficult reality, rather than the bi-polar visions of utopia and dystopia which fill the present void.