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!

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