Tag Archives: Design

Symposium report: The Making of Post-war Manchester, 1945-74: Plans and Projects

Poster

On the 8th May we organised a successful one-day symposium examining urban change in post-war Manchester, focussed upon infrastructural projects and the local implementation of central government initiatives in the three decades following 1945. Over one hundred people attended the event and engaged with a fascinating set of presentations from a range of geographers, historians, planners, architects and archaeologists composed of a mixture of well known professors, established scholars and new researchers. Fittingly for the symposium’s temporal focus it was held in the concrete bunker formerly known as the Kantorowich Building, designed by Professors Roy Kantorowich and Norman Hanson and completed in 1970. The speakers presented in the Cordingley Lecture Theatre, named after Reginald Cordingley (shown in full instructive mode below), Professor of Architecture at the University of Manchester between 1933 and 1962.

Source - Rylands Collection, Image Number - JRL1201094

Source – Rylands Collection, Image Number – JRL1201094

Aim: What changed in Manchester and what drove the changes?

The presentations were intended to reference transformative events and large scale built projects of the era in relation to civic plans, infrastructural initiatives, local and national government policies, technological innovation and the wider fiscal climate. The intellectual objective of the symposium programme was to reveal a selection of the significant narratives of the shifting social and physical development of the city during the years 1945 – 1974. Whilst we recognise that the two dates are, in many respects, arbitrary bookends for processes of change and urban development that are often long running and cumulative, they do provide a set of sensible marker posts – running from the end of the Second World War in 1945 up to 1974 and the wholesale political reorganisation of the conurbation in the wake of the Local Government Act (1972).

City of Manchester Plan

City of Manchester Plan

As a departure point, 1945 is particularly interesting and equally problematic, as it is all too easy to assume it as a pivotal moment, when, in actuality, it simply marked the end of the wartime hiatus and the resumption of many schemes and strategies devised in the decades before 1939. That said, many of the speakers made explicit reference to Rowland Nicholas’ 1945 City of Manchester Plan as a signature ‘visionary’ document of the era and it is evidently a useful narrative touchstone. It is perhaps unsurprising that the other end of these three decades was less considered. There were markedly fewer references to the formation of Greater Manchester, possibly reflective of its ambiguous status at the time and its limited legacy in the makeup of contemporary Manchester. It is now an apposite time to consider this period, via a public symposium, for several reasons, not least of all because some of the personnel directly involved in the projects are still around and can be ‘brought out of the woodwork’ to tell their stories. Moreover, primary documentary material is newly emerging into archives and becoming publicly available, and more generally it taps into growing scholarly engagement and broader public fascination with these three decades not just in this city, but across Europe.

map

This symposium built directly on our experience of curating a successful public exhibition in spring 2012, entitled Infra_MANC, that considered the role of infrastructure in the making of post-war cities by looking at the planning of the Mancunian Way elevated urban motorway, the never realised Picc-Vic railway tunnel, the Guardian ‘secret’ underground telephone exchange and fanciful notions for a rooftop city centre heliport. The 200 page illustrated catalogue from this exhibition has just been released online as free PDF book. The study of both built and unbuilt projects has the capacity to reveal new histories, particularly political relationships and the interplay of local interests with national policy directives. Unrealised urban schemes, be they for buildings or infrastructure, frequently leave unrefined traces of their gestation, promotion and failure that do not gloss over the fractious and antagonistic relations of policy makers and power players. In this regard the active debates and discourse around the things that did not physically alter, but still had the capacity to change, the city were as relevant to the symposium as the obvious large scale extant developments, which were also considered.

The Symposium

Speakers Laurence Brown and Niall Cunningham. Photo source - Joe Blakey

Speakers Laurence Brown and Niall Cunningham. Photo source – Joe Blakey

The event itself was arranged into four sessions. It began with a contextual overview, eloquently chaired by Professor Brian Robson and in the opening talk by Professor Michael Hebbert, a former professor at Manchester, dissected the limits of the assigned time frame and provided passionate prose on the relative shift from the modern industrial metropolis to a something approaching a post-modern service city and its refraction through the lens of Granada Television’s Coronation Street. Subsequent sessions dealt with spatial changes related to housing renewal, the development of key social institutions including higher education and the NHS, and the impact of pollution control on the environmental quality for the city and its citizens. Midway through the day a stimulating presentation was given on population migration in the post-war period contrasting the situation in Moss Side to Cheetham Hill, presented by University of Manchester colleagues Laurence Brown from History and Niall Cunningham based in the ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC) (shown in the photograph above). The day concluded with presentations on the development of aviation facilities for Manchester, the broader culture of the Mancunian Way and a description of the ‘disconnected city’ caused by distinct shadow of unbuilt ring roads in the urban form of the city centre.

Each participant received a 36 page printed booklet containing the full programme and speaker details. The symposium also included a gallery of reproductions of nearly twenty of the key plans and maps from the era and the Manchester Modernist Society were on hand with their ‘pop-up shop’. The full programme and abstract of the presentations are given on the supporting blog, PostwarMcr. With the kind permission of the speakers we have been able to provide copies of the slides for the majority of the talks, which are also available via the blog.

The symposium was made possible with financial support via a Seedcorn grant from the Cities@Manchester initiative and with complementary fund through the Campion Fund of the Manchester Statistical Society. Behind the scenes logistical support was provided by colleagues in SED and several student volunteers from architecture and geography. The Manchester School of Architecture kindly underwrote printing costs.

The Future of Post-war Manchester

Manchester and its Region

 

We plan to develop an edited book following the themes of the symposium and we are pleased that many of the speakers have committed to contributing chapters. In broad terms the volume will be a compendium of new and existing works and organised in the manner of a ‘regional study’ with chapters covering key themes (housing, transport, education, industrial change, etc.). As such, the book will have clear resonances with earlier edited volumes, such as the survey prepared under the editorship of Charles Carter for the meeting British Association for the Advancement of Science held in Manchester, August 29 to September 5, 1962. As currently proposed, our new title, The Making of Post-war Manchester will, hopefully, be much broader in style and with discursive space for commentaries, shorter essays and visual interpretations of how city changed during the thirty or so years after the end of the Second World War. It is likely that it will be published and distributed by bauprint, Richard’s cottage publishing arm, designed and priced to appeal to wide readership interested in the city’s histories. Once the initial print run is sold we will also make the book available free online as a popular and educative resource.

The Making of Post-war Manchester symposium brought together scholars from a range of disciplines and professionals in planning and architecture, along with students studying aspects of Manchester’s development, and some members of the general public, interested in the recent history of their city. It is hoped that the crossing of disciplines will provide new narrative associations previously unexplored that may act as a platform for further research and discourse.

Richard Brook, Senior Lecturer, Manchester School of Architecture 

Martin Dodge, Senior Lecturer, Department of Geography, University of Manchester 

 

Suspended spaces

A map of suspended spaces in Manchester city centre

A map of suspended spaces in Manchester city centre. Click to interact or add more spaces

by Sam Baars, PhD candidate, Institute for Social Change

At first sight the city is all noise, movement and purpose – a place where people, vehicles and buildings jostle for space and every last inch of ground is accounted for by its function. But in this bustling urban environment inactive, suspended spaces are abundant. Manchester city centre is host to dozens of them – stalled construction sites, abandoned buildings and empty plots – and many can be found within walking distance of Piccadilly. This is a brief guide to a selected few.

If you’re coming to Manchester by train you can enjoy some of the city’s most prominent suspended spaces before you’ve even set a foot down. Arriving into Piccadilly, the view to your left is dominated by the derelict Mayfield Station, empty since 1986 and with no firm proposals for redevelopment, while to your right is a hole in the ground the size of Piccadilly Gardens, occasionally filled with parked cars, which was to be the site of the 58-storey Piccadilly Tower before the recession brought construction work to a halt in 2008. On exiting the station to the north you’re greeted by the meandering S of Gateway House which, currently empty save for its ground floor shops, forms a slightly decrepit entrance to a smart city. To the west, nestled between some of the city’s most expensive hotels, are the broken windows of the Employment Exchange, whose tortuous journey from drawing board to construction was interrupted by the Second World War. The recession, which put paid to the Albany Crown Tower proposed for the site, has granted the Employment Exchange temporary respite from the bulldozers – and afforded this former labour office a glimpse of a recession-stricken Manchester in which unemployment currently stands at 12%. To the south of Piccadilly Station sits London Road Fire Station, a fume-blackened Edwardian gem which has been empty for fifteen years while various proposals for music venues, hotels and a museum have come and gone. Urban explorers 28 Days Later reveal that the building is now home to an impressive collection of stuffed animals.

Arriving by car, it couldn’t be easier to find somewhere central to park. Piccadilly Basin, once a hub of canalside warehouses and home to the headquarters of the Rochdale Canal Company, is, as irony would have it, now home to the parked car – a symbol of the victory of the twentieth century motorway over the Victorian waterway. There is a masterplan for Piccadilly Basin which includes offices, retail, apartments and leisure, along with the flagship Eider House, whose triangular site is currently home to Linda’s Pantry and a van rental depot. But until the masterplan is realised, Piccadilly Basin will continue to be a space for stationary vehicles. One of the few suspended spaces in the city centre not to be transformed into a car park is a meagre patch of grass and goose poo next to Tariff Street, which is a popular spot for barbecues in the summer and will become homes and shops when the masterplan eventually comes to fruition.

A short walk along the Rochdale Canal into Ancoats reveals the single largest suspended space in the city centre. New Islington is at last beginning to take shape, over a decade after funding was secured to transform it into a Millennium Community. While some set pieces such as the Chips building were completed by 2006, the rest of the project stalled as the effects of the financial crash a year later trickled through into the credit and housing markets. The site is still largely a wasteland of debris from the demolished Cardroom Estate, although new houses, a marina, a public park and a school are now in progress. Northwest along the ring road sits the skeleton of Nuovo, which has graced the entrance to Ancoats since 2007 and remains incomplete six years later after its developer filed for bankruptcy.

Turning back towards the city centre, immediately opposite these totems of space suspended by the (in)operation of private finance, is a suspended space of an altogether different nature. Between Dean Street and Port Street is a triangular plot hosting a single house (number 75) surrounded by temporary car parks. This suspended space isn’t a physical incarnation of the vagaries of the market, a la Nuovo and New Islington, but the ghost of a government plan. Sketches drawn up by the City Council in the 1960s and 70s show the proposed new Inner Circle Road blasting its way through this gap en-route to an interchange that would have wiped out much of Ancoats. As with many grand highway-building plans from that era, such as the extension of the M57 along the Hyde Road, even when the roads were never realised they often left behind scars of deterred development along their route.

Further towards the city centre, sandwiched between Port Street, Hilton Street and Newton Street is a small wedge of land occupied by Bradley House, Manchester’s Victorian take on New York’s Flatiron, and the Hatters hostel with its equally stateside metal fire escapes. There is a gap between these two buildings where a pub once stood – the Sir Sidney Smith, which became the Old Windmill and finally the Kensington before it was demolished in the 1970s. One of the smallest suspended spaces on the route, the Kensington gap is a temporary car park and home to a giant blue tit who arrived in 2012.

Outside the Piccadilly area Manchester city centre has many more suspended spaces: Origin, the Faraday Tower, the Tib Street Horn, Smithfield Market and the Ancoats Dispensary to name but a few. The intriguing thing about all of these suspended spaces is their variety. Firstly, they exist for different reasons. Most of these spaces are artifacts of market collapse – planned towers, Millennium Communities and entire swathes of canalside land all hibernating for the protracted economic winter. Some, however, are shadows of a centrally planned future that never left the page. Secondly, suspended spaces appear in different guises. Some are empty voids of bare earth or rubble – Picadilly Tower and much of New Islington, some contain buildings whose useful function has lapsed – Smithfield Market and the Employment Exchange, while others are home to structures that were grounded before they were even completed – Origin, Nuovo. Finally, suspended spaces accommodate a variety of interim uses, both official and unofficial. While car parks are de rigueur, such as at Piccadilly Basin, some are graced with public art – the Tib Street Horn, the Kensington blue tit, and, very occasionally, suspended space can become green space, such as at Tariff Street. Suspended spaces, by their nature as redundant, forgotten realms, have also been appropriated organically – The Kensington is a popular space for band shoots and Saturday night altercations, the London Road Fire Station and Faraday Towers are frequented by urban explorers, and a small patch of Piccadilly Basin is now home to a cluster of allotments.

Suspended spaces are an inevitable component of the cityscape: paradoxically, as pockets of inactivity they are a byproduct of a dynamic, changing urban environment. Stalled transitions between the past and the future, suspended spaces demonstrate what can happen when plans meet a hostile reality, but also how we can, at least on occasion, find innovative interim uses for the resulting land. Some suspended spaces are gems; others are eyesores, but they are a fascinating and important part of our city’s story. Take the tour, discover your own suspended spaces and add them to the map.

‘Anti-park’ to ‘Designer Park’? The proposed development of Berlin’s Tempelhofer Feld

Tempelhofer Freiheit in summer 2012

Tempelhofer Freiheit in summer 2012

by Clare Murray, PhD candidate in German Studies

The heavily contested decision to remove part of the longest remaining stretch of Berlin Wall to make way for luxury new flats has led to the re-emergence of some of the key issues that have characterised post-unification urban planning in Berlin: gentrification; the treatment of historical traces; and the significance of interim spaces. Underlying these is the confrontation between a market-driven, neo-liberal socio-economic structure and a rejection of that as a dominant framework which should shape the urban environment of Berlin. At the time of writing, the East Side Gallery has been granted a stay of execution but this is far from the only arena in Berlin where these debates play out:  just over five kilometres away the airfield of the former Flughafen Tempelhof is subject to a redevelopment plan which has pitted individuals, citizens’ groups, and some politicians against the Berlin Senate.

The site itself is of great architectural and historical importance: The airfield is a key site in aviation history having hosted pioneering flight demonstrations in the early twentieth century; Sagebiel’s colossal airport building, begun in 1937 and never fully realised, was one of the prestige projects of the Third Reich. A hybrid between stone-clad National Socialist monumentality and a technically innovative 1930s city airport, it remains one of the most iconic buildings in Berlin; the use of the airport by the American Air Force after the war, and in particular, its connection with the Air Lift have re-inscribed the site as a ‘symbol of freedom’ to many (West) Berliners; and the controversial cessation of flight operations in 2008 brought the site’s future firmly into public discourse.

When the airport closed, a unique asset was brought back into public use: a 270 hectare area of open space.  Its use as a military exercise and parade ground and then as an airfield had preserved the vast green area and enabled it to leap-frog almost two centuries of ideas about how public space should be constituted. It has now, however, been exposed to the forces acting on the 21st century Western European city. In 2010 the airfield was opened as a unique city park, enabling visitors to cycle and skate on the former runways and to play sport and picnic underneath now defunct signs displaying instructions to pilots. Citizens were invited to apply for space to establish interim ‘pioneer’ projects which currently range from a unicycle school to allotment-type ‘urban gardening’ facilities for residents without access to a garden.

On 6th March 2013 the ‘masterplan’ for the future of the site was unveiled at a lively public meeting in the former airport building. The plans confirmed the intention to ‘develop’ the former airfield in two senses of the word: to build new ‘city quarters’ on the field’s edges; and to alter its internal structure[1]. The Senate for Urban Development states that they are meeting demands for increased housing in Berlin and for improved facilities at the park yet both elements of this reconfiguration of Tempelhofer Feld are being met with resistance.

Citizens’ initiatives such as 100% Tempelhofer Feld are leading the campaign against the proposal to build on the former airfield[2]. They have organised a petition for a referendum which will reach the second round in September. Green and Left Party politicians have submitted a motion to the Abgeordenethaus for a halt to the planning process while this petition is still running[3] .

The reaction is not only against the proposal to build on the site but also about the plan to reshape the 230 hectares that will remain as parkland. The 2013 ‘masterplan’ makes clear that the next few years will see increased intervention into the remaining park landscape.  The proposed system of pathways will shape how visitors use and experience the space, creating easily accessible areas which will be more intensively used than the expanse in the middle where there will be fewer paths. The 4 hectare water basin, which will collect rainwater from the building, will constitute the first major permanent feature on the landscape which does not attest to its history or former function. The 1000 trees, which are to be planted at the site’s edges to provide shade and seem to be positioned to serve a double function in screening the proposed new city quarters, will bring about a contraction of the site’s perimeter, diminishing the vast emptiness of the Feld’s panorama.

Those campaigning for Tempelhofer Feld to remain in its present condition fear the transformation of ‘anti-park’ into ‘designer park’[4]. The designation of ‘anti-park’ derives from the fact that, as an appropriation of left-over space, Tempelhofer Freheit, as the park is named,  is not the product of an over-arching  ‘park design’ process. Accordingly, several of the features that characterise the western public park are absent here.

In contrast to the taming of nature prized in the gardens of the baroque or renaissance period, the park at Tempelhof has been characterised by the celebration of the capacity of nature to reclaim and reassert itself.

The former fire-service practice plane. Summer 2011

The former fire-service practice plane. Summer 2011

Unlike the pathways of the nineteenth century park, with their graceful contours and simple variety which Joyce explains were carefully designed to encourage walking in the belief the working class would seek to emulate the comportment of their ‘betters’,  the default means of getting around Tempelhof are the former runways, shaped to fulfil an entirely different function. Similarly, while Joyce explains that a key feature in the design of nineteenth century public park was the variation of the (in)finitude of space, achieved through the strategic planting of trees to open and close the panorama, Tempelhof is characterised by the vast emptiness of its horizon[5].

Tempelhofer Freiheit. Summer 2012.

Tempelhofer Freiheit. Summer 2012.

In other ways, however, the ordering processes that Joyce identified in the nineteenth-century public park have been active at Tempelhofer Freiheit since its opening. There is, of course, considerable relaxation in the idea of what is ‘appropriate’ for a public park – ‘swearing’ and ‘dirty clothes’ are not banned, for example, yet the restriction of loose dogs and barbecuing to designated areas, unusual in Berlin, raised eyebrows. More pronounced is the issue of (in)accessibility that arose when it became clear that the park would have a perimeter fence with opening and closing hours;  ‘a people’s park –until the sun goes down’ wrote one newspaper[6]. The rejection of the idea that through the numbered gates and the non-porous boundaries of Tempelhof, the park and its visitors become countable, knowable and therefore manageable feeds into a wider theme which is particularly salient in 21st century Berlin; resistance to the homogenisation both of space and of the individuals that inhabit that space. Through the fence, Tempelhofer Feld is demarcated as a ‘place’ wherein particular norms of behaviour are expected and, to an extent, enforced.  This is consolidated by the fact that the public can only use the park during daylight hours, i.e. when they are visible, this suggests that when they cannot be seen, and thus monitored, the ‘general public’ may not conduct themselves ‘appropriately’ and should thus not be permitted to access the park.

Tempelhofer Feld is seen as a tranche of wilderness which through historical circumstance has persisted within the urban area. The proposed development is seen as an extension of attempts to manage its wilderness, to limit access to it, to shape how it is to be used and experienced and, most significantly, to repackage parts of it as a commodity.


[1] Up-to-date information and a PDF download of the masterplan are available at http://www.tempelhoferfreiheit.de/ueber-die-tempelhofer-freiheit/aktuelles/nachrichten/standortkonferenz/

Urban Forum – Creating ‘age-friendly cities’: developing a new urbanism for all generations

cities@manchester are organising a public panel debate on Tuesday 30 April, 6pm at the Anthony Burgess Foundation on ‘Creating ‘age-friendly cities’: developing a new urbanism for all generations’. The event is free (but please book your place here) and will be followed by a drinks and food reception.

Creating ‘age-friendly cities’: developing a new urbanism for all generations

Developing ‘age-friendly’ cities has become a key issue for improving the quality of life of all generations. Population ageing and urbanization have in their different ways become the dominant trends of the 21st century, raising issues for all types of communities. By 2030, two-thirds of the world’s population will be residing in cities. By that time many of the major urban areas of the Global North will have 25 per cent or more of their population aged 60 and over. Cities will remain central to economic development, attracting waves of migrants and supporting new industries. However, the extent to which what has been termed the ‘new urban age’ will produce ‘age-friendly communities’ remains uncertain.

Cities have many advantages for older people in respect of easy access to medical services, provision of cultural and leisure facilities, shopping and general necessities for daily living. However, urban life can also create threatening environments, producing insecurity, feelings of exclusion, and vulnerability with changes to neighbourhoods. These issues affect all age groups and not just older people. However, with older people spending 80 per cent of their time in the home and home environment, support from the immediate neighbourhood and beyond becomes crucial. What is the scope for developing age-friendly cities to take account of these issues? Some questions to be considered in the debate will include:

Cities are viewed as key drivers for economic success but can they integrate ageing populations as well? Can the resources of the city be used to improve quality of life in old age – just 1 in 20 households may have the money to take account of what cities such as Manchester have to offer? Can cities be designed in the interests of all age groups? What are the options for responding to different housing needs across the life course? How can older people be central to the regeneration of urban neighbourhoods? Can older and younger age groups work together to identify common needs and secure ‘rights to the city’ which work in the interests of all generations.

Our panellists will give us their perspectives on these issues on Tuesday. A short preview is given below.

Graeme Henderson, Research Fellow, IPPR North

If recovering from the financial crisis is the key fiscal policy challenge of this decade, an ageing population will be the biggest of the next decade, and the one after that. Too often population ageing is seen only as a burden on the economy but this plays down its potential benefits and the opportunities it will bring. Making work work better for older people who want to remain in the workforce for longer can help increase our country’s economic capacity in the same way that the influx of women into the workforce did in the post-war period. Adapting products and services, homes and even cities, to fit with the requirements and preferences of older citizens is opening up potential growth markets which we should be every bit as on focused on as emerging economies on the other side of the world.

Equally, older workers often have built up a vast amount of experience from working in the same or similar fields for many years. There is a justified perception that this expertise is not being properly utilised in workplaces and by society. A cultural shift is necessary to ensure that this accumulated knowledge is better understood and fully made use of.

While there is a moral case for developing age-friendly cities, we must not let take understate the economic case either.

Cities in the North of England already aspire to be at the frontier of embracing the silver economy. However, while they are home to several ground-breaking initiatives, these initiatives are largely isolated from wider economic strategies and have yet to deliver a breakthrough in turning around economic challenges. For example, the northern regions have the lowest levels of economic activity among older age men, while for women the three northern regions account for three of the lowest five performers amongst 50-59 year olds, and the three lowest among over 60s.

In most regions and cities, the response to ageing has been on the perceived costs of population change, its impact on service delivery, a focus on attracting a relatively declining cohort of younger workers and new sources of economic growth rather than considering the potential economic contribution of their growing ‘silver’ cohort. Ageism is sadly rife in our society and is perhaps the main obstacle standing in the way of a flourishing silver economy. There is also a perception that older workers extending their careers prevents young people finding jobs.

IPPR North’s new Silver Economies project will seek to address these challenges and look at how to better harness the economic potential of our maturing society.

Stefan White, Manchester School of Architecture

The role of urban research and design in making cities age-friendly: (con)testing the WHO design guidance in a Manchester Neighbourhood

We have just completed a participatory urban research and design project for of an age-friendly neighbourhood in ‘Old Moat’, Manchester, UK for Southway Housing Trust.

Our reflection on the Old Moat project is focussed on how the WHO age-friendly city programme and policies enable us to both understand (Research) and produce (Design) more inclusive urban environments. The key issues which have arisen in trying to come to know a particular neighbourhood of the city and then attempting to arrive at concrete proposals for making it more ‘Age-friendly’ are  how we decide to define and act in relation to  the three broad categories of ‘City’, ‘Neighbourhood’ and ‘Age-friendly’.

City

We have taken the view that the City should be understood as a  complex entity where physical and social issues and causes interact and interlock with one another: A multiplicity of networks at different spatial scales constituted through territorialised relations that stretch beyond its limits (Robinson 2005).  Urban research and design for a city of networks involves understanding and changing the relations between places, groups and services as well as the physical environments, organisations and provisions themselves.

Using the example of ‘Old Moat’ we argue that urban design should not be understood as limited to removing ‘unfriendly’ objects or surfaces but include stimulating both formal and informal enabling services, socialities and infrastructure networks.

E.g more benches are a common request heard in age-friendly research and a sensible proposition with regard to the average mobility of older people – however concerns over management and anti-social behaviour often prevent them from being installed or are the reason for their removal. How can we design a neighbourhood with more benches?

Neighbourhood

We have approached the concept of Neighbourhood as comprising both the community and the space in which it is practiced (DeCertau, Petrescu). This means it is not just a space on a map but made what it is by the people who live there. This approach asks that we address the political engagement or involvement of a community in parallel with any environmental ‘improvements’.

In this context we have found that the design of age-friendly cities presents immediate challenges in terms of both negotiating  and understanding territorial relationships between specific neighbourhoods and the general resources of ‘City’.

We argue that age-friendly urban research and design must facilitate community-led negotiation of interventions within both a neighbourhood and the wider city networks to which it relates.  E.g making an area especially suited for Older people may have the effect of reducing the provision elsewhere, how can we design an ‘Age-friendly’ neighbourhood in an ‘Age-friendly’ city?

Age-friendly

Following these relational definitions of city and the neighbours who both ‘inhabit’ and create it, we contest that while ‘Age-friendliness’ (as defined in the eight interlocking World Health Organisation ‘domains’) presents a social model for the understanding  (research) of the impact of the city on older people – and promotes participation as part of this –  it currently limits its definition of the role of design to a medical model (Hanson 2007).  This either assumes that the relations between ‘Citizens’ are not what, in fact, makes ‘the City’ liveable or friendly – or that design can have no role in changing these things.

We argue instead that  making a city more age-friendly is a participatory process of research and design for the development of  urban environmental proposals which should negotiate:  both physical and social  aspects of territory; within each specific neighbourhood;  across a range of scales and time frames of the city.

Paul McGarry, Senior Strategy Manager, Valuing Older People Team, Manchester City Council

Ageing in cities, and specifically in disadvantaged urban areas, involves risks that can lead to ill health and poor quality of life.   Accordingly, the primary focus of age-friendly programmes has been on older people and ageing.

In the age of austerity the argument for all-age improvement social programmes is persuasive and intuitively ‘right’.  However there is evidence that without a specific focus on older people, especially in cities, the policy and delivery drivers that can create ‘good places to grow old’ are often overlooked.

The emerging debates, policy focus and city-based programmes concerned with age-friendly cities reflect a number of key demographic, economic and policy drivers.

The first of these is the compelling demographic driver.  As the Dublin Declaration, signed by 42 municipalities in September 2011, argues,

“In a world in which life expectancy is increasing at the rate of over two years per decade, and the percentage of the population over 65 years is projected to double over the next forty years, the need to prepare for these changes is both urgent and timely.”

So by 2030 two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities, whilst one-quarter of urban populations in high income countries will be aged sixty and over.  And by 2050 one-quarter of urban populations in less developed countries will be aged sixty and over. (Phillipson 2010)

These are well known and well-worn facts that we often tire of hearing, but they signal profound social and economic changes which will create new types of communities, not just in the relatively rich north, but also across the BRIC countries and beyond.

We know that ageing in cities, and specifically in disadvantaged urban areas, involved risks that can lead to ill health and poor quality of life.   Health inequalities affecting such areas are well documented and extremely persistent.  And as Gierveld and Scharf (2008) argue,

“There is emerging evidence that urban environments may place older people as heightened risk of isolation and loneliness.”

The position of older people in cities, at least in a UK context, is described by an Audit Commission (2008) report in these terms:

“Some Councils will see an outward migration of affluent people in their 50 and 60s…the remaining older population …tends to be…poorer, isolated and more vulnerable with a lower life expectancy and a need for acute interventions.”

Unfortunately, for most part the dominant narratives of ageing have concerned pension and health and care service reform.  I will leave aside for now the content of these narratives, but insofar as ageing is discussed in political and social discourse it is at this level.  There is also an important subplot developing in this story.  That of generational competition and the notion of the baby boomer generation having accumulated wealth (and power) for itself at the expense of the generations following it.  The impact of these narratives is all too often to prevent public policy moving beyond first base.

 

In response to these challenges the World Health Organisation age-friendly environments programme was launched in the mid 2000s and resulted 33 cities collaborating on the production of a good practice guide.  The WHO guide is based on eight ‘domains’ which include social and civic participation, the built environment, transport, housing and so on.  (WHO 2007)

In 2010 a Global Network of age-friendly cities was declared, bringing together around a dozen partners – including Manchester – signed up to ambitious plans.   138 cities have now signed up to the WHO network.

A criticism of the focus on older people in mainstream age-friendly programmes is that they either represent a missed opportunity to improving cities for all age groups and/or that they exclude young people or potentially create generational fractures.  In my experience this is an imagined risk.  And at a delivery level it is commonplace in age-friendly programmes that intergenerational approaches such as Manchester’s ‘Generations Together’ initiative, figure highly.  More widely, in a UK context there is little to suggest that the ageing agenda crowds out those aimed at younger generations.

The implications of the age-friendly approach that I’ve outlined suggest a broad range of national and local actions.  Partners should:

  • Work within the framework of  the WHO Global Network of Age-Friendly cities and promote the Dublin Declaration on age-friendly cities and environments;
  • Respond to local needs, desires, inequalities and the specific challenges of growing older in each area with a holistic approach to cover the range of services, opportunities and neighbourhood needs important to residents, including healthy ageing in mid-later life;
  • Include cross-generational approaches in age-friendly programmes;
  • Adopt inclusive approaches that are flexible to the strengths of local communities, voluntary organisations and frontline staff;
  • Shift the focus of support services towards earlier interventions, ill-health prevention, whole populations and multi-faceted initiatives;
  • Learn from academic and expert partners and independent scrutiny and evaluation; and
  • Maintain a citizenship perspective on engagement to create communities of interest with older people in the lead.

CONCLUSION

The demographic, economic and policy drivers outlined above demand a linked up, programmatic response at international, national and local levels.  So for now at least, the international movement which aims to create age-friendly cities and communities should be encouraged to flourish.

It is being realistic to acknowledge that, in particular, in the western economies, the cold economic climate presents us with significant policy and delivery challenges in respect of disadvantaged urban populations.   In this context the specific and growing needs (and assets) of the urban old requires a distinctive voice, of which the age-friendly movement is an inspiring example.

References

Audit Commission (2008) Don’t Stop Me Now: preparing for an ageing population” Audit Commission, London

McGarry P and Morris J (2011) A Great Place to Grow Older: A case study of how Manchester is developing an age-friendly city.  Working with Older People Volume 15 issues 1, Pier Press.

Phillipson C (2010) Growing Old in Urban Environments: Development of Age-friendly Communities, in the SAGE Handbook of Social Gerontology edited by Dannefer D and

Phillipson C, Sage publications.

Scharf T and Gierveld J (2008) Loneliness in Urban Neighbourhoods: An Anglo-Dutch Comparison, European Journal of Ageing, 5, 103-115.

World Health Organisation (2007) Global Age-friendly Cities: A Guide, World Health Organisation Geneva  http://www.who.int/ageing/publications

Flexible, Adaptable, Sustainable: Building for the Future

by Angela Connelly, School of Environment and Development

1 Angel Square: Central Atrium, (c) Matthew G. Steele

1 Angel Square: Central Atrium, (c) Matthew G. Steele

I recently had the opportunity to tour the newly opened (though only partially occupied) 1 Angel Square[1]: the latest addition to The Co-operative Group’s real estate portfolio. Led by the architects 3DReid, the tour began with an insight into the genesis of a building likened to a “sliced egg” or even a “walnut whip” (McLachlan 2013).

The Co-operative Group, we were reminded, has long been a visionary client. Whilst Manchester’s city centre still showed the scars of the 1940 Christmas blitz; rebuilding work being inhibited due to austerity, the Group commissioned what became the tallest structure in the UK: CIS tower. Opened in 1962, and Grade II listed in 1995, CIS Tower looms above a foundational podium: 25 storeys of glass, aluminium and black enamelled steel, a design that owed more in its conception to American skyscrapers than the concrete structures more commonly found throughout Europe (Forty 2012). Indeed, concrete and stone were not chosen because of their tendency to discolour owing to the polluting atmosphere (the Clean Air Act had only been passed in 1956).

CIS Tower fulfilled a wish that the building should add to the prestige of the Co-operative Group; improve Manchester’s appearance; and provide the very best in accommodation for their staff (Hartwell 2001: 241). The lush teak-clad interiors of the executive suites on the upper floors, designed by Mischa Black and the Design Research Unit, are now deemed inappropriate by the client because of the implied prestige and power they represent. More recently, when the mosaic tiles of the service tower needed replacing, the Co-operative Group retrofitted weather proof, photo-voltaic panels that generate electricity for the building in line with company commitments to tackle climate change. However, when it came to appraising the sustainable credentials of a portfolio of buildings that stretches across 150 years, it seemed rational to build afresh given the costs of refurbishing and retrofitting.

Whatever one thinks about the aesthetics of 1 Angel Square, its selling point is the outstanding BREEAM rating – the highest rating of any building in the UK – at 95 per cent (Wilding 2013). Some very old ideas in architecture such as passive ventilation and building orientation are integrated with the new. Building Information Modelling (BIM) aims to ensure that, up until the year 2050, the building will still function as originally intended given projected climate changes. 1 Angel Square’s double skin facade minimises heating and cooling loads by using brise-soleil. Further, the architects have fitted a closed loop energy system: the combined heat and power (CHP) units are fuelled by waste rapeseed oil produced on the Co-operative Groups UK farms. Not only adaptable to the future climate, the flexible (and democratic) office spaces are designed to be easily reconfigured or extended. This also responds to the perceived inflexibility of the CIS Tower’s working space given subsequent developments in technology and the changes wrought by mobile telecommunications.

Seduced by the superb views of Manchester available from the roof terraces on the 14th floor of 1 Angel Square, I nevertheless had a nagging question. It is not about sustainability, however that might be interpreted, instead, it is about “designing” flexibility and adaptability: how much can we anticipate? Here, my mind turns towards the past rather than the future.

Exterior Oldham Street October 2010

Exterior Oldham Street October 2010

The Albert Hall in Manchester

The Albert Hall in Manchester

The research for my thesis concerned a particular type of religious building. Not the traditional sort of church that immediately springs to mind with a Gothic spire, intricate detailing, naves, pews, and glory-unto-God. Rather, the Methodist Central Halls (those that do remain) are very commercial looking buildings. The first of their type is located on Oldham Street in Manchester. An innovative development at that time, the Methodists took the step of including rent producing shops on the ground floor – a necessity in a city with high land values (Connelly 2012). The brief for such churches, as I discovered, was relatively simple: the buildings had to be flexible and adaptable, sufficiently anonymous perhaps, should the Methodists have to sell the building. Alternatively, if a success, the rent-producing shops could be easily converted to religious work. They never were.

I suspect that most people who have had cause to enter the Manchester Central Hall recently may have done so to buy some music, attend a residents meeting, the Girl Guide’s HQ or perhaps a Weight Watchers meeting.  One lesson that I learned from looking at the Methodist Central Halls is that what one generation bequeaths to another is not necessarily a gift readily received. New becomes old, people move away, social practices change, the building becomes perceived as inflexible and constraining. Sometimes, someone new will come along with enough money and vision to turn it into something that has relevance today – as the bar chain Trof are doing with another old Methodist hall on Peter Street.

What such musings should highlight is that the relationship between building design and people is complex and not one-dimensional. Buildings should be regarded as systems that need to work as a whole and nourish the human beings who use it. They change slowly; often imperceptibly. And they need to be studied in their entirety: not only in terms of space but also time. Their meaning will subtly alter and this can be traced through narratives of buildings at work. As the sociologist Thomas Gieryn (2002: 35) points out:  “They [buildings] are forever objects of (re) interpretation, narration and representation – and meanings and stories are sometimes more pliable than the walls and floors they depict.”

When the ecologist Stewart Brand wrote How Buildings Learn (1994), he identified three forces that result in change: technology, money, and fashion. He inverts Louis Sullivan’s classic dictum: “Form ever follows function” to become “function reforms form” (Brand 1994: 3) and in doing so points out that how buildings learn over time is just as important as the question of how they are designed in the first place.   In a similar vein, Richard Sennett lauds the inventiveness and innovativeness that comes through the repair and restoration of old buildings (Sennett 2012).

And so, I come back to 1 Angel Square. The real test will also come through time; there will undoubtedly be a period of social learning whereby the occupants will have to adapt their behaviour. One hopes that it will indeed realise the Co-operative Group’s aims and that it can act as a catalyst to regenerate what has been a problematic area for the city planners. But I suspect that time, and occupancy, will also result in a slow realisation that the initial ideas are not as flexible as presumed: what new technologies are around the corner? Just how far, and what knowledge do we take into account, when planning for the future?

References

Brand, S. 1994. How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built (London and New York: Viking)

Connelly, A. 2012. “A pool of Bethesda: Manchester’s first Wesleyan Methodist Central Hall”, The Bulletin of the John Rylands Library  [special edition ‘Architecture and Environment: Manchester in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries’], 89:1, 105-12

Forty, A. 2012. Concrete and Culture: A Material History. (London: Reaktion Books).

Gieryn, T. 2002. “What Buildings Do,” Theory and Society, 31:1, 35-75.

Hartwell, C. 2001. Manchester, Pevsner Architectural Series. (Yale: Yale University Press).

Sennett, R. 2012. Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation. (Yale: Yale University Press).

Wilding, M. 2013. “3DReid scoops highest ever BREEAM rating”. 17th January, Building Design [online]. http://www.bdonline.co.uk/sustainability/3dreid-scoops-highest-ever-breeam-rating/5048575.article

McLachlan, J. 2013. “Co-op’s vast Manchester HQ by 3DReid” 18 February, OnOffice [online]. http://www.onofficemagazine.com/projects/item/1917-co-ops-vast-manchester-hq-by-3dreid


[1] http://www.co-operative.coop/estates/Developments/1AngelSquare/

 

Angela Connelly is a Research Associate at the University of Manchester. She completed her thesis at the Manchester Architecture Research Centre in 2011, a collaboration with the Methodist Church Property Office and funded under the AHRC/ ESRC Religion and Society Programme.

She is interested in how people, buildings and institutions innovate and adapt over time. She is currently working on the EU-FP7 Project: Smart Resilient Technologies, Tools and Systems and is developing best practice guidance to flood resilience technologies for England and Wales.

Manchester Piccadilly Vertical Gardens

Manchester Piccadilly Vertical Gardens

Manchester Piccadilly Vertical Gardens

by Piccadilly People / Manchester Piccadilly Vertical Gardens

As a stakeholder in the local area, I am writing to enquire whether you would be interested in supporting the following idea for the improvement to Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester.

For Manchester, it seems a terrible shame that the first/last and most dramatic view of the city for the majority of visitors and residents remains Piccadilly Gardens. As an area which has been existed for over a century as a Manchester hotspot and has been immortalised by Lowry, it has fallen into a rather humble existence. Although there is some wonderful architecture, dramatic water fountains and some fabulous street performers, unfortunately the most eye-catching part of the area is the drab imposing wall that splits the public space with the aim to reduce the negative effects of the bus interchange. Erected in 2002, the wall is 130m long and over 4m tall, mostly as one part curving around the central pedestrianised area, but also with another part separated by a footpath.

Wouldn’t it be brilliant to significantly improve this structure by adding a vertical garden? This is a well-tested technique that has been used from Paris to Hong Kong, both indoors and outdoors. A vertical garden is also an efficient way to clean up the air and improve the general environment. In addition to the leaves absorbing carbon dioxide to release oxygen, the roots are also able to trap and help decompose pollutant particles.

The vertical garden could be trialled on the standalone part of the wall, where it would consist of a metal frame mounted onto the wall, so avoiding any root-damage to the existing concrete. The plants would grow on a felt layer built into the metal frame. The plants on the bus interchange side would consist of a range of bushy, evergreen plants. But the real treat could be on the pedestrianised side, where the garden could be planted full of vigorous growing strawberry plants that can thrive in the Manchester urban climate.

Once the trial wall was established, the remaining bare grey concrete could also be given a vertical garden cover, for the more space covered, the better the absorption of not only pollutants, but also traffic noise.

examples of vertical gardens

Piccadilly Gardens has a great potential to return to former glories. We hope that you are as excited as we are by this idea. We would appreciate if you would support this idea in some way, from pledging your support, to your time and expertise, or maybe even some funding to contribute with other partners who also wish to bring back some of the former charm of Piccadilly Gardens.

Thank you for taking the time to read this through. Let’s hope that many people support Manchester and Piccadilly Gardens so that we get it up and growing!

Kind regards,

Piccadilly People

Email: McrPiccVerticalGrdns@gmail.com

Find us on Facebook: Manchester Piccadilly Vertical Gardens

Find us on Twitter:  @McrPiccVerticalGrdns

For more information about vertical gardens, go to:

www.patrickblanc.com

www.verticalgardendesign.com

www.vertigarden.co.uk

British Modern Remade

Martin Boyce, Dark Unit and Mask, 2003, detail, Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist. Photo Anna Arc.

 

Curator Helen Kaplinsky talks about her exhibition at Sheffield’s iconic Park Hill estate which makes no secret of capitalising on the emergence of a new concrete loving class.

In 1980 The Firestone Factory, where sports cars were manufactured in the 50’s and 60’s was demolished. The factory was one of many on a stretch in Brentford known as the Golden Mile, in the 1920’s the preferred location for industry, gloriously celebrated in Art Deco style. Soon after the demolition of Firestone the Historic Buildings Committee of the Department of Environment recommended 150 inter-war buildings for listing and Modernism officially entered the canon. In 1998 English Heritage listed a whole raft of post-war buildings, most of them not quite as glamorous as Firestone. In fact they had distinctly unglamourous associations, slum estates, otherwise known as British public housing: Trellick Tower (Erno Goldfinger, 1968-72) Spa Green Estate (Lubetkin & Skinner, 1946-50) and Alton Estate (LCC Architect’s Department, 1952-60) – all in London – are examples. However, London was not the only forward looking planning office in the country. Sheffield city architect Jack Wormsley had a vision to raise the Victorian slums and put the ‘socialist republic of the north’ on the map for its courageous urban planning.

Sculpture in the Home, Arts Council exhibition at New Burleigh Gardens, London. (c) Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre

 

I’ve curated an exhibition from the Arts Council Collection within two show flats in Sheffield’s redeveloped Park Hill, commissioned by Wormsley, completed in 1961 and today the largest listed building in Europe. The exhibition includes works all the way from the advent of British Modernism when the Arts Council Collection was founded in 1946 up until today. My approach was in part inspired by a series of exhibitions run by the Arts Council in their first decades, the 1940’s and 50’s. Sculpture in the Home, as the name suggests, featured artworks in a domestic environment amid modern furnishings in order to encouraging a cultured consumer class to purchase small scale sculpture for the home. The exhibition at Park Hill includes works by some of the ‘Geometry of Fear’ artists such as Lynn Chadwick who also featured in these early Arts Council programs, as well as Constructivist artists Kenneth Martin and Mary Martin who were, like the architects of Park Hill, proponents of a pragmatic but nonetheless optimistic British version of European Modernism.

Alongside these works are muddied and nostalgic ruminations on Modernism by contemporary artists such as Toby Paterson and Martin Boyce.  The pioneering architectural work and furniture design of Charles and Ray Eames are of particular interest to Boyce. With Dark Unit and Mask (2003) Boyce remodels a small replica Eames storage unit and a little known Eames’ design for field splints produced for the navy during World War II. The splint becomes objet d’art reminiscent of the African and Oceanic artefacts collected by Picasso and his contemporaries with a mounting formed of fragments from mid twentieth century Ant and Series 7 chairs by the Danish designer Arne Jacobsen.

Most unexpectedly for visitors, I have included some key post-modern work. Only when the stories behind production are discussed does the relationship to the site of Park Hill speak. Homage to the New Wave was made in 1977 while Andrew Logan was living and working at Butler’s Wharf at Bankside, London in a community of artists, musicians and punks who occupied the post-industrial wasteland on the edge of the Thames. In 1984, Butler’s Wharf was purchased by founder of Habitat and former owner of Heals furniture store, Terence Conran, who converted it into loft-style apartments. The post-industrial space became chic, and punk was absorbed into the culture of consumerism, a move which Logan’s sculpture seems to foresee by making a unique commodity from the safety-pin, a symbol of the radical provisionality of punk.

If you hadn’t noticed already Brutalism is back in fashion and not just because English Heritage says so. In the 1950’s, British architects of Park Hill, Ivor Smith and Jack Lynn, then still in their twenties, fell for the aspirational promise of Le Corbusier. They believed society could be made better and happier through their well considered designs. Saving Park Hill from demolition in the 1990’s was seen as crucial to preserve the legacy of post-war Britain and its idealist architecture. Yet its huge scale made it too monumental to be a simply a monument, it must be occupied. Manchester based developers Urban Splash have led on a large scale renovation project. However it has not just been that good old British pragmatism which has made British Modernism a cultivated taste today. These buildings are a valuable aesthetic, they are useful for now. Most of the public housing I’ve mentioned has undergone a transformation since changing from public council housing to private. The aspiration embodied in the Brutalist Modernist soaring hulks of concrete and glass are a remade Modern. As Urban Splash have very convincingly argued they are desirable duplex apartments close to the city centre and their *unique selling point* is retro modern appeal which perfectly matches our affordable Ikea furniture.

Exhibition Details

BRITISH MODERN REMADE — STYLE . DESIGN . GLAMOUR . HORROR.

Park Hill Estate, Sheffield, 4th May – 16 June 2012.

An Arts Council Collection exhibition curated by Helen Kaplinsky.

Exhibition Press Release.

Associated Event

Symposium with Steven Gartside (Manchester Metropolitan), Jaspar Joseph-Lester and Dale Holmes (Sheffield Hallam University), Lisa Le Feuvre (Henry Moore Institute) and Matthew Poole (University of Essex). Chaired by curator Helen Kaplinsky. View Programme.

Tuesday 22nd May 2.00 – 6.00pm, Sheffield Institute of Arts Gallery.

Railways, Red Barrel and Robin Hood: Interrogating the Modernist revival

Guest post by Kenn Taylor.

With the recent campaigns to save Preston’s Bus Station, Birmingham’s Central Library and Portsmouth’s Tricorn Shopping Centre. Not to mention the emergence of Manchester’s The Modernist magazine, books like Owen Hatherley’s Militant Modernism and critic Jonathan Glancey’s numerous broadsheet eulogies, it seems that we are now going through a period of revisionism in relationship to the Modernist architecture of the 1960s and 70s. That which was reviled by so many for so long is now being venerated.

It many respects this is inevitable. In the cycles of something changing from ‘old fashioned’ to ‘classic’ in the public consciousness, 30 or 40 years usually about does it. It’s also about time. This period of architecture produced many fine buildings of international importance in Britain’s towns and cities, and too many of these have already been lost to indifference. We must protect the best examples of buildings from whatever era from the mere whims of fashion. How much great Art Deco architecture was destroyed, like the Firestone factory in West London, before we realised its value?

Yet, despite the need to acknowledge the importance and value of such buildings, I don’t think we can truly celebrate the best architecture and design of the post-war Modern era without simultaneously acknowledging the failures.

DRU Railway Logo

This was starkly highlighted to me when I visited an exhibition held at the Liverpool School of Art in 2011 – Design Research Unit 1942-72. You may never have heard of the Design Research Unit (DRU) but you will know its work. Their 1965 British Rail logo is still used on every station in Britain, now no longer the brand of the long defunct British Railways Board, instead a generic symbol for railways, and probably DRU’s most prominent legacy.

Their other work was as many and varied as it was influential, as the exhibition displayed. Ranging from the interior of the P&O ocean liner Oriana and sections of the 1951 Festival of Britain, to the ICI logo and the 1968 City of Westminster street signs, which have become as an integral part of London’s streetscape as red buses and black taxis.

The DRU was formed in 1943 by the poet and art critic Herbert Read, architect Misha Black and the graphic designer Milner Gray. It was arguably the first multidisciplinary design agency in the UK, working across architecture, products and graphic design. The DRU was a product of the Modernist belief in the power of the new and optimism for the possibilities of the post-war era. Founded to help build anew Britain after the horrors of war and depression, when everyone, designers included, was desperate to break with the past.

Watneys Cock & Lion

For me though, the most telling part of the exhibition was that which looked at Milner Gray’s work forLondon’s Watney Mann brewery in the 1950s and 60s. Watneys commissioned DRU to provide a coherent look for its huge range of premises. In response, Gray developed a new identity with five different types of lettering and decoration to be used, depending on the architectural style of each public house. Watneys new signage used a ‘slab serif’ font made in pressure-formed plastic, a style which soon became a high-street craze.

Yet, despite its pioneering nature, to me the Watneys project highlights the negative aspect of not only DRU’s work, but the wider failures of Modernist design. After it, many other breweries adopted similar makeover schemes in a period which saw many pubs have their individual characteristics, developed over decades, ripped out in favour of a plasticised standardisation. Designs imposed from on high that reflected little of the culture or history of where they were being dropped in. Looking only modern and fresh for a brief time, before ageing poorly due to changes in fashion and the low quality of the materials they were made of.

Watneys thrusting attitude towards modernisation even spread to their beer, with the revulsion against the mass-produced blandness of its Red Barrel ‘modern’ keg beer helping to spark the foundation of the Campaign for Real Ale and its fight for traditional, quality, regional brews.

Even looking at the simple brilliance of DRU’s British Rail logo, the over-arching brand identity they developed for the railway often took no account of the great diversity of historic architecture that it was being pasted on. It also reflected the wider ‘modernisation’ of Britain’s railways that saw the destruction in the 1960s of many historic stations, including London Euston, which was replaced with the Modernist mediocrity that greets me on every trip to the capital. Euston’s uninspiring shopping arcade descending into dank concrete platforms stands in negative contrast to the still stunning Victorian glass barrel roofs of Liverpool Lime Streetwhich I meet at the other end of the line.

As well as being its strength, Modernist architecture and design’s ubiquity, utopianism, universalism and uniformity were also its undoing. In trying to re-make everything and escape the horrors of recent history, it destroyed not only what was bad of the past, but what was good as well. With a missionary zeal that also saw a huge chunk ofBritain’s Victorian and Georgian architecture demolished, one of the reasons that 60s Modernism is still so despised by so many today.

Many of the arguments around supporting such Modernist architecture seem to hang on the idealism and optimism that surrounded such buildings. In contrast to the cynical vapidness and blandness of so much contemporary ‘ laissez-faire’ architecture that is in many cases replacing Brutalist post-war structures.

Yet such bland homogenisation is just as resplendent in much of the worst of mediocre Modernism as it is in any contemporary neo-liberal urban development. Neither does such thinking acknowledge the dark arrogance that underpinned the philosophies of Modernist design; that educated elites could engineer the world into a utopia through planning and design. The idea that an internationalist aesthetic could be imposed on a specific culture and that it would ‘improve’ the people living amongst it.

Interestingly, this resurgence in the support for Modernist architecture is almost the same as in the 1960s, when civic worthies first really began to fight to save Georgian and Victorian heritage from redevelopment. This was inevitably led by middle class outsiders, whilst many living in such areas were glad to see the back of such buildings, even if they disliked being moved from old neighbourhoods to new estates. So now, while many are now striving to protect Modernist buildings, they are rarely are the ones who have to shop in Portsmouth, get a bus in Preston or borrow a library book in Birmingham. It is precisely this placing of aesthetics and ideas over people and function that caused so much Modernist architecture to fail.

Robin Hood Gardens, London

I saw this illustrated glaringly in a Guardian article by curator and writer Stephen Bayley, about the attempt to preserve from demolition the Brutalist concrete housing complex, Robin Hood Gardens, in a deprived part of East London: “the unintelligent housing policies of Tower Hamlets populated Robin Hood Gardens with the tenants least likely to be able to make sensible use of the accommodation. We have to whisper it, but the Unité d’Habitation [Famous Modernist housing block in Marseilles] works because it is populated by teachers, psychologists, doctors, graphic designers, not by single mothers struggling with buggies.” This is a striking example of an aesthete criticising a deprived population for not being appreciative of what they have been ‘given’. Whilst forgetting the very reason such buildings were constructed was to improve living conditions for poor families, something which they have so often resolutely failed to do.

 

Meanwhile, fellow Guardian journalist Simon Jenkins pointed out that nearly 80% of Robin Hood’s residents wanted the estate demolished and rebuilt so they could stay in the neighbourhood and, even more tellingly, that no one on the preservation campaign actually lives there. Its brash, Brutalist structures may look impressive, yet apparently remain not great to live in.

We should acknowledge the positives of the Modern era. It pioneered techniques and materials we now take for granted and saw many important buildings and designs produced in what was ahigh pointof British construction and production. Yet we cannot view it through rose-tinted spectacles.

The people behind such designs may have truly believed they were making places better for ordinary people, but their bold visions were in many ways also arrogant, and have so often failed. You cannot celebrate the visual power and utopianism of post-war Modernist design without acknowledging how quickly all that decayed and how much that negatively affected many people’s lives. Just as preservationists of the Victorian era who emphasise its pioneering, graceful designs should also acknowledge the poverty, repression and exploitation that marked that era also.

Looking back at that Design Research Unit exhibition, its final section was about how the DRU’s headquarters, a standard-looking brick office building in London’s Aybrook Street, were given a radical, brightly-coloured, rooftop extension by the then young architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers in 1972. Piano and Rogers of course went on to design the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, one of the most influential buildings of the late 20th century and a pioneer of Post-Modern architecture.

Today, that dramatic extension of Aybrook Street has been re-covered in something bland and grey, more in keeping with the style of the older building, its Modernist zeal hidden as if in embarrassment. This is a shame, we should not just cover up or destroy this era of architecture, if it is still of use, but when we look at it, not only remember the power and vision of its designs, but also the danger, as ever, of rapid, destructive change, of putting ideas above people, or of believing in grand solutions, imposed from on high, to any problem. We should preserve these buildings to remind us of our past, not just the good, but the bad as well.

 

Kenn Taylor is a Liverpool-based writer and researcher with a particular interest in community, culture and the urban enviroment.

http://kenntaylor.wordpress.com/
http://urbantransitionuk.wordpress.com/

Contemporary Cities and Infrastructural Imaginaries

by Martin Dodge, Geography, School of Environment and Development.

On way to academically approach the city is to interrogate the infrastructures that keep its inhabitants moving, working and communicating. Engaging extensively with the materiality and technicality of infrastructure subsurfaces of the city is still relatively uncommon in the social sciences (1). It is also somewhat unusual to focus attention on infrastructure that never came to be and technical systems that remained on the paper plans.

Infrastructure typically exudes physical permanence, at least to superficial visual inspection, and on the engineering overview plans and construction schematics, it can appear so believably real. Moreover, the functioning of technical space and built structures as infrastructure for the city often equates to cultural permanence, which is generated by a widespread lack of technological comprehension [or even awareness] in the general public. The very essence of infrastructure is that it can be seen as invisible and ignored in the conduct of our everyday tasks. In established industrialised cities, like Manchester, the ‘basic’ utilities of water, power and communications are seemingly present everywhere, always ‘on’ and working, which appropriates an imaginary of infrastructural permanence and stability. In contrast to this image of permanence and stability, systems of infrastructure are in reality delicately balanced, prone to failure, highlighting the vulnerability of urban processes that depend upon them. As such, one of the defining aspects of utilities and structures, which achieve the cultural status of infrastructure, is that they become ‘visible upon breakdown’. (2)

Over the last couple of years I have conducted research that has sought to uncover the histories and technical extents of several infrastructure systems in Manchester and the impact these have had on the shape of the contemporary city(3). A particular focus has been on the water supply and hydraulic infrastructure (4). More recently, and in partnership with Richard Brook (Manchester School of Architecture) we spent several months delving into the engineering details and concrete materialities of a number of iconic projects and several unrealised infrastructural dreams within post-war Manchester. The immediate goal for the research was build up narrative understanding and a visual record of the four key modes of communication – road infrastructure, railway transportation, passenger aviation and telecommunications –  and to display the results publicly to reach non-academic communities who want to learn more about their city. The results have been assembled as Infra_MANC a new exhibition exposing infrastructural imaginaries of Manchester and it is due to open next week in the CUBE Gallery / RIBA Hub. The exhibition sets outs to analyse the conception, planning, construction and promotion of four infrastructural projects: the Mancunian Way, the never realised Picc-Vic railway tunnel, the Guardian underground telephone exchange and fanciful dreams of a city centre heliport.

The conception of the Infra_MANC exhibition

Two of these infrastructural imaginaries become real being built largely as planned and at considerable financial cost, but proved to be rather ineffectual by completion.  The other two projects were to remain unrealised dreams of city planners, to be forever infrastructural imaginaries lying inert on paper plans, drawings and maps. All four were imagined as large scale pieces of infrastructure, that were envisioned create new spaces for communication, with two being buried underground and two being up in the air to facilitate movement above the congested city. They partially overlap and intersect across and through the central area of Manchester. One has now become something of an infrastructural icon for the city [the Mancunian Way (5)], another is a source of intrigue for some [the underground telecommunications ‘bunker’ codenamed Guardian], and the two unrealised infrastructures are significant in that they offer scope retro-futurist urbanism, imagining how the city would be different had they been built.

Overview map. The four infrastructures being interpreted in the Infra_MANC exhibition are displayed on a 1950s era street map of Manchester city centre. [Source: Map compilation created by Graham Bowden, Cartography Unit, University of Manchester]

We have chosen to approach the materiality and imagined forms of these four infrastructures by analysing them primarily through visual artefacts of engineers and original mapping of the planners, much of which is never normally published or even meant to be exposed to the public. Undertaking primary research in archives, seeking recollections of those involved and borrowing key items held in private collections, processing some new photographic images, we have striven to present the distinctive aesthetic of a Modern city as viewed through the professional eyes of the engineer, the technically-applied architects and the transport planner. Many of the drawings we have chosen for the exhibition are highly technical – apparently de-humanised and seemingly a-political – showing only what was to be manufactured, concreted, wielded together and hammered into the ground. Whilst harsh as first sight, infrastructure can often have sculptural qualities to its insertion in the landscape, while the angular forms, materials and architectural styling speaks of the age in which they are conceived (6). Infrastructural plans, sectional diagrams and drawings depict fluidly shaped lines of pipe routing, sinuous steel reinforcing and muscular concrete supports, along with arrays of cryptic acronyms and hand-drawn annotations that truly invite scrutiny and thought from non-expert viewers. There are rewards that arise from the time one must take to decode the content of such engineering schematics and planners diagramming of space; we would argue it brings a new kind of infrastructural sublime to the fore. Of course, one might counter-argue that it is not sublime space one is seeing displayed, but merely infrastructure being laid bare to be easily objectified as a kind of pornographic exposure of the workings of the urban entrails. We leave it to the judgement of visitors to the Infra_MANC exhibition and readers of the accompanying catalogue to reach a verdict.

Our role as exhibition curators has focused on trying to find the right kind of plans, maps and schematics of infrastructure and we have spent many [happy] hours in libraries and online catalogues tracking down obscure technical reports, as well as wading through mundane committee minutes and correspondence between public officials and technocrats. Most importantly, we have been able exploit several valuable, locally-held, archives that have been little or never used before, including, firstly, the collections held by the Transport Museum Greater Manchester  relating to 1960s and 1970s activities of the city and regional transport authorities. While the museum is best know for its big buses, restored trams and other large metallic objects, it actually has accumulated a sizeable archive of textual materials, including important documents, printed ephemera, unpublished reports and working plans. This material has little or no cataloguing at the moment but has yielded some valuable artefacts for this exhibition. [We are most grateful to George Turnbull in facilitating access and guiding the research at the museum.] However, the most significant archival resource that has underpinned this exhibition project is the huge collection of plans of the Manchester City Engineers and Surveyors that were photographed onto microcards in the mid 1980s (7). Stored at the Greater Manchester Record Office the multiple filling cabinets contain tens of thousands of separate plans, maps and drawings. Many of the most interesting plans displayed in Infra_MANC came from this source, including key material regarding the unbuilt Picc-Vic underground railway stations and the sites of potential city centre heliports being considered by Manchester Corporation in the mid 1950s. This collection also contains much else we are sure and merits greater scrutiny for those interested in the recent urban history of Manchester as narrated through it built structures and unrealised plans. Unfortunately, the microcard collection is rather physically inaccessible and lacks readily usable indexes.

Imagined infrastructure under Manchester. An architectural render for a subway station on the Picc-Vic line that very nearly got built under the city centre in the 1970s.

We have also consciously taken on historically-focused description, seeking to understanding how the infrastructures were imagined in different times and socio-economic circumstances. We begin with the optimism of the immediate aftermath of war, the reality of construction in the 1960s and the disappointments with the economic downturn of the 1970s, all against a backdrop of increasing paranoia of the cold war. The 25 year period at the heart of Infra_MANC encompasses the fortunes of Britain in the post-war era and lurches wildly from far reaching vision and ambition, to failed dreams and urban disappointments.

We hope, however, that visitors to the exhibition will come to understand something of the infrastructure of Manchester via our curation of  original maps, engineers schematics, architects drawings and marketing ‘machines’ that we have brought together in an attempt to expose the role of communications infrastructure in the contemporary city and to introduce historical context to these overridingly technological propositions.

Exhibition Details:

  • Infra_MANC // Post-war Infrastructures of Manchester, an exhibition curated by Richard Brook (Manchester School of Architecture) and Martin Dodge (Department of Geography, University of Manchester), with support and help from MMU, Museum of Transport Greater Manchester, and Greater Manchester County Record Office and Manchester City Archives.
  • Dates: 27 February – 23 March 2012. Free entry, open from Mon-Fri. 10-5.30, Sat. 12-5.
  • Location: CUBE / RIBA Hub, 113-15 Portland Street, Manchester, M1 6DW.

(1) Although see notable work by Steve Graham, Maria Kaika and Matthew Gandy.

(2) Star, S. and Bowker, G. [2006] ‘How to infrastructure’, in Lievrouw, L.A. and Livingstone, S. [eds] Handbook of New Media: Social shaping and social consequences of ICTs [London: SAGE], p.231.

(3) Some of the results were presented in a successful public exhibition Mapping Manchester: Cartographic Stories of the City [June 2009-March 2010, Rylands Deansgate Library; co-curated with Chris Perkins]. Ongoing research is feeding into the Mapping Manchester book project discussed by Chris Perkins in an earlier Cities@Manchester blog post.

(4)  See discussion presented in Dodge, M. and Perkins, C. [2012] ‘Maps, memories and Manchester: The cartographic imagination of the hidden networks of the hydraulic city’, in Roberts, L. [ed] Mapping Cultures: Place, Practice, Performance [Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan]

(5) Millington, S. [2011] ‘Mancunian Way: On the road to Manchester’s lost utopia’, in The Modernist, Issue 1.

(6) In relation to the sculptural forms and concrete aesthetics, see the sublime materiality of water supply infrastructure captured in Stanley Greenberg’s photography.  [Greenberg, S. [2003] Waterworks: A photographic journey through New York’s hidden water system [Princeton, NJ: Princeton Architectural Press].

(7) The creation of this collection is partly explained in this article: John, S. and Guest, P. [1986] “Mapping Manchester’s sewers: The engineering archives project”, in Manchester Region Local History Review, 2(2): 33-37.

“Happy Crisis and Merry Fear” (Slogan on Athenian Wall, December 2008): Designing the dissensual city

Erik Swyngedouw at the School of Environment and Development writes about cities and urban activism.

Cover of Newsweek, 17 February 2009

On 6 December 2008, 15 year old Alexis was shot by the police on an Athenian square, an event that triggered weeks of violent urban protests and cascaded throughout Greece. Less than two years later, on 5 May 2010, three people were killed during riotous protests in Athens in the aftermath of the draconian policy measures the Greek socialist government had to take under the policing eye of the European Union and the International Monetary Fund to restore budgetary rigour and to safe French and German banks overexposed to Greek sovereign debt. On 17 July 2010, Grenoble was set on fire in a clash between rioters and the police. These are some of the recent installments of a sequence of events that saw insurgent architects in the global North trying to re-assemble the urban through anarchic outburst of irrational violence. This they did in the face of turbulent urban and social transformations for which they felt neither responsible nor had much power over their design. Emblematically starting with the French urban revolts of the fall of 2005, the retaking of the streets by protesters jumped around from Copenhagen to Lisbon and from London to Riga. Urban revolts and passionate outbursts of discontent have indeed marked the urban scene in Europe over the past decade or so. Rarely in history have so many people voiced their discontent with the political designs of the elites and signaled a desire for an alternative design of the city and the world, of the polis. Yet, rarely have mass protest resulted in so little political gain.

Politically impotent as they may be, these signs of urban violence are nevertheless telltale symptoms of the contemporary urban order, an order that began to implode, both physically and socially, with the onslaught, in the fall of 2007, of the deepest crisis of capitalism in the last 70 years, a crisis that finally exposed the flimsy basis on which the fantasy of a neo-liberal design for the city and the world of the 21st century was based. Several trillion Euro worth of bailout funding was put up by governments in the US and Europe to safe the financial system while the subsequent budgetary difficulties, manifest from 2010 onwards, prompted radical and devastating austerity measures of which the devastating implications still have to become clear.
There is apparently no alternative. The state as the embodiment of the commons has to be marshaled to serve the interests of the elite few. On 7 February 2009, Newsweek headlined its cover with the slogan ‘we are all socialists now’. Indeed, Newsweek is correct; they (the elites of the world) are all socialist now, corralling the state to serve their interest and to make sure that nothing really has to change – that capitalism can go on as before. And indeed, political dissent is virtually absent; few dissenting voices among ‘official’ political leaders, whether left or right, are heard. The only way – or so it seems in which real dissent can be articulated –is by making the public spaces of cities as recurrent theatres of impotent, violent, but passionate, outbursts of radical insurgent architects.

Urban activism that is aimed at the state and demands inclusion in the institutional registers of urban governance ripples throughout the urban and rituals of resistance are staged as performative gestures that do nothing but keep the state of the situation intact and thus contribute to solidifying the post-political consensus. Resistance as the ultimate horizon of urban movements has become a hysterical act; a subterfuge that masks what is truly at stake – how to make sure that nothing really changes. The choreographing of urban conflict today is no longer concerned with transgressing the boundaries of the possible, acceptable, and representable. Rather it is a symptom of the deepening closure of the space of the political.

Yet, the Real of the political cannot be fully suppressed and returns in the form of the violent urban outbursts, outbursts without vision, project, dream or desire, without proper symbolization. This violence is nothing but the flipside of the disavowal of violence of consensual governance. And it is exactly this repression of the properly political that surfaces invariably again in violent gestures in a sort of re-doubling of violence. That is, the return of the repressed or of the Real of the political in the form of urban violence, of insurgent architects, redoubles in the violent encounter that ensues from the police order whereby the rallying protesters are placed, both literally and symbolically, outside the consensual order; they are nothing but, in Sarkozy’s words and later repeated by the Greek prime minister, ‘scum’ (racaille), people without proper place within the order of the given.

If the political is foreclosed and the polis as political community moribund in the face of the suspension of the properly democratic, what is to be done? What design for the reclamation of the polis as political space can be thought? How and in what ways can the courage of the urban collective intellect(ual) be mobilised to think through a design of and for dissensual or polemical spaces. I would situate the tentative answers to these questions in three interrelated registers of thought.

The first one revolves around transgressing the fantasy that sustains the post-political order. This would include not surrendering to the temptation to act. The hysterical act of resistance (‘I have to do something or the city, the world, will go to the dogs) just answers the call of power to do what you want, do live your dream, to be a ‘responsible’ citizen. Acting is actually what is invited, an injunction to obey, to be able to answer to ‘What have you done today?’ The proper response to the injunction to undertake action, to design the new, to be different (but which is already fully accounted for within the state of the situation), is to follow Bartleby’s modest, yet radically transgressive, reply to his Master, ‘I’d prefer not to …’. The refusal to act, to stop asking what they want they want from me, to stop wanting to be liked. The refusal to act as is also an invitation to think or, rather, to think again. The courage of the urban intellect(ual) is a courage to be intellectual, to be an organic intellectual of the city qua polis. This is an urgent task and requires the formation of new imaginaries and the resurrection of thought that has been censored, scripted out, suspended, and rendered obscene. In other words, is it still possible to think, for the 21st century, the design of a democratic, polemical, equitable, free common urbanity. Can we still think through the censored metaphors of equality, communism, living-in-common, solidarity, proper political democracy? Are we condemned to rely on our humanitarian sentiments to manage socially to the best of our techno-managerial abilities the perversities of late capitalist urbanity, or can a different politics and process of being-in-common be thought and designed. I like to be on the side of the latter. This brings me to the second register of thought required.

This second moment of reclaiming the polis revolves around re-centring/re-designing the urban as a democratic political field of dispute/disagreement: it is about enunciating dissent and rupture, literally opening up spaces that permit speech acts that claim a place in the order of things. This centres on re-thinking equality politically, i.e. thinking equality not as a sociologically verifiable concept or procedure that permits opening a policy arena which will remedy the observed inequalities (utopian/normative/moral) some time in a utopian future (i.e. the standard recipe of left-liberal urban policy prescriptions), but as the axiomatically given and presupposed, albeit contingent, condition of democracy. Political space emerges thereby as the space for the institutionalisation of the social (society) and equality as the foundational gesture of political democracy (presumed, axiomatic, yet contingent foundation). This requires extraordinary designs (both theoretically and materially), ones that cut through the master signifiers of consensual urban governance (creativity, sustainability, growth, cosmopolitanism, participation, etc…) and their radical metonymic re-imagination. Elements of such transgressive metonymic re-designs include

1. Thinking the creativity of opposition/dissenssus and reworking the ‘creative’ city as agonistic urban space rather than limiting creativity to musings of the urban ‘creative class’
2. Thinking through the city as a space for accommodating difference and disorder. This hinges critically on creating ega-libertarian public spaces.
3. Visionary thinking and urban practices: imagining concrete spatio-temporal utopias as immediately necessary and realizable.
4. Re-thinking and re-practicing the ‘Right to the City’ as the ‘Right to the production of urbanization”. Henri Lefebvre’s clarion call about the ‘Right to the City’ is indeed really one that urges us to think the city as a process of collective co-design and co-production.

Thirdly, and most importantly, however, is to traverse the fantasy of the elites, a fantasy that is sustained and nurtured by the imaginary of an autopoietic world, the hidden-hand of market exchange that self-regulates and self-organizes, serving simultaneously the interests of the Ones and the All, the private and the common. The socialism for the elites that structures the contemporary city is Really one that mobilises the commons in the interests in the elite Ones through the enrolling and disciplinary registers of post-democratic politics. It is a fantasy that is further sustained by a double fantastic promise: on the one hand the promise of eventual enjoyment – “believe us and our designs will guarantee your enjoyment”. It is an enjoyment that is forever postponed, becomes a true utopia. On the other hand, there is the promise of catastrophe and disintegration if the elite’s fantasy is not realised, one that is predicated upon the relentless cultivation of fear (ecological disintegration, excessive migration, terrorism, economic crisis and urban disorder), a fear that can only be managed through post-political technocratic-expert knowledge and elite governance arrangements. This fantasy of catastrophe has a castrating effect – it sustains that impotence for naming and designing truly alternative cities, truly different emancipatory spatialities and urbanities.

Traversing elite fantasies requires the intellectual and political courage to imagine egalitarian democracies, the production of common values and the collective production of the greatest collective oeuvre, the city, the inauguration of new political trajectories of living life in common, and, most importantly, the courage to choose, to take sides. Most importantly, traversing the fantasy of the elites means recognizing that the social and ecological catastrophe that is announced everyday as tomorrow’s threat is not a promise, not something to come, but IS already the Real of the present.