Jack Hale and Maureen Ward, who together run Manchester Modernist Society, pick their three favourite modern Mancunian landmarks.
Miller Street. Gordon Tait / G.S. Hay (1959–62), Grade II listed
Way before Beetham came to town, the city had the ultimate skyscraper in the form of the 387-foot CIS Tower, for decades the third tallest building in Europe and the tallest UK skyscraper outside London. Built to enhance the prestige of both the Co-operative Society and the city of Manchester, the tower is a cathedral to egalitarianism and northern pioneering spirit, with every aspect of its design an exercise in elegance and perfection. Inside, it is choc-a-block with luxurious teak and cherry veneers by distinguished designer Sir Mischa Black, while just about every public artist of the 60s popped their most exuberant artworks around the exterior, including concrete darling William Mitchell (who designed Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral’s frontice and doors, as well as the Egyptian Room at Harrods). Whilst the CIS Tower might no longer be the tallest tower in the city, to us it’s still the best.
Kendal Milne & Co.
Deansgate. J.S. & J.W. Beaumont (1938), Grade II listed
Affectionately known as Manchester’s Harrods, Kendal’s is another Manchester first, trading on Deansgate since 1832, regal and refined with its circular tiled food hall and glamorous Moorish tea rooms. It was the epitome of style long before new pretenders Harvey Nicks and Selfridges muscled in on the scene. The poshest shop in town, it was once owned by Harrods, but a brief attempt at imposing the London name swiftly buckled under a storm of local protest – in much the same way that today’s Mancunians stubbornly refuse to stop calling it Kendal’s, though the store was rebranded as House of Fraser in 2005. The ‘original’ Kendal Milne is now Waterstone’s but the two buildings of the department store remained open until the 70s, linked by a subterranean tunnel. The building is quite unlike anything else produced by J.S. & J.W. Beaumont, leading to intriguing rumours about its origin.
The Toast Rack
Manchester University Hollings Campus, Wilmslow Rd. LC Howitt (1958–60), Grade II listed
Built by our favourite architect, L.C. Howitt, who also designed the Crown Courts and the city abattoir, this has to be Manchester’s cheekiest building, described by the ever picky Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘a perfect piece of pop architecture’. Its distinctive shape and futuristic design – a giant Toblerone with parabolic concrete arches on top that give it the look of an enormous toast rack – lend the building its ‘pop’ appeal, while its nickname indicates the enormous affection that the city has come to have for this little piece of space-age suburban design. The building received English Heritage listing in 1998, reflecting its status as one of the best designs of its era, as well as its testimony to the optimism and ingenuity of the late 50s. Concerns about the fate of the building after the University’s planned move out of the area subsided recently with the announcement that the new building projects that would make the move possible were on hold.
Images (top to bottom): Window display at Kendal’s; The Toast Rack, both Manchester Local Image Collection, Manchester Archives
With Rising Stars and World Literature, nothing says October in the Rainy City like Manchester Literature Festival. As we enter the final furlongs, there are still tickets available for some events, from creative non-fiction to a canalside special commission. And once MLF is over, Manchester Science Festival will be chemically enhancing words with poems about the periodic table.
The very best exhibitions in Manchester and the North include a collaboration with a renowned dance company, the return of Manchester Science Festival (bigger and better than ever), a showcase of exquisite craft at the Old Granada Studios, and much more. All in all, it’s an exciting, boundary transcending time for art in the North.