2017 redesign for Bootle Street (St Michaels) – My initial reactions

Hodder Architects model St Michaels

Model of Bootle St / St Michaels proposal. On the right: Architect Stephen Hodder MBE chatting with a member of the public.

In 2016, plans for the Bootle Street site (St Michaels) were unveiled and I was horrified, along with many others. My reactions are in this article.

On Wednesday 12 July 2017, a new vision for the site was presented at Manchester Central Library. Manchester-based Hodder architects have taken over the project and they have started again from scratch. I was relieved and encouraged by what I saw, but I still have some reservations.

The police station façade and pub are to be retained, though the syagogue will be demolished. The interaction with the streets on both sides is much improved and the two dark towers have been replaced with a single glass skyscraper that has been moved further away from the town hall and rotated by ninety degrees.

This change is intended to reduce the impact on the surrounding area, but there is still an impact!

I believe that in Manchester’s Victorian inner area, the roofline should be respected and there should be no tall buildings. This is the policy in Paris and Dublin and I believe it is right for the inner part of Manchester city centre, around the town hall.

I accept the arguments against keeping the Reform Synagogue and I understand why its users would prefer to have a new facility. I hope it will be properly documented for the future before it is demolished.

The most encouraging thing for me as a long-time heritage campaigner is that they have listened and responded to peoples’ reactions and criticisms. There has been a dialogue and as a result, the plans have been changed. People have had an impact.

The input of Historic England has had a big influence on the project. Their advice has been extensively taken into account.

Manchester Shield are to be commended for their tireless campaigning, which has produced a result.

It’s a great feeling to know that the police station façade and the Abercromby will not now be lost. I look forward to seeing how both look as part of a new development.

Bootle St Police Station

Bootle St Police Station

I see the police station façade as a monument to the work of the police in past decades. To destroy it would have been to blot out their memory.

But the height and dimensions of the tower still give me cause for concern. On the city centre model, it’s by far the tallest structure in the central area.

The plans are going to be developed further and there will be another exhibition later in the year. I look forward to seeing it.

But there is one important point I would like to make. Drawings, photographs and models are not adequate to give a realistic impression of how the development will look when completed.

I would like to see the architecture presented as a 3D visualisation. At the next exhibition there should be a computer and a 3D VR headset for use by visitors.

I would like to be able to move around the development and view it from all angles. I’m a fan of virtual reality, we have the HTC Vive system at home. The technology is well developed and has an important use in projects like this one.

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Why Manchester’s Smith’s Arms pub should be saved

ArtSmithsArms-G831
 
There are few things more important in our lives than buildings. New buildings, old buildings, they make our world, they are a reflection of us as human beings. We live in them, work in them, shop in them and do practically everything else in them.

We travel the world to see them. We look at them in awe, pay a fortune to view them stay in them. Often we hate them and complain about them. Personally, I love to draw them (see image above).

The buildings people most appreciate are old buildings and not just the big, famous ones.

So why are we knocking so many of them down? In summer 2016 several significant, arguably iconic Manchester buildings are to be destroyed.

The Smith's Arms pub, Ancoats August 2016

The Smith’s Arms pub, Ancoats August 2016


 
One of the most significant among them is a former pub, The Smiths Arms in Ancoats. It’s over 200 years old and predates many of the industrial buildings Ancoats is famous for. It was in use through the 19th and 20th centuries, surviving many upheavals, including the industrial revolution, war and industrial decline.

Like many buildings in Ancoats, it’s been out of use but has great potential for reuse. All around are stunning examples of how old buildings can be given a new lease of life, most notably Halle St Peters, which stands next to it.

Restored Halle St Peters  Ancoats

Restored Halle St Peters Ancoats


 
Although run down due to neglect, the Smith’s Arms could still easily be restored.

So why has Manchester City Council decided it must be demolished?

For this article I am not interested in the design of the new development, its background, or the fact that it’s a consortium of Manchester City Council and a company based in Abu Dhabi, where I worked for four years.

I am only interested in the building with its façade reminiscent of an age so different to our own. I can hear the hammers of the construction workers who put it up in the late 18th century, the proud owner welcoming customers, the echoes of the people who went in there down years.

The Smith's Arms pub, Ancoats Manchester. Ornamental detail.

The Smiths Arms pub, Ancoats Manchester. Ornamental detail.


 
I can see the changing scene around it, in time lapse, at first open spaces and then a growing number of factories and commercial buildings, then dwellings and places of worship.

You can learn so much by focusing the bricks, the ornamentation, the typeface of “Smith’s Arms” lettering above the main door.

And there is an additional aspect. The Smiths is the name of one of Manchester’s most famous bands, although to my knowledge they didn’t have any connection with the pub.

The drummer of the Smiths, Mike Joyce, took part in protests to save the pub.

Now let’s move from the past into the future and let’s assume that good sense will prevail and the building is saved.

Scaffolding goes up, the builders get to work and when the covers come down there is a pristine building, unique, fashionable, a place to go and visit, hang out, contributing to the community spirit of the area. Inside much of it is new but there are some original features. It’s surrounded by a variety of other complimentary, a stimulating mix of old and new, quirky and imaginative. The new owners have made a connection with the name and there is a theme of ‘The Smiths’ inside, with photographs and memorabilia. It has become a magnet for fans of the Smiths.

Now let’s explore the alternative scenario. Manchester City Council gets its way and building is destroyed.

What’s there? Nothing. No bricks that have survived two centuries, no quirky designed lettering. It’s gone. It doesn’t exist. It never existed, or so it seems. And in its place?
Concrete, or maybe glass or maybe those awful terracotta tiles that can be seen on numerous other buildings nearby.

The Smith’s Arms and all its history, all the memories it contains, the associations it conjures up, has been destroyed to make way for an apartment building that may not last more than a few decades.

One less reason to visit Ancoats and Manchester.

The Smith's Arms pub, Ancoats 8 August 2016

The Smith’s Arms pub, Ancoats 8 August 2016


 
That’s the reason why we must preserve old buildings, not just the big, Grade 1 listed buildings but also the smaller less noticeable ones, like the Smith’s Arms. Because they are rich in memories and associations, because they have a power to fascinate, and that’s what most people like, both residents and visitors. Because they look good and add interest and quirkiness to the street scene.

Because they are better than anything that present day architecture can build.

And so to answer my question above, why did Manchester City Council decide it had to be demolished? I believe that the people taking the decisions don’t fully appreciate old buildings. They move within the corridors of city-based power, less visible and accountable than at the national level. The council is constantly short of money and is always looking for any means to increase its income. A crumbling old pub is just a minor barrier to be removed, and the people campaigning for it to be saved are standing in the way of progress, causing the inconvenience and expense.

The Smith's Arms frontage and lettering

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If the Smith’s Arms is destroyed, Manchester City Council will in my opinion have committed yet another act of civic vandalism against the city it is supposed to be caring for. People will complain about it in strong words. They will become further alienated from local democracy and how we rebuild and renew our cities.The damage will be irreversible and yet another piece of the mosaic of Manchester will have been ripped out.

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Why I’m proud to be Civic Champion Number 2

At last! Finally! After all these years of documenting Manchester in photos and words, highlighting, writing, campaigning, I have finally gained some recognition!

On Thursday 7 July I found out that I had won second prize in the Manchester Shield Citizen Champion Award. In the number one position was Maxine Peake, Coronation St actress, and in third place, tour guide and writer Jonathan Schofield.

Manchester Shield Best and Worst

Manchester Shield Best and Worst – Aidan O’Rourke Second prize Civic Champion

 
I was very happy to receive this honour from Manchester Shield, a grassroots collection of people who care deeply about the development of our city, and are not afraid to express their views.

In summary what I have done is to use photography to document and showcase the city with the aim of providing a record for the future. By doing this I’ve also put the spotlight on how the development of the city has gone well in some respects but badly in others.

I have used photography to document and campaign. That’s different to most other photographers who use photography to help promote commercial clients, or who focus on newsworthy events or take photos with an eye to winning competitions.

I focus on the city, the skyline, the streets, the transport routes, bridges, canals and everything else you see around you. My photographs are not stock images and most wouldn’t win any competitions. They are just my view of the city. As a spinoff, many have been used commercially – most recently a photo of the Victoria Baths in the Observer newspaper. But most are taken just to capture what’s there today and might not be there tomorrow. My photos are always accompanied by words, which are often overlooked.

I have experimented with all kinds of photographic genres but the one I’m known for is photographs of the city, Manchester, also Liverpool and other locations.

My photos have been used in the media, including the Manchester Evening News, magazines, publications and many websites. If you go into Waterstones, you’ll find several local interest books with my photos on the cover and inside. A lot of people have told me they have followed my work over the years. I’m always pleased to hear those words.

I’ve been interviewed a number of times on radio and TV. But I’ve never received any official recognition from the authorities, least of all from Manchester City Council, but that’s not surprising, is it?

I’d like to say many thanks to Manchester Shield for nominating me and also to the people who voted for me. I hope to use this impetus to push ahead with some new projects – I’m not sure what – in order to continue to highlight local development, what’s gone well and what hasn’t gone well, maybe with a stronger and more confident voice than before.

In the pictures are 20 of the buildings / locations I’ve highlighted over the years. How many more will there be in the years to come?

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Architectural towers on the skyline of Manchester

Eyewitness blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Lancaster House and Shena Simon College, the Manchester Colleg on the right

Lancaster House and Shena Simon College, the Manchester Colleg on the right


 
This article appeared in the Manchester Evening News dated Thursday 14th of January, 2016. I have always loved rooftop views whether in Paris, Berlin or Manchester. I still have a vivid memory of the stamp that I discovered on a letter to my mother from her Polish friend, Janina Ciesielska. Though it was tiny, it seemed densely packed with architectural details. It depicted a mysterious idealised eastern European city but in my mind, I transformed it into Manchester. Prague, Kraków, Dresden and other central European cities have many architectural towers. Manchester has only a few but they are a striking and often overlooked feature of the city skyline.<
As a child I was captivated by a stamp on a letter to my mother. It displayed a tiny line drawing, packed with buildings and towers. I thought it was Manchester but then I found out it was a city in Poland. Manchester has architectural features on its skyline comparable with a grand city in central Europe, though there are not as many as in Budapest or Kraków. Overshadowed by newer, taller buildings, these ornate and beautiful structures are often overlooked. The towers of Manchester town hall, HMP Manchester (Strangeways) and Manchester University John Owen Building on Oxford Rd – all the work of Alfred Waterhouse – need no introduction, but what about the lesser known ones, at least in the eyes of visitors? The east tower of Manchester town hall is as impressive as many civic buildings in smaller cities and towns. Manchester’s classic architecture is a connection with Europe. It’s featured in the work of emigré painters such as Adolphe Valette and Georg Eisler. If you’re lucky enough to live or work at roof level you may be familiar with them. If not, look high above the rooftops! My next photo walk is on Saturday 13 February. www.aidan.co.uk
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Streets in Manchester named after famous people

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Mosley Street stone carved sign

Mosley Street stone carved sign


 

Street names can tell us a lot about the heritage of a place. Unfortunately most street signs in Manchester and the rest of the UK don’t have any information on the origin of the name and in particular the person after whom a street is named after. In France and Germany, there is often a smaller plaque with information about the person. In this article I picked out some street names with names of people and researched a little into their origin.
 

In France they love to name streets after historical figures. Above the street sign they provide a notice with information about the person. Maybe we should do that here. I’ve picked out a few in Manchester: John Dalton Street is a permanent reminder of the famous scientist who pioneered modern atomic theory. Whitworth Street is named after Joseph Whitworth, engineer and philanthropist. Mosley Street is named after the Mosley family, who were lords of the manor and prominent landowners. Oldham Street is named after Adam Oldham, a wealthy feltmaker. Jack Rosenthal Street is part of the recently created First Street district, home of HOME. He scripted many episodes of Coronation Street as well as one of my favourite sitcoms, The Lovers. Other streets around First Street honour Annie Horniman, James Grigor, Isabella Banks and of course there’s Tony Wilson Place. A section of the A6010 in the Bradford area of east Manchester was named after Alan Turing. The plaque commemorates the opening in Sept 1994 by Michael Meacher, who recently died. Kingsway was begun around 1928 and named after King George the Fifth. In France they’d probably call it “Avenue George-Cinq”. Hmm, I think we’ll stick with Kingsway!

 

Alan Turing Way next to Sportcity

Alan Turing Way plaque


 
Jack Rosenthal Street, First Street

Jack Rosenthal Street, First Street


 
Kingsway Manchester

Kingsway Manchester


 

Mosley Street Manchester

Mosley Street Manchester


 

Oldham Street facades, Manchester city centre

Oldham Street facades, Manchester city centre


 
Whitworth Street Manchester

Whitworth Street Manchester

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