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IT'S MARCH 2002 and development continues in the centre of Manchester. In this update I take a another stroll around familiar streets, taking a look at what's new, what's disappeared and what's still there. If you're familiar with Manchester, prepare for a shock or two.

WHITWORTH WEST apartment building is nearing completion in March 2002. It stands on the corner of Whitworth St West and Oxford Street. For many years, this site was used as a car park. St Mary's Maternity Hospital stood here until the 1960's.

The new building is a massive high-tech piece of contemporary architecture, matching the size and bulk of the former Tootals Building (now Churchgate House) next door. Attractions for potential buyers include balconies, floor to ceiling windows with great views, high speed internet included as standard, convenient location near to the Cornerhouse, Oxford Rd Station, and the Palace Theatre.

EWM asks: With its high tech appearance, and brick, pastel and metallic exterior, this is an impressive and visually absorbing new addition to the city centre. And we have a new landmark corner tower on the skyline - how does it measure up to existing ones such as the Palace Hotel tower and the tower of the former Daily Mail building on Deansgate?

CHORLTON STREET BUS STATION was one of the city centre's most run-down and depressing spots - Not any more, a new station has been constructed in the base of the car park, and on Monday 25 March 2002 it reopened as Manchester Central Coach Station. As we can see, part of Major Street has been taken over and is no longer accessible to cars. The new bus station has a bright and comfortable waiting room, cafeteria, modern facilities and 24 hour security.

EWM says: The station clean, new and well-designed. Interestingly it only takes up about half the space of the old station. Does this mean there are now less coach services than there were. Let's not forget Manchester's old coach station on Lower Mosley Street.

MANCHESTER PICCADILLY STATION is undergoing the biggest refurbishment programme since the dramatic changes of 40 or so years ago. Here we see the office block, built around 1960, now reclad in contemporary metallic style. In this view from street level on London Road, the structure rises up above the original 19th century cast iron railings. On either side a new concourse building is under construction. Railtrack is the company set up under privatisation to manage stations, tracks and other associated railway property.

EWM says: Ironic that the name of the discredited company Railtrack was added to the top of the building just as it was being wound up by the government. The letters will shortly be removed, to be replaced by the name of the new body set up to replace Railtrack.

THE OLD FIRE STATION stands just opposite Piccadilly Station, scene of major renovation work. In contrast to the railway station, no renovation work is in progress on this building, widely recognised as one of Manchester's most splendid building. A hotel development was proposed in the 1980's, but nothing came of it. Since then most of the Old Fire Station has been empty.

EWM says: Surely this palatial building, symbolic of Manchester's wealth and power in another age could be transformed and given a new lease of life by its 100th birthday in 2006? How about a shopping centre, similar to the Corn Exchange / Triangle, linked to the station by a footbridge? Or perhaps, on the model of Tate Modern in London or Kilmainham Jail in Dublin, a centre for modern art. Is there some major structural problem with this building that makes it difficult to redevelop? Can anyone help?

MANCHESTER CITY COUNCIL'S bold and futuristic redevelopment plan for Piccadilly Gardens is nearing completion in March 2002. Looking from the Mosley Street corner of Piccadilly, we see a curved 12 foot high concrete wall extending across Piccadilly from the left to the right, near the Metrolink stop. The right hand part is the rear wall of a flat-roofed concrete pavilion.

EWM says: The redevelopment proposals stated intriguingly that the old Piccadilly Gardens were isolated from their surroundings. In the new Piccadilly, a concrete wall screens the gardens on one side, with an office block currently under construction on the other. If we look at the scene in 1996, we notice lots more trees and greenery. Just what is going on here? That's a question being asked by many people who have written in to the Manchester Evening News letters page.

A CONCRETE PAVILION has been erected in Piccadilly Gardens, next to the Metrolink stop on Parker Street. Looking through the opening, we can see the statue of Queen Victoria on the other side, and the white building which was formerly Woolworth's Department Store. The development is the work of renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando, who was commissioned by Manchester City Council to transform Piccadilly.

EWM says: I've looked at the work of Tadao Ando in architectural books and publications. His signature is the use of bare concrete arranged in spartan geometric forms. They look superb set in the lush green hillsides of Beverley Hils, California, or in downtown Tokyo, but transplanted into Manchester, Lancashire, with its often rainy and overcast climate, the effect is disastrous. The planners have made the same mistake as they did with the Hulme Crescents (built 1960's later demolished) and St Mary's Hospital (built 1960's later reclad): Style and Materials Inappropriate for Location and Climate. Like the Market St obelisk, which was removed to Crumpsall Park, the Piccadilly Pavilion and Wall should be taken down and re-erected somewhere out of the way. How about Wythenshawe Park, overlooking the tennis courts?

A CONCRETE WALL now divides one part of Piccadilly from the other. It's part of Manchester City Council's redevelopment plan for Piccadilly, first drawn up in 1999. This section continues the line of the rear wall of the nearby concrete pavilion, and is apparently intended to screen the new gardens from the trams and other hustle and bustle on the other side. Just visible above the top of the 12 foot (4 metre) high wall is the former BBC building, overlooking Piccadilly.

EWM says: The Piccadilly Wall is similar to the Berlin Wall, only about a metre higher. I'm told grafitti has already started to appear on the concrete, which presents an enticing open canvas for spray can artistes. I've taken one of my photographs of the Berlin Wall and through the magic of digital imaging, pasted the graffiti onto the Piccadilly Wall to see how it might look soon. Click on the image left, wait for both images to download and move the mouse over the picture to see 'before' and 'after'.

THE FORMER LYONS POPULAR CAFE, with its facade reminiscent of an Indian moghul palace, has been demolished. The gap near the top of Market Street appeared during March 2002. Looking at pre-WW2 photographs in the Central Library Local Studies Unit, you'll notice that two towers in the Moghul style once stood on the roof. The former cafe housed Our Price records until recently, and the facade was cleaned and renovated before it was demolished.

EWM says: Five years ago I suggested this facade should be restored to its pre-war state. I wonder what is going to appear in its place. People just don't appreciate the splendour that surrounds them. The destruction of Manchester is possible through the apathy of the people. How many passers-by paid any attention to this eccentric and rather kitschy remnant of another age, or have even noticed that it's now gone?

THE CHANGES IN MANCHESTER as seen in March 2002 are documented further on the next page, and there is worse to come...

Page 1 | Page 2 | EWM home page

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