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WE WILL NOW WALK THROUGH THE WALL under the canopy of the pavilion and look at the interior of the new Gardens.

WE ARE STANDING IN THE OPENING OF THE PICCADILLY PAVILION looking across the newly completed Gardens towards Oldham Street. The roof of the pavilion, with its recessed lights, cuts across the top of the view. People are sitting on streamlined benches of made of aged wood with curved metal dividing armrests. The ornamented facades on the Oldham St side, whose designs are rooted in the 19th century, contrast with the minimalist contemporary style gardens.

EWM says: People are using the new gardens - it's not surprising as the centre of Manchester is very short of green areas. With those wide empty spaces and weird looking waste paper bins, shaped like upturned droplets, it looks like the set of Star Trek. Are Captain Kirk and Mr Spock about to materialise in front of us and what would they make of the civilisation which created this environment?

LOOKING FROM THE CONCRETE PAVILION ACROSS THE new Piccadilly Gardens towards the statue of Queen Victoria and the white facades between Oldham St and Lever St. The neatly laid out lawns are criss-crossed by walkways, paved in contrasting dark and light coloured stone. Uplighter lamps of contemporary design are placed at intervals along the curved pathways cutting across the middle of the lawn.

EWM says: What we see here probably represents the ultimate in contemporary minimalist design - the lawns are plain and unadorned - no edging stones or ornamentation, no flower beds, just pure, unadulterated, empty areas of grass, which fill the spaces between the paths like a fitted carpet. The resplendent statue of Queen Victoria, cleaned and restored, seems to float as if on the surface of a green liquid, detached from its original surroundings. The new gardens are completely at odds with their mainly 19th century setting. The effect is... bizarre.

WE ARE IN PICCADILLY, LOOKING ALONG THE WALKWAY AND 'CATWALK' towards Oldham St, which bends slightly to the right. The facade of the late 19th century Yorkshire Bank building - now converted for apartments, and the former super cinema adjoining it, are in stark contrast to the bare paving stones, empty areas of grass and stainless steel uplighter lamps.

EWM says: So new and empty, it's as if the bottom half of the picture is computer generated. I am getting a sense of nausea - rather like looking in the mirror at a familiar place seen in reverse, or returning from the war to find a well-loved location is now an empty site.

WE ARE LOOKING ACROSS THE FOUNTAINS - as yet non-operational - towards what from the late 19th century until early last year was Lewis's department store. Now the large letters at the top of the building have been replaced by those of new owners Primark. The catwalk across the Gardens leading to Oldham St has metal railings on either side. The isolated section of concrete wall screens off the lower half of the Primark building.

EWM says: What has happened to Manchester? What if, in London, Piccadilly Circus and the statue of Eros was replaced by an oval-shaped grey walk-through fountain, and what if Selfridges closed and the building was taken over by a cut-price clothing store? Incidentally, Selfridges is opening soon in the other half of the new Marks & Spencers building.

WE ARE LOOKING ALONG THE CATWALK from the Oldham Street end towards Piccadilly Plaza. This passagewaycuts across the oval-shaped walk-through fountains and is bounded with metal railings set at an angle. It looks like a bridge, but there is no gap underneath. Senior citizens gaze out at the newly developed scene around them. The concrete pavilion extends along the far side of the new Gardens. With no trees we have a clear view of 1960's style Piccadilly Hotel.

EWM says: Actually, Piccadilly Plaza is a product of 1950's design, the first purpose-built office and shopping development in Manchester after the War. When set against this backdrop, the redeveloped Gardens, also in a different, though still modernist design, don't seem to jar as much. Like many contemporary designs, the layout seems to make more sense when viewed as a plan or from above (see previous page). Down here on the ground, the effect is more a sense of... I can't help thinking of a French word: dépaysement - disorientation through being removed from your familiar 'country' (pays) or surroundings. As a 4 year old I came here with my mother at Christmas. I was captivated by the magical sight of the illuminated festive gnomes. Now the flower bed where I saw them - close to here - has gone. A link with my childhood has been broken.

THE WALL NEAR THE OLDHAM ST ENTRANCE to the new gardens carries the name PICCADILLY GARDENS, inscribed in plain lettering. To the left are two plaques which I have enlarged here. The left hand plaque states that funding for the lighting has been assisted by a grant from the Electrical Contractors Association. The right hand plaque bears the blue and yellow EU flag and has the words "Environmental improvements to Piccadilly Gardens have been part funded by the European Union".

EWM says: "Environmental improvements" - Is that the phrase they used when they created the Jardins du Luxembourg in Paris, or the gardens in front of the Taj Mahal in India? Talking of India, the wonderful Islamic style facade of the former Lyons Popular Cafe, and its tea room interior, were destroyed in early 2002, when the building was unexpectedly demolished. It stood where the blue and white banner is, on the right. All part of the "environmental improvements" to this part of Manchester.

THE REDEVELOPED GARDENS probably look their best when viewed from south east corner. There is an impression of space due to the open grass and lack of trees. Towering above us on the left is the Sunley Building and to its left the Piccadilly Hotel, part of Piccadilly Plaza, completed 37 years ago. On the right is the statue of Queen Victoria, formerly standing in the esplanade, now enclosed on three sides by grass. The railings have been put up around the manhole covers while work is carried out to get the fountains working.

EWM says: By extending the green areas into space on the right which was previously paved, the council are able to say that they have increased the size of the gardens. In fact, due to the office development off the picture to the left, we have lost one third of the former area of Piccadilly Gardens.

WE ARE STANDING AT THE SOUTH WEST corner of the new gardens, looking towards Debenhams, fomerly Rylands, at the top of Market Street. This was the view of Piccadilly painted by LS Lowry in the 1950's, with the sunken gardens in front of us, now covered by the open area of grass.

EWM says: The sunken gardens were a signature of Manchester, and a very charming feature, with their steps, sloping grassy areas and flower beds. They came about by good fortune, left after the foundations of the infirmary, demolished around 1908, were dug out. In its essential design, the new Piccadilly is a flat piece of grass. At least people are using the new gardens, so from a purely functional point of view, the new plan is fulfilling its purpose. Let's not forget, even right up to their last days, people used the old gardens too.

WE ARE LOOKING TOWARDS THE PORTLAND STREET END OF THE GARDENS, now covered by this building under construction. The sign says: "One Piccadilly Gardens a high quality office development by Argent Completion summer 2003". A computer visualisation of how the completed building will look is displayed on the right. We can still see the facade of the 1854 warehouse, now Portland Thistle Hotel. This will be soon hidden behind the new building, whose roofline will be well above all the neighbouring historic facades.

EWM says: It is sad to witness a once green, beautiful and historic part of Manchester disappearing under concrete. If the City of Manchester local authority were properly funded, we probably wouldn't have a building here.

THE WALK-THROUGH FOUNTAINS were finally made operational by the beginning of July 2002. We are looking towards Oldham Street. On the left is the facade of the Yorkshire Building Society, and on the right the white building which used to be Woolworths, dating from 1928. The new fountain, built on an oval-shaped plan, is the main focus of the new gardens. As we can see, people are sitting on the benches around it and watching the changing jets of water.

EWM says: Previously I criticised the idea of having walk-through fountains here, but I have changed my mind. Now that I see them, they are smaller than I had imagined, appearing more like conventional fountains. They are probably the best feature of the new Piccadilly, though they could easily have been incorporated into an alternative design. Water is a great feature, providing both visual play and restful sounds.

THE WALK-THROUGH FOUNTAINS in the new Piccadilly Gardens are seen here looking south east towards Portland St. The former Esplanade of Piccadilly is to the left, with the statue of Queen Victoria just visible through the spray. On the right is the new office building under construction on the former green space at the Portland St end - one of its two cranes towers above us. The jets are arranged in diagonal rows spraying water into the air. Most of the time, the water columns are only a couple of feet high, but every so often a jet in the middle shoots water up to about 20 feet or so into the air.

EWM says: The walk-through fountains are very nice, I like them, though I wouldn't want to walk through them! On a sunny day like today they provide a refreshing experience, with the cool spray and soothing sound of splashing and flowing water.

THIS IS A GENERAL VEW of the new Gardens, seen from the north west corner, next to the Metrolink lines. We are looking through the gap between the concrete pavilion off the picture to the right and the isolated section of wall just off to the left. As we can see, the gardens are being well-used, with lots of people sitting on the steps or on the grass. On the right we can see the portakabins of the building site, with one of the two cranes towering above us.

EWM says: If there is anything positive about the new Gardens, it's the sense of space we get, as compared with the old gardens which felt closed in, because the trees hadn't been cut back for years. Soon however, the office building under construction will rise up on the right. It will have the effect of a large rectangular curtain starting around the portakabins and extending off the right of the picture. It will be about half the height of the crane from the base to the cab, dwarfing the historic buildings next to it. Another problem likely to get worse over time is maintenance of the pathways. The light coloured stones will inevitably become stained with chewing gum and grime.

THE CONCRETE WALL OF THE PICCADILLY PAVILION is seen here after dusk. Lights mounted under the pavement illuminate the concrete wall from below, giving a visual effect hitherto unseen in Manchester. The waste paper bins, tree trunks and passing pedestrians on the right are silhouetted against the light. In the foreground we can see the variety of paving stones, covered in water after a recent shower.

EWM says: Tadao Ando's concrete walls look much more attractive lit up at night than they do in the day, though in a surreal, 21st century sort of way, reminiscent of the artworks of Christo. I can see why the architect has won awards for making concrete look attractive. This scene could be the grounds of a modern art museum in America, a consular building in Saudi Arabia or a monument to the victims of fascism in Paris or Berlin. But how does it look standing next to Burger King by the 42 bus stop and the tram to Bury?

Doing a Japanese-style designer makeover on Piccadilly, with its traditional style buildings on three sides, is like trying to update your grandmother by dressing her in Issey Mayake designer label clothes. The pavilion and wall would look better in a more appropriate location, maybe Salford Quays or the new Cathedral Gardens. That's never going to happen, so it looks like Mancunians are going to have to start taking lessons in modern art appreciation!

All photos and articles ©Aidan O'Rourke

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