Light, More Light / from the archive / issue 2

Imagine: a closed door into a darkened room. You turn the handle and enter. The walls are dancing with coloured window lights: brilliant, abstract, dazzling in vermillion, emerald, gold, aquamarine and lilac coloured glass. Welcome to dalle de verre modern glass window art.

Dalle de verre was a popular technique of the late 50s and 60s, employed mainly in Britain by James Powell & Sons, later Whitefriars Glass. Dalle is French for slab or tile. Windows are made by the glass maker assembling small pieces of glass, about one inch (22mm) thick, which have been carefully chipped and shaped with a tungsten hammer, and setting  them in concrete. Traditional stained glass is set in lead. The concrete was reinforced, vibrated and cured to make a resilient and secure frame for the glass. Sometimes this is called ‘faceted’ glass. The effect is to create window panels of extraordinary brilliance and colour.


The leading Whitefriars designer was Francois Pierre Fourmaintraux (always called Pierre) from Metz in northern France. He was born in 1896 and he moved to Powell’s, as their chief designer of slab glass and abstract windows, from 1956. His father Gabriel was a well known ceramicist. He married an English wife and settled in Harrow. He left Whitefriars in 1969 and he died in 1974, age 78. Whitefriars sadly closed in 1980.

Abstract stained glass, including dalle de verre, was pioneered in France notably by Jean Gaudin in 1927 and by Marguerite Huré (1895-1967), the pipe smoking ‘jeune fille à la pipe’, who designed the wonderful windows in the concrete tower of Perret’s 1957 church of St Joseph in Le Havre: a 110m tube of intense dazzling colour.

The abstract glass windows became prominent in Britain during the construction of Basil Spence’s Coventry Cathedral. Spence commissioned John Piper, Patrick Reyntiens, Geoffrey Clarke and Keith Now, with Lawrence Lee, to design the cathedral’s windows. The building’s 1962 consecration was a revelation to many of the beauty of abstract modern glass. Gibberd’s 1967 Roman Catholic cathedral in Liverpool also employed Piper and Reyntiens, with Margaret Traherne and Ceri Richards, to produce an impressive symphony of modern abstract glass. The style, with the the dalle de verre technique, was increasingly in demand for newly built churches and other commissions.

Luckily for us, the industrial towns of south Lancashire and its thriving coalfield were prosperous. New churches and other public buildings were being built in the suburbs. Pierre Fourmaintraux, Whitefriars and other designers were increasingly fashionable. Much of this survives although it has to be truffled out from some unexpected places.

So where is it? St Raphael’s in Millbrook, Stalybridge, which some of us visited on the Alan Boyson tour, has a wall of very fine Fourmaintraux dalle de verre glass. Worryingly it closed on July 14, 2011 so what will become of the glass? There’s more by Fourmaintraux in six superb windows, created in 1963, at St Barnabas’s in Lovely Lane, Pewsey, Warrington. They illustrate scenes from the life of St Barnabas. Richard Pollard, in the recent Pevsner, admires the ‘wonderful palettes’ of Fourmaintraux’s Primitivism.

The walls of St Jude’s, Poolstock Lane, Wigan (1963-4) seem to consist of nothing but 12 staggered panels of swirling abstract dalle de verre by Robin Riley. There’s more Riley glass in the clerestory of the drum-like baptistery.

Not all commissions were for churches. The crematorium in St Helens, where they make and know about good glass at Pilkington’s, has an excellent set of dalle de verre windows by Whitefriars. They were installed in 1960. They show two opposing trees: the north one is bare and wintry, the south tree is summery and in full bloom. This symbolises the movement of the coffin in the building, arriving on the north side, with the congregation departing into light on the south side. The 11 west windows, symbolising the 11 good apostles of Christ, are mainly in shades of yellow using the rough textures of the glass dalles to reflect and refract light.

Other Fourmaintraux secular commissions include windows in New Zealand’s 1964 Hall of Memory in Wellington. This commemorates New Zealand servicemen and women.

Pilkington Brothers commissioned the Indian-born artist Avinash Chandra (1931-1991) to design a strikingly fiery glass piece for Alexandra Park, their 1965 office tower in St Helens. It’s on the first floor of the entrance reception area and is illuminated from behind by an electric light. It faces a mirror so that the glittering image, representing the inside of a furnace, can be seen as a reflection by visitors. Chandra was quite famous in the 1960s. He and his artist wife Prem Lata moved from Delhi to Britain in 1956 when Lata was awarded a scholarship at the Central School of Art, London. He was the first Indian artist to be exhibited at the Tate in 1965. His vibrant glass works were installed in the Indian High Commission in Lagos and in St Helens.

In the 1960s Leyland, Lancashire, was the home of the world’s leading truck and bus manufacturer. It was a thriving town attracting workers to Leyland Motors and other industries. The new Catholic church of St Mary’s (Weightman & Bullen, 1962-4) is a treasure box of modernist sacred art. It was built in the round and the job architect, Jerzy Faczynski, brought in Patrick Reyntiens to create a moving and very beautiful dalle de verre circular band of windows celebrating the first day of Creation. Adam Kossowski did the ceramic tympanum over the main door. Arthur Dooley sculpted the Stations of the Cross and the Edinburgh Tapestry Company wove Faczynski’s Holy Trinity piece. All are illuminated by Reyntiens’s glass.

When Goethe was dying someone pulled together the bedroom curtains. His last words are said to have been “Licht, mehr Licht” (Light, more light).  We know what he meant when we encounter dalle de verre glass.

© Aiden Turner-Bishop

This article first appeared in The Modernist issue 2 'BRILLIANT'.

Brilliant Light / from the archive / issue 2

The Short Life of Kit Wood (1902-1930), Early Cornish Movement. From Huyton to St. Ives vis Cocteau's Paris

Huyton, 1902: A gritty suburb of Liverpool now famous for its 1960s tower blocks, Huyton was a relatively prosperous area when painter Christopher ‘Kit’ Wood was born there, the son of an eminently respectable General Practitioner. To young Kit, the North-Western skies of Huyton were low and menacing, its light murky and pewter-grey. There was, however, another kind of luminescence in his childhood - the doting love of his mother Clare and her tales of Cornwall, which had been passed down from her own sea-faring family. Kit Wood believed that Cornish sea and sunlight were in his artistic blood.

The provincial, bourgeois England represented by Wood’s father, who worked on Lord Derby’s estate at Knowsley, was rather eager to keep the modern world at bay. Dr Lucius Wood, who had served in the Boer War, believed that England’s future

lay in splendid isolation from continental Europe and her dangerous Modern painting and Modern ideas. His son’s homosexuality was, perforce, a taboo subject.

After schooling at Marlborough, Kit planned to study Architecture at Liverpool University; this conventional approach would please Lucius whilst keeping Kit at home with mother. He lasted a year. Wood’s attitude to academic study is summed up by a surviving visual scrap – a solitary architectural drawing, on the back of which lies a vividly coloured portrait of a young woman. Kit’s mind was on Paris and on Art, perhaps spurred by a meeting with Augustus John after a lecture given at the University’s Sandon Club. Thus it was that, at the age of 19, the daring and ambitious Christopher Wood took the boat-train for France…

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After schooling at Marlborough, Kit planned to study Architecture at Liverpool University; this conventional approach would please Lucius whilst keeping Kit at home with mother. He lasted a year. Wood’s attitude to academic study is summed up by a surviving visual scrap – a solitary architectural drawing, on the back of which lies a vividly coloured portrait of a young woman. Kit’s mind was on Paris and on Art, perhaps spurred by a meeting with Augustus John after a lecture given at the University’s Sandon Club. Thus it was that, at the age of 19, the daring and ambitious Christopher Wood took the boat-train for France…

Paris, 1921: Living initially with wealthy ‘connoisseur’ Alphonse Kahn, Wood soon formed useful social attachments and came under the heady influence of modern French painters, particularly bold colourists such as Cézanne, Matisse and Derain. Compared to Huyton, the sexually ambiguous, déclassé demi-monde of Paris was entrancing. Wood soon met, and fell in love with, another rich older man, Chilean diplomat and émigré Antonio de Gandarillas, a notorious Bohemian figure who adopted Kit ‘as curio, protégé and lover’. Imagine Wood’s ruthless artist’s disdain when, at the end of 1921, he had to return for Christmas to the now detested Huyton.

On his lavish travels in the company of Antonio, Wood started to explore the effects of colour and light which would infuse his later work. In Taormina, Sicily, he painted a plate of brilliant yellow lemons from above. At the apartment the couple now shared on the Avenue Montaigne, Wood was introduced to Picasso, who made himself charming to the young, gauche Englishman. Cocteau became a fervent admirer of Kit’s drawings and suggested an exhibition. Diaghilev even commissioned Wood to design stage back-drops for the Ballet Russe.

As well as these famous artistic companions, the sometimes lonely young man made another close friend at this time - a lifelong and ultimately murderous companion.  In Paris, Kit Wood discovered the dark joys of opium…

St Ives, 1926:  In August with Gandarillas, Wood stayed at St Ives, then a small and undistinguished artists’ colony. For six weeks, under Cornish light, Wood painted feverishly. Kit had the feeling of an inner illumination. In returning to his ancestral land, it was as if he had found himself; as if St Ives, detached as it was from his father’s lineage, represented another England, an England belonging to his mother. (The point had been underlined in an earlier vacation - returning from Inverness by car, Kit and Antonio had driven past Huyton without calling in!) Later that year he was introduced to Ben and Winifred Nicholson, who became ardent supporters and a counter-example of austerity, country living and dedication to work. Paris had been too decadent, Huyton too dead. In Cornwall, Wood was on the edge of something new: an English representational Modernism, a blend of simplicity and sophistication, an exhilarating Cornish luminosity suffused with something dark and menacing, something from the night-time world of Kit’s opium reveries. It was a turning point – the first of a succession of summers in which Kit would produce the body of his oeuvre.

Staying in a rented house on Porthmeor Beach, Wood and Nicolson were out walking one morning when, famously, they passed the cottage of a retired fisherman and rag-and-bone merchant - Alfred Wallis. The cottage walls were covered by Wallis’s startlingly naïve paintings - on old cardboard boxes, on bits of wood, on bus timetables - of the sea and of ships and of fisher-folk. Tired of the Parisian beau-monde, these pictures were to have a stunning impact on Wood. Though not a true naïve like Wallis, these paintings inspired Kit to use house paint and board and offered him a new childlike directness.

Wood stayed on alone that winter and produced a series of dark, primitive, strange pictures. Rejecting conventional Modernism’s dogmatic idea of non-representation, Wood believed that Modern Art could deal with the lives of people, with human figures and with human landscapes. Meanwhile, in the absence of his human friends, the opium-pipe was ever present…

Salisbury, 1930: In August again, after four years of exhausting artistic and social activity, Wood set off from Paris to London where a major exhibition of his recent pictures was about to open.   Still unwilling to travel North and arranging instead to meet Clare in Salisbury, Wood was observed by the locals acting strangely in a hotel. He reported voices in his head and mysterious ‘pursuers’.  After lunch with his mother, he was driven to Salisbury Station and made his farewells. As the Waterloo express came in, the paranoid and mentally confused Wood, sitting by the bookstall on the platform, jumped, screamed and threw himself under the train’s wheels.

Christopher Wood’s physical beauty, his awful and premature death, a lifestyle of wild partying interspersed with frenzied artistic activity made of him a 1930s minor cult hero. The Manchester Guardian, however, urged at the time that the myth-making ought not to get in the way of the work: ‘His work was good enough to have no need of it’.  In his last few years as an artist, Wood can be compared to no other.

Back in Huyton, after the brief inquest, Clare and Lucius Wood gathered their sorrows as damp Northern England moved inexorably towards another dreary Autumn. The brilliant light had been fleeting.

© Stephen Hale

This article first appeared in The Modernist issue 2 'BRILLIANT'.

Stirling in Runcorn / from the archive / issue 2

James Stirling is seemingly everywhere in 2011, nineteen years after his death and at the centre of a critical re-evaluation that has seen major exhibitions and publications in the UK and North America seek to confirm his position as one of the world’s most important post-war architects. Usually viewed as a post-modernist, Stirling always rejected the label as he sought continually through his career to explore new directions in modernism whilst undoubtedly intending to forge a relationship with older design paradigms. This is the puzzle and the joy of Stirling’s work – always, there are a set of references to consider, followed quickly by the pleasure gained from seeing just how they have been integrated into a novel design concept.

The northwest of England contains just one surviving Stirling project, the conversion of one corner of Jesse Hartley’s Albert Dock warehouse in Liverpool for the Tate Gallery of the North in 1984, radically remodelled in 1998 as Tate Liverpool, with only vestigial remains of the original design. An early social housing scheme of 1957-59 in Preston, designed with James Gowan, is now demolished, whilst the winning 1992 design for Salford’s Lowry arts centre by Stirling and his partner Michael Wilford involved extensive revisions after his death that created what is a largely Wilford building.


One further northwestern project was demolished in stages between 1990 and 1992, the Southgate housing scheme in Runcorn New Town, developed from a design concept in 1967 to a final phase completed in 1976. Here was an apparent failure from the Stirling canon, lapsing quickly into a state of disrepair and disregard to be demolished within fifteen years of completion and never enjoying full approbation from architectural critics even when new, at least in Britain. In typical Stirling fashion, however, the scheme was actually a triumphant concoction of success and failure that still tells us something useful about the experimentation that was possible in public housing before 1979 and about the particular talents of a man who was more concerned with setting an agenda for everyone else to follow than in creating failsafe designs unworthy of controversy.

In historicist terms at least, Stirling’s inspiration at Southgate was the urbanity of Georgian Britain with the estate structured around a sequence of squares and recurring design elements on the elevations used rhythmically as in the formal 18th-century terraces of Bath or Edinburgh, underlining an entirely civic approach. This was a natural design response to the brief by the Runcorn Development Corporation that this should be a high density housing development, immediately adjacent (and physically linked by highwalks) to the hub of the new town’s services, Runcorn Shopping City. As an inner residential district, Southgate was intended to make a contribution to the idea that the new Runcorn could be a town in the fullest, noblest sense, and not just a patchwork of undistinguished suburban fragments.         


With this ideological framework in place, and a commitment to classical planning devices and elevations superficially apparent, Stirling devised a scheme that in fact subverted these historic precedents as well as some contemporary architectural norms. Behind the regular facades of phase one were a mixture of maisonettes and flats over and under-sailing one another across five storeys, the sort of arrangement seen in numerous post-war slab block developments. A system of open deck access was stitched into an estate-wide network of highwalks between blocks, the circulation model established at Sheffield’s Park Hill in the late 50s that still had currency in second generation new towns like Runcorn and which Stirling interpreted in a grand manner, providing generously splayed concrete posts which lent the walkways a solid grandeur and, by turns, civic legitimacy. The first phase of the development saw the employment of a system-building approach as demanded by the development corporation in order to minimize costs. Concrete frames cast in-situ were filled with pre-cast concrete panels whilst multi-coloured coloured glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) cladding was used extensively to enliven elevations and introduce a hi-tech note to the scheme, one of the earliest uses of such a material in the UK. The second phase of Southgate acted firstly to correct the perceived planning failings of the first, with a single unit type – larger houses – built in terraces, each with ground floor access and private gardens. These new units were now built entirely with GRP over timber frames, creating uncompromisingly modern forms – colourful, smooth and rectilinear – giving rise to the local sobriquet of 'legoland'.

Other than the neophile use of GRP and the overall impression that this might be housing for new planetary exploration as much as for a new town in the north, Southgate gained distinctiveness from its emphatic, legible geometries, not least in the large circular windows used across both phases. Multiple references are called to mind by this inventive elevational device, from the nautical (not to say cosmonautical) inspiration of the nearby Mersey and the imagined seafaring blood of the new town's overspill population, to a spirited exploration of classical Vitruvian geometrical theory spliced with some Kandinski and the interplay of colour and form.


Failure is too often the focus of our analysis of post-war public housing, but in the case of Southgate the rapidity of its decline is an unavoidable subject. There were a limited number of original design failings, not least the unpopular maisonettes in phase one sandwiched in the middle storeys of the blocks without any private outdoor space, but largely the estate was the victim of an original budget that was far too low to create sufficient quality for such a high-density scheme – poor insulation and a disastrous district heating system being particular issues – and, more significantly, a wrong-headed lettings and management policy that quickly translated limited maintenance problems into vertiginous social decay. Demolition was, by 1989, thought more cost effective than refurbishment, in the context of the New Town Corporation being wound up and seeking to draw a line under its liabilities.

It might also be noted that truly innovative mass housing from its 1970s pomp consistently struggles to find cheerleaders for conservation when even solvable problems arise. Aesthetic timidity is translated very easily to political cowardice, and what remains as a result, effectively, is architecture that is published and analysed rather than built and lived, like far too much of James Stirling's work. The loss of Southgate was a loss not just for Runcorn but for the entire second generation of new towns and to British architecture as a whole. Whilst Milton Keynes contains more surviving (though often very altered) 1970s housing schemes of note and has enjoyed some recent conservation success with its exquisite shopping centre, Runcorn has now become a footnote in this wider story of innovation, little visited or written about. Academic exploration of this period in architectural history is gathering momentum and all 1970s housing has now been eligible for listing for two years – the survival of Southgate would surely have made it one of the major  monuments to this significant period and a key site of architectural pilgrimage in northwest England. As James Stirling's reputation has grown rather than diminished in the short period since his death, meanwhile, the loss of one of his key mid-period works is felt all the more keenly, especially in Runcorn where a landmark bridge and the sublimely exciting chemical works are still not sufficient to give the town a solid architectural reputation. The sense of loss over Southgate is one that is sure to swell further over time, contributing much to the conservation debate on public housing from a still under-researched period.                   

© Matthew Witfield

This article first appeared in The Modernist issue 2 'BRILLIANT'.

LAST BUS – Images of Preston Bus Station

The idea for the work came about back in 2006 with the news that the Preston Bus Station was due to be demolished as part of the Preston Tithenbarn Regeneration Project, which was due to start in late 2008/09. The station was built in 1968/69, the largest in Europe and is an excellent example of 1960s Brutalism architecture; it was a style that spawned from the Modernist from the 1950s to the 1970s. It has become an iconic landmark building of Preston, of which there are few.


At the time, it was 10 years since I had relocated from Preston to Manchester; the bus station holds many memories for me from early childhood through to my teenage years. It was a starting point for an exciting journey out of town, a meeting point with friends or just that regular boring bus ride back home. During my research, I found no new contemporary images of the station and this I felt was an opportunity to produce some cutting edge new work and create a new perspective of a landmark building that has not been explored in many years.


I embarked upon the project in May 2006 taking pictures at different times of the day but it soon became clear that the night-time images had the most impact and this became the focus of the series of images. These early test shots developed a “space” like quality and I was influenced by Stanley Kubrick’s film, “2001 A Space Odyssey”, other sci-fi imagery and images from early moon landings by NASA. From these influences, I came up with the concept of the bus station being almost like an abandoned spacecraft sitting in a dark lunar sky waiting to be rediscovered. Removing any signs of life from the station helped to enhance this idea of space and abandonment.


I hoped to have brought a new visual perspective to the way the viewer interprets this landmark building.


All the images were shot at night in winter from about 7pm – 1am on medium format film using my Mamiya RZ67 with exposure times ranging from 5mins- 20mins


Michael (d’agostino) Mackenzie

Preston Bus Station was listed and not demolished and these images are now available as greetings cards from our online shop.

Foreword / from the archive / issue 1

Monstrosity used to be prefaced by "Victorian": the routine adjective, which signified lazy, unseeing prejudice.  Little has changed save the adjective. It is "modern" and "concrete" which today signify that the speaker or writer is lazy, unseeing, prejudiced.  Victorian architecture seldom requires protection. Nor does the jazzy quasi-modern of the interwar years. That anyone would seek to destroy Owen Williams's exercises in black vitriolite (the Mancunian Foster's earliest inspiration) is unthinkable. But there exists in what we must call the built environment a hierarchy of political usefulness. Were a road builder or a supermarket chain to seek the obliteration of a Georgian terrace - a very ordinary, jerrybuilt, Georgian terrace - he would be calumnised. Were that same party to seek the obliteration of a gigantic soaring work of sculptural plasticity in concrete he would win the gratitude of "the community" and the heartfelt congratulations of Sir Simon Jenkins.


Where does the loathing of brutalism come from? The name? A lack of visual education on the part of the public and those who should know better? The crippling British confusion of prettiness with beauty? There is a rarely recurrent architectural strain that emerges only once a century. Vanbrugh called it a "masculine show". The laudanum-dosed wild men of the 1860s called it "modern gothic". It's a matter of mood, of aggression, of saying - in Owen Luder's immortal phrase - "sod you". After each bout of farouche energy British architecture lapses back into cautious insipidity as though causing offence were the most hateful of crimes.  A magazine devoted to the furtherance of modernism ought not to defend, say, Preston Bus Station which requires no defence. Rather it should ridicule the aesthetic feebleness of its opponents. It should mock their timidity, put the boot in with disdain.

© Jonathan Meades

This article first appeared in The Modernist issue 1 'BOLD'


From The Archives : Limited Edition Box Set

The full collection of our From The Archives series in a special limited edition presentation box.

From The Archives is a collaboration with the MMU Special Collections presenting images from their Visual Resources Library slide collection.

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Together with Dr Richard Brook we have curated a series of 6 photobooks each focussing on post war new towns and social housing. The majority of these images are rarely seen and have never been in print before. The images are historical, from the 1960s and 70s, and were scanned from the original slides.

The individual books are beautifully litho printed in full colour and are themselves limited edition.

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We will be releasing one book a month for the next 6 months but you have the chance to get all six before everyone else by buying this lovely box set - hand numbered and limited to 100.  The indivdual releases will be £7 each so the box set also offers a substantial saving on the combined price.

The individual titles are:



Hyde Park Sheffield




Cost of Limited Edition Box Set : £35 plus p&p

From The Archives avaiilable here

Full Colour Litho Print on Munken Smooth supplied by G F Smith

Curated by Dr Richard Brook and The Modernist Society

Designed by Birthday

Printed by Evolution Print


148 x 210 mmm A5

Supplied in strong cardboard presentation box - stickered and hand numbered

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Mancunian Way / from the archive / issue 1

The Mancunian Way (A57M) is a 3232ft 6in long elevated section of motorway, which passes through the southern fringes of central Manchester to form an important link in a network of roads circumnavigating the urban core.  The purpose of the city’s ‘Highway in the Sky’ was to separate commercial traffic from congested local streets by providing an obstacle free high-speed route connecting Manchester Docks and the industrial hinterland of Trafford Park to heavy engineering industries in East Manchester.  The Mancunian Way was also to form the fulcrum of a regional highway system, linking together several important arterial routes, orbital systems and motorway projects proposed in the 1962 South East Lancashire North East Cheshire Highway Plan. Opened by Harold Wilson, the Prime Minister who envisaged a prosperous Britain shaped by technological innovation, the Mancunian Way provided an important symbol of hope for Manchester's post-war reconstruction, as a modern city preparing for the 'space-age'.  Such was the jubilation that the Mancunian Way received a special award from the Concrete Society in 1968. 

This optimism, however, quickly evaporated during the economic crisis of the 1970s.  Within 15 years of opening, Manchester Docks had closed and much of the city’s heavy engineering had disappeared after a decade of deindustrialisation and decline, effectively removing the primary purpose of the road.  As for the secondary purpose, far from providing a smooth transfer from one arterial route to another, for many frustrated commuters, the Mancunian Way is nothing more a congested and polluted barrier between home and work. The 21st century reality, it would seem, is far removed from the Le Corbusian vision of a functional, efficient and superfast highway in the sky; a machine for living that has broken down.  The story of the Mancunian Way raises a number of questions concerning the Modernist visions which informed the reconstruction of post-war British cities.  But in a new era of austerity and accelerated neoliberalism, should we necessarily reject outright Modernism’s Grand Narratives concerning the planning and redevelopment of the city?

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Certainly the Mancunian Way is a structure replete with ironic and paradoxical twists.  The Modernist rationality that sought through strategic planning to rationalise and order Manchester’s chaotic and unplanned Victorian landscape instead produced a vagary of new complexities and irrationalities.  The construction of the motorway in the first place involved cutting a swathe through the city, sweeping away homes and neighbourhoods so comprehensively that little of their material existence remains today. Worryingly, the Mancunian Way was intended to connect to an inner-road within the city centre which would have swept away Portland and Princess Streets, The Village, Back Piccadilly and the Northern Quarter. Its ‘spur to nowhere’ – an access road left hanging, waiting for a connection to a never to be built inner-ring road via Princess Street - provides a lonely testament to Manchester’s retrenchment from the 1945 Reconstruction Plan.

The structure itself is contradictory.  Graceful arcs of white concrete may define the length of the Mancunian Way, but actually restrict high speed transit at 70mph. The motorway has no junction numbers.   The original crash barriers were not designed for high impact.  The access ramps are unfathomably short, giving drivers just precious seconds to negotiate joining the motorway at rush hour, an often-perilous lurch into the throng, leading to inevitable screeches, tyre tracks, crystals of broken glass, and red shards of brake light covers.  The website Pathetic Motorways describes the Mancunian Way as Britain’s lowest grade motorway. But perhaps the ultimate irony is that despite the scientific rationality informing the planning and construction of the Mancunian Way, this tensile pre-stressed concrete structure straddles the Chorlton fault line.  As a consequence, the Mancunian Way is subject to a stringent maintenance routine by a City Council team who hawkishly monitor the minutiae of the concrete surfaces for stress fractures. 

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The Mancunian Way is also an uncomfortable neighbour. A greasy mix of oil and water gathers on the surface during heavy rain, crashing over the side in huge waves to soak passersby underneath.  Grit, dirt, a million castaway cigarettes, battered coke cans, shattered plastic wheel covers, broken bottles, are amongst the plethora of lost objects which litter the adjacent landscape.  This unhealthy mix of traffic noise, light and fumes forges a challenging environment for nearby residents.

The attempt to separate people from traffic may have opened up new possibilities for movement and mobility across the city, but the Mancunian Way simultaneously closed down pedestrian movement and access, effectively forming a mile-long concrete wall between the city centre and communities to the south.  Crossing either under or over the A57(M) can be a stressful experience.  The once gleaming tiled underpasses are now neglected and poorly managed spaces: there is no signage, lighting is poor, and there are limited lines of sight and an absence of security.   Graffiti is everywhere, some good, but mostly bad.  Grass verges are unkempt.  Mini-tornadoes of litter and leaves sweep across crumbling pathways.  Hand rails are rusted and often rest on the floor. Whereas underpasses were supposed to provide green and safe pedestrian access to the city centre, for many local residents they are treated with suspicion and fear, particularly after-dark.  Instead many opt to take their chances leaping over the railings to negotiate crossing dual-carriageways rather than venturing underground.

Perversely the Mancunian Way also provokes a sentimental and even strange sense of civic pride.  Without necessarily romanticising the structure, there is something of the poetic in the Mancunian Way, which occasionally surfaces in popular culture, in the music of Joy Division or the joyous 1970s nostalgia that was Life on Mars.  Indeed the Manchester Modernist Society took up Take That’s invitation to walk the Mancunian Way, providing an atmospheric and poignant walking tour of the motorway, Manchester’s mini-version of London Orbital perhaps.  Travelling on the Mancunian Way affords an unusual perspective of the city, an almost cinematic driving experience, especially at night – captured effectively in the film 24 Hour Party People.  The Mancunian Way also provides a valuable space and inspiration for local artists – legitimate and otherwise.  Perhaps the Mancunian Way is Manchester’s own ‘motion sculpture’ – a site which privileges the car as a synthesis of body/machine – a concept graphically explored by JG Ballard in the novel Crash

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Importantly The Mancunian Way continues to swagger confidently against the grain of contemporary urban politics, its pre-stressed concrete continuing to resonate with the ideology of social democracy.  Originally named Link Road 17/7 in Manchester’s 1945 Reconstruction Plan, the Mancunian Way was to form a network of highways which would redefine Manchester’s urban landscape, eradicating the social injustice of the chaotic industrial Victorian City.  In its place, a functional and efficient city would arise, in which the social and economic barriers created by the friction of distance would be eradicated by a new found spatial mobility.  Certainly this is how Le Corbusier envisaged the modern city.  Le Corbusier remapped the city through mass redevelopment to address spatial injustice and social inequality, a vision which made rational sense in the early 20th century, when many ordinary people lived in terrible and squalid conditions on a scale beyond contemporary imagination. 

Ironically, 21st century automobility symbolises a fundamental social divide – whereby a mobile class is positioned against those who are fixed and immobile, unable to take advantage of the affordances provided by car transport.  One might wonder why Le Corbusier – a committed socialist – decided to embrace the motorcar, which became such a symbol of capitalist modernity, but what would one give today for even for a shade of strong ideological resistance to the retrenchment of the Welfare State.  Perhaps this is the ultimate poetic reminder the Mancunian Way provides – a ghostly road to a lost utopia.

© Dr. Steve Millington

This article first appeared in The Modernist issue 1 'BOLD'

Market Forces / from the archive / issue 1

During the 1950s, despite no war damage to Blackburn, the town’s council was keen to ‘replace the worst of the past with buildings which will symbolise the great future of the town’. Alderman G B Eddie, Chairman of the Blackburn Civic Development Committee, said that the opening of a new market showed that Blackburn was to ‘shed the grim cloak of the industrial revolution and build a new town centre that will be in keeping with modern ideas and the space age’.

Blackburn Corporation (1964 slogan, “in touch with tomorrow”) opened its new markets in November 1964. The council’s full page local newspaper advertisement heralded a ‘new era for the shopping public of East Lancashire’. The newspaper’s editorial joined in; ‘Space age styling and spacious facilities...Like an aircraft hangar, which it faintly resembles, the daily market has an abundance of air space to floor space, the blending of off white concrete and glass gives the Salford junction a new focal point’.

Blackburn Daily Market was certainly novel. Because it was built over the River Blakewater three massive portal frames were built across the river to carry its sculptural asymmetric curved roof high above the market floor. Clerestory glazing flooded the hall with sunlight.

 ‘Just a first step – more fantastic changes to come’ wrote Alderman Eddie. The result was stunning - from the outside a huge white curved roof with extensive glazing and a new restaurant overlooking fountains and gardens, whilst large applied fat-faced Egyptian letters boldly proclaimed MARKET. Eddie was right about change in Blackburn. Festival of Britain style had finally arrived, bringing multicoloured ceramic micro-mosaic, architectural relief signage, Formica with bold colours, pedestrian areas and optimism.


So just where had this new design come from?  The technology was revolutionary.  Large span reinforced concrete shells had been developed in Germany for Frankfurt Market Hall in 1927, and Budapest, 1931. The first reinforced concrete shells in Britain formed a hangar roof at Doncaster municipal aerodrome in 1935, followed by canopies for surface stations on London Underground and then Wythenshawe bus garage, 1942.

Post war, concrete shells were widely adopted in Britain, when steel shortage made them an ideal solution for roofing large clear spans. British market halls used shells cast in-situ in various ways to provide shelter and light.  Plymouth’s 1960 Pannier Market hall with a 148’ clear span has a roof design reduced to simple elements, portal frames with conoidal shells cast in-situ - speedy construction was possible with less shuttering and scaffolding. This was innovation, marking it out from earlier designs.

Blackburn Market took a step further with the use of three scalloped portal frames acting as saddles for pre-cast reinforced concrete shells 44’ long, 7’ 7” wide. Made in Bristol, these were driven up to Blackburn on lorries and craned straight into the saddles.

Why bother bringing these extraordinarily long shells up pre-motorway England?

The shells were engineered and carefully manufactured pre-stressed hyperbolic paraboloids (hypar) shells about 2”thick. Known as System Silberkuhl shells, they were made by Modern Concrete (Bristol) Ltd under a patent developed by Wilhelm J Silberkuhl (1912 -1984), and were widely used  in British construction and engineering, roofing factories, breweries, power stations, warehouses and Bristol ATV television studios!


A hypar shell curves in two directions (like a Pringle crisp). Straight lines can be drawn across it. When this design is applied to a pre-tensioned reinforced concrete shell the steel reinforcement bars are straight, keeping the concrete it is cast in and bonded to, under compression. Silberkuhl’s shell technology was first used on the continent to roof warehouses and factories. Modern Engineering (Bristol) Ltd (1961 slogan, “Build the Modern Way”) became licensees of the system; a subsidiary, Modern Concrete (Bristol) Ltd specialised in the precast shells.

Blackburn Corporation’s engineers and architects with the main contractor, John Laing (1964 slogan, “Partners in progress”) took a novel and sophisticated but low cost industrial roofing system and used it in Blackburn to give the market a cool Festival cum airport terminal style à la Saarinen; a marvellous, long overlooked and now doomed gem, following the rejection of a recent application for the market to be listed in recognition of its unique architectural interest.

The Daily Market represents the most important use of Silberkuhl shells in Britain. It is certainly unique in respect of its sculptural form and the most successful use of pre-cast hypar shells in the UK, whilst beneath and behind the many desultory alterations its original bright bold 1960’s designs survived to the end.

On 28 May 2011, Blackburn Markets (2011 slogan, “Blackburn Market - you're in for a surprise”) closed its doors forever, its distinctive scalloped roof profile replaced by a new ‘continental style’ market hidden beneath a new shopping centre.

But across the country some Silberkuhl shells can still be found; Unilever’s Wall’s Ice Cream factory roof at Gloucester can be seen from passing trains. Often Silberkuhl roofs can be hard to identify, as usually the distinctive scalloped edge can only be seen when there is no parapet. These include the former Freeman’s depot in Peterborough and Redwood Country Club near Bristol. Two public Bristol swimming pools in Bishopsworth and Filton allow you to consider the marvel of Silberkuhl shells as you float beneath them; “come on in, the ceiling is lovely!”

© Christopher R Marsden

This article first appeared in The Modernist issue 1 'BOLD'.

A Modern Tongue / from the archive / issue 1

Esperanto: a language for all

In the mills of the nineteenth and early twentieth century Lancashire, workers adapted to the constant noise by devising a system of communication using sign language and lip-reading, ensuring they could be understood above the (literally) deafening roar of the machines. Across Europe, at the same time – towards the end of the nineteenth century, another new language was being devised, envisaged as an auxiliary language to supplement rather than replace existing tongues. It too had pragmatic, functional motivation, but lofty, modern ideals: it looked to the future, hoping to rise above inter-border and cross-cultural differences and allow people of different nations to be able to hear and speak to one another. This new language would be open, egalitarian and truly democratic, able to be picked up with the minimum of effort and study, and therefore accessible to all regardless of their education or finances. As a new, constructed language, with no cultural heritage or national or political attachments, it would be neutral and so foster peace, tolerance and friendship. A true tool of freedom, emancipating its speakers so they could speak with anyone anywhere in the world. Its name? Esperanto, coming from "espero" or “hope”.

Esperanto has been promoted as a second language throughout the twentieth century, recognised by UNESCO as a medium for international understanding in 1954. Estimates of speakers vary between the hundreds of thousands and around two million today, with about 2,500 in Britain alone, and up to 2,000 native speakers across the world. Esperanto, which draws from Romanic and Germanic vocabulary and Slavic phonology and semantics, was constructed to have simple grammar with no exceptions to rules – as the Universal Esperanto-Asocio's Prague Manifesto, devised in 1996 puts it, a “fair and effective word order” – thus making it easy to remember.


It was the brainchild of one man, Ludovic Zamenhof, who took it upon himself to learn a number of languages, including Russian, Polish, Yiddish, German, Hebrew, French, English, Greek, Latin and, from a grounding in these languages, form the basis of a new language with similarities to all. Co-operative youth magazine Our Circle (published from the early to the mid-twentieth century and held in the National Co-operative Archive in Manchester), was so inspired by his vision of using a common language to work towards international brotherhood that it dramatised his tale in a two-part serial with a central character named – not million miles from Ludovic – Louis. It sets the scene, a town on the border of Poland and Prussia, explaining:

“The people living in Bjelostok were not all of one nation and they spoke at least four different languages regularly every day...Beside all the people who usually lived in the town, there were many who came to buy and sell, and these also must either speak many languages or they would not be understood...Louis believed that the differences of speech, and the quarrels which arose from these, was the only reason why the people of one nation distrusted or were unfriendly to those of another nation."

Our Circle was so enthused by the practical possibilities of Esperanto, and so confident it would become widespread in the future, that it published stories in Esperanto and set exercises with awards for the best translations. Prizewinners sent in their pictures for publication and are pictured stiffly posed with ringleted hair wearing their best dress. Esperanto proved popular, with the magazine facilitating a pen pals service for those who wished to correspond in Esperanto. Some learners were so swept away by the language they even sent in their own stories for translation.

Reflecting the enthusiasm felt for Esperanto across the world International Youth Esperanto Congresses, as well as full-blown World Esperanto Congresses, were held throughout the twentieth century (with a brief gap for the second world war) and still take place today. When Our Circle predicted Esperanto will soon be “taught in all schools instead of some useless things taught now”, it wasn't far off the truth. Whatever criticisms levelled against it, Esperanto has proved to be a useful tool for teaching other languages, and its supporters argue that, far from being a useless distraction from the teaching of more widely spoken languages, it puts students in the mindset for further linguistic study. So much so that it has been brought into the twenty first century by a pilot project called Springboard, overseen by the University of Manchester, that looks at the teaching of Esperanto in primary schools as a stepping stone for learning other languages. Esperanto – coming soon to a school near you?

© Natalie Bradbury

This article first appeared in The Modernist issue 1 'BOLD'.


Mods or Modernists? / from the archive / issue 1

The word ‘modernist’ has signified in a number of ways since it was first defined by Dr Johnson in 1737 as ‘deviation from the ancient or classical manner’. As well as its architectural usage, it came to describe those practitioners and their aficionados in art, writing, music and dance – Picasso, Joyce, Stravinsky and the Ballet Russe – who rejected traditional forms in favour of the experimental, the avant-garde and a purer, more elitist aesthetic, especially in the key early 20th century period of ‘High Modernism’. It is surprising, then, that one of the more interesting appropriations of the word took place in the early 1960s among a distinctively British working-class youth movement. In Manchester and in other towns throughout the North West (despite the higher media profile – surprise, surprise! – of their London peers), this youthful modernist gang purloined the word from its ivory tower and brought it down to the streets.

The first use of ‘modernist’ for a stylistically separate youth sub-culture occurs in the late-1950s/early 1960s to describe European devotees of American Modern Jazz who cultivated a love of ‘difficult’ 1940s be-bop music from New York City: Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk et al. In this period most of the world’s most accomplished improvising musicians came to play in Manchester’s concert halls and jazz clubs, including Club 43, the most important venue for modern jazz in the city. Youthful ‘modernists’, smart-suited and wearing Greenwich Village-style berets and Italian sunglasses, flocked to see such luminaries as Miles Davies, Sonny Rollins, Ronnie Scott and the singing triumvirate of Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, all of whom appeared at the Free Trade Hall. On Friday 8th November 1961, ‘members and guests’ paid 8/6d to attend a ‘Midnight Matinee’ until 3am at the Oasis Jazz Club, 53-57 Lloyd Street, at which American saxophonist Zoot Sims provoked much foot-tapping and thoughtful stroking of the goatee.

Exactly when ‘modernist’ gravitated into its sharper, abbreviated form ‘mod’ is in doubt, though by the time of the highly publicised Brighton and Clacton riots in 1963, the newspapers were having a field-day with the new word. Up in Manchester in the same year, rhythm-and-blues star Sonny Boy Williamson played to rapt audiences of young ‘mods’ at the legendary Twisted Wheel club on Brazenose Street (which later moved to Whitworth Street). Musical taste and fashion had gravitated away from jazz in this direction.  More so than in London, the Manchester mods followed American, black R and B and soul music, brought to their TV sets every week via the fantastic sets of Ready Steady Go. Northern mods traded rare American records brought to the area via Liverpool,  the port for incoming sailors, or via the USA Air Force base at Burtonwood, Warrington which since the War had delivered Black G.I.s and their record collections to the area.

Manchester’s 1960s mods drove GS Lambretta scooters from Italy and worked as office clerks, secretaries and tea-boys in new buildings like the CIS tower and Granada HQ. At the weekend, they met in two main places - outside the Old Shambles (Sinclairs Oyster Bar was on a fairly busy road in those days) and at the Cona Café and Wimpy Bar in Piccadilly. Surrounded by the architectural mélange that was 1960’s Manchester, extant Victoriana and bomb-sites sitting alongside the flurry of modernist buildings going up at the time, public transactions - sales of 45's, exchanges of money for pills -would take place on these urban corners.  Not to be outdone, Manchester also witnessed its own small riots. The most celebrated started outside the Twisted Wheel to the annoyance of the owners (the Adabi Brothers), so the crowd moved up the street into Albert Square and gathered outside the Oasis and the Jungfrau clubs. Mounted police charged down the streets, chasing the crowd all over the city, leading to the breaking of department store windows on Piccadilly.

The movement did not confine itself to the metropolis and was popular in industrial towns all over the North West. After a night at the Twisted Wheel or the Blue Note club on Gore Street, many mods from Manchester headed out on their scooters to Bolton. The Boneyard was their venue, an upstairs club near to the railway station and a pleasant change from Manchester’s damp cellar bars. The Boneyard was an evocative nickname - the club’s real name was the Caroline Lounge, named after the pirate radio ship: “Radio Caroline... on 199…”


Does it really make sense to describe the Manchester Mods as ‘modernist’? Some commentators have approached Modernism as a socially progressive trend of thought that affirms the power of human beings “to create, improve, and reshape their environment, with the aid of practical experimentation, scientific knowledge or technology.” Modernism encouraged the re-examination of every aspect of life, from commerce to philosophy, with the goal of finding that which was 'holding back' progress, and replacing it with new ways. The young mods were instinctively in tune with these ideas. Positively embracing the moderne, with none of the nostalgic yearning for the country, none of the folkie trappings of the later Hippy movement, the mods were vigorously, urbanely self expressive.

The embrace of technology was expressed in the adoption of the Italian scooter as preferred transport mode: aerials trailing, chrome gleaming, the flashing of street lights on Market Street “captured repeatedly in the dozen or so mirrors festooned around the front handlebars”. Modern pharmacology also played its part: Black and Greens – amphetamine: Benzedrine or Drinamyl capsules (Purple Hearts), developed in wartime for military purposes and now, ironically, used experimentally as mood enhancers and energy-boosters for all-night dancing sessions.

Others have focused on modernism as an aesthetic introspection and obsession. The modernist aesthetic of sharp, clean lines, purist attention to detail, absence of traditional excrescence, played a key part in mod visual iconography. This manifested itself initially in an elitist veneration of the ‘aesthetically pure’. The trouble with the Rolling Stones, as far as the Manchester mods were concerned was that the Stones copied the original artists, and the originals were always the greatest. Original recordings were to become the ONLY versions acceptable. (Thus started the rare record scene off Brazennose Street.)

More famously, obsessive mod attention to fashion detail took over everything. The way in which a sparely cut Italian mohair suit jacket was buttoned. The manner in which one’s top pocket handkerchief was folded. This fashion aesthetic was internationalist in flavour, borrowing freely from Italy, from France, from the Eastern seaboard of the United States. Fred Perry three-button shirts, cycling vests and shoes, Marcello Mastroianni’s black sun glasses, brogue shoes, parkas.  See-through plastic raincoats, white lipstick, kohl eyes, long false lashes, Mary Quant hair-cuts, Op Art dresses straight out of Bridget Riley…

This Low Northern Modernism was instinctive, strongly felt, ‘bottom up’, in comparison to the theoretical abstractions of High Modernism. Yet urban youth were displaying the same embrace of the new, the same desire to experiment, the same aesthetic purism as their academic counterparts. For this reason, I would like to re-christen this seminal 1960s Northern youth movement and to give it back the term from which its ideals and aesthetic were derived.

All hail the Manchester Mod(ernist)s!

© Stephen Hale

This article first appeared in The Modernist issue 1 'BOLD'.

Holidays in Utopia: Brazil / from the archive / issue 1


I didn’t so much go to Brazil on holiday as on a kind of crackbrained personal fact-finding mission. I didn’t get it. I knew some things, football of course,  samba, Christo Redentor, Oscar Niemeyer, the Amazon, Ipanema and Copacabana, the rainforests and favelas, but I couldn’t imagine how it all fitted together, how it all existed in one country.

Niemeyer’s modernism is democratic, architecture for the masses; spectacular, but often cheaply made, always accessible - remarkably so in the case of the Capitolio,  where you can walk right up to the debating chambers and have your photograph taken with your representative.


To an Englishman more used to 24-hour rolling surveillance, Brazil’s civic openness is a dream come true.

© David Oates

This article first appeared in The Modernist issue 1 'BOLD'.

Liverpool's Lost Future / from the archive / issue 1

Liverpool has an unexpected relationship with modernism. This modern port metropolis of capital and trade par excellence is perennially concerned with the preservation of its pre-1914 achievements of High Victorian historicism and proto-modernism at the expense of the thoroughgoing modernism of the later twentieth century. Where post-war comprehensive development schemes in cities like Newcastle, Sheffield and Birmingham have arguably crafted some of the finest pieces of townscape in those places, Liverpool is still largely defined architecturally by its handsome legacy of nineteenth century trading supremacy. Gone is the rationale, current until around 1939, that saw virtually every building in this city dating from before 1800 swept away in the pursuance of greater commercial and architectural gains.

Business (Jack Hale's conflicted copy 2011-05-05).jpg

There was a moment, however, that saw Liverpool nearer to the mainstream of post-war British planning and close to the creation of a modernist cityscape. Between 1963 and 1965 the Chief Planning Officer at the City Council, Walter Bor, and architect and external planning consultant Graeme Shankland created the Liverpool City Centre Plan, the first comprehensive proposals for modernising a still-war damaged city. What was effectively proposed was the creation of a brand new city centre, one which would operate as a single, integrated unit that better fulfilled the modern functions required of it and which sought to predict and provide the services that would be needed in the forthcoming 20 years and beyond. It was a plan predicated on economic growth and shifting forms of business and leisure, but also one based on the assumption that the cramped historic core had not operated adequately for some time. Bounded by a new inner ring road – the Liverpool Inner Motorway – and scattered with new architectural forms, the plan sought to do far more than circulate traffic more effectively and produce new buildings: it aimed to achieve a complete reconfiguration of the centre of Liverpool with only a few monuments to the achievements of the older city. This was a set of schemes that emerged later than many equivalent plans seen elsewhere around the UK and sought to learn the lessons of earlier redevelopment, aspiring to a consistent level of humanity and deftness in its execution.

Much of the plan had a good deal in common with those seen around the country during the same period, particularly the inner ring road and the overall strategy for movement. All major radial routes from southwest Lancashire and northwest Cheshire would converge on the inner motorway, removing all but local access traffic from the centre and guiding vehicles either to their intended through-route or to one of several new multi-storey car parks, primarily by means of elevated carriageways with grade-separated junctions. The reach and the philosophical tone of what was, after all, just a grand road plan was notable. There was a frank acknowledgement that other post-war inner ring roads, ‘driven ruthlessly through existing urban areas’, had had a hugely negative impact in some cases. The way to avoid this, other than more intelligent route planning, was to integrate road and new buildings as a ‘total environment’, with, for example, warehousing located below elevated sections and car parks or other structures placed above as a means to embrace the presence of the road in the urban fabric and mitigate the effects of fumes and noise. Other movement around the city was to conform to the principles already outlined in the government's Buchannan Report of 1963, separating all road users wherever possible and offering pedestrians traffic-free precincts, highwalks and underpasses. There was, however, no dogmatic rejection in this model of the traditional corridor street or square; indeed, the utility and attractiveness of these forms in planning for a pedestrian environment was emphasised.

urban form.jpg

The ‘total environment’ envisaged in the ring road and movement strategies can be found as a recurring idea throughout the plan, not least in the proposed shopping, culture and entertainment area flowing from branches in London Road and Bold Street along the main Church Street/Lord Street drag to Castle Street. Whilst much of the existing retail building stock would remain, several new facilities such as an arts and youth centre were mooted, and an intriguing new complex known as ‘Strand-Paradise’ – a sequence of five residential towers on a podium of multi-level, multi-functional space set beside a new park between The Strand and Paradise Street – was proposed on the approximate site of today’s Liverpool One development. Between this area and St George's Hall a new Civic and Social Centre was proposed at the heart of a sequence of new open spaces: a superstructure to house council functions, law courts and miscellaneous new social and cultural facilities. The design, being worked on by Colin St John Wilson at the time of publication, was consciously low-lying and sprawling to maximise public access and emphasise its role as a piece of the city, permeable but integrated.

What emerges most strongly from these plans was not the detail itself but the governing principles and overall ambitions. There was an abstract desire to recreate the city as ‘Entertainment’ and ‘Art’, very much capitalised as concepts, with a commitment to innovative architecture and the manufacture of variety and delight in pedestrianised precincts, both day and night. The view of the citizen, moving through the city at a walking pace either through traffic-free thoroughfares or highwalks, was to be the paramount consideration. Water, seating, planting, kiosks and cafes of various types would fill the space vacated by vehicles, whilst at night brightly lit, dynamic displays would be encouraged, advertising shops and cultural attractions to create a sense of energy and occasion. 

Strand Paradise (Jack Hale's conflicted copy 2011-05-05).jpg

It's interesting to note how fragmentary the application of Liverpool's plan was considering its similarity to other comprehensive redevelopment schemes of the 1950s and 60s. There is of course an inner ring road but only the loosest application of the plan was achieved along perhaps three-quarters of its proposed route, with none of the elevated motorway materialising; there was only a highly restricted execution of the highwalk network that was intended to criss-cross the traffic streets of the business district, now completely demolished; the principal shopping streets were pedestrianised by the early 1980s, but with little design flair and involving no major architectural remodelling; and the Civic Centre scheme was reduced in scope in stages and finally abandoned due to lack of funding and a political change of heart in 1973. One of the most concrete applications of the entire plan was perhaps the construction of the underground railway loop to knit Central, Moorfields and Lime Street stations into a central network, a useful bit of infrastructure that wasn't really reflected in achievements above ground.

The plan of 1965 was always at risk of over-stretching itself in scope over a meandering timescale. Whilst central government funds were available, there was no single pot of money anywhere that could pay for such a multi-faceted programme, and the local funding required was increasingly difficult to access during a time of accelerating economic decline. More than anything, political momentum was lost by the end of the 70s, meaning that executing the plan could only ever be piecemeal and reactive to acute need rather than an overarching vision. What we see in the 2008 Liverpool One scheme is the private development of land earmarked for a remarkably similar treatment in 1965, and whilst this sort of investment and innovation in design – highwalks and all – is naturally to be welcomed, it falls several degrees short of the municipally-led plan of more than 40 years earlier that conceived of an entirely new means to experience the city. The gap between the scale and philosophy of these two visions of comprehensive redevelopment is remarkable.    

© Matthew Whitfield

This article first appeared in The Modernist issue 1 'BOLD'.

Bodly Gone / from the archive / issue 1

April 1st 2011 witnessed the ‘death’ of one of the most enduring logos of transit and of the region. The ‘double -M’, ‘wiggly worm’ or ‘plumbers nightmare’ has been the defining visual identity for buses, trains and trams alike for the best part of forty years. The newly branded Transport for Greater Manchester has adapted the logo to be more curvy and friendly and arguably distorted the clarity of the original.

The ‘double-M’ came into use in 1974 following another April 1st transition and the creation of Greater Manchester and the GMC. It is said to have been one of the most widely deployed transport logos in the country and as an attempt to visually unify the newly formed county was applied to train related infrastructure as well as that of the bus network. Whilst the application of the logo and its development as a brand lay with the GMPTE and their in house publicity team, the logo was actually designed by Ken Hollick, a London designer. Design Research Unit (DRU) were also invited to submit proposals at the same time. The orange logo on a white background was to replace the SELNEC (South East Lancashire North East Cheshire) sector logos of Northern, Southern, Central, Cheshire, but not to require the full fleet to have new livery. SELNEC had only been formally constructed in 1968, despite a 1962 report on regional transport using the same acronym.

The logo became used across the city on everything from bus stops to woolly jumpers and its application governed by the ubiquitous design manual. These documents became an essential part of company identity in the late 1960s and into the 1970s following pioneering work in the US by designers like Eliot Noyes and Paul Rand. In a relationship that spanned over a decade, Eliot Noyes’ work for petroleum giant Mobil anticipated the design of everything, from forecourt to fleet. In the UK DRU had defined British Rail’s (BR) identity with their work on the logo and font in 1965. The control over the distribution of the BR font was such that as the GMPTE rolled out their joint branding exercise with BR at local railway stations even their publicity team were denied access to the master template. Under the direction of Ken Mortimer the GMPTE team had to employ Helvetica Medium as it was the closest commercially available typeface. In fact, most of the GMPTE signage that would carry the logo was governed using principles set by DRU and their standards for BR.


Mortimer oversaw the brand’s transition in the use of colour too; from orange and white to orange, brown and white that came to characterise the GMPTE fleet of Leyland Atlantean buses. The brown was a creeping addition to the palette for the livery and perhaps started when Ken Hollick drew the first buses with the new logo with brown wheels. Following this, architects Essex Goodman & Suggitt began to utilise brown as a contrasting colour in architectural elements in their work for the GMPTE and a pair of lecturers from Stockport proposed brown as an additional colour for the livery of the new Charterline fleet. The brown and orange buses, which are somehow synonymous with the 1970s but really a product of the 1980s, were those that became visually associated with the double-M.

So the logo has not disappeared without a trace, it has been mutated into a diminished version of itself. Its full removal from all of the locations it has been applied will undoubtedly take years, in the same way that the transition from an orange background to a red one did in the previous rebranding exercise. One has to question why TFGM did not commission a full new identity for their brave new integrated transit world, but, of course, there is no longer anything new; just the remix.

© Richard Brook

This article first appeared in The Modernist issue 1 'BOLD'.


Habitat / issue 25


A flyer from the opening of the Manchester Habitat store in the 1960's. Well we couldn't do an issue themed Habitat without featuring that shop could we.   

Issue 25 Habitat out now.