Foreward / 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.

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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.

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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.  

Call for contributions - HABITAT

Its our home, our abode, our environment - whats your habitat?


The theme for The Modernist magazine issue 25 is HABITAT, the first of four 'H' issues and we invite you to contribute your articles or photo stories.

As ever, you can be flexible in your interpretation of the theme as long as it broadly relates to 20th century design.

We are seeking articles of around 1000 words or less if the piece is more image focused.

The Modernist contributors are a volunteer community so the budget doesnt stretch to a fee. Sorry.

COPY DEADLINE: 01-11-2017

Contact us at editor[at]

Thank you in advance

The Modernists



Bound Art book fair


The Modernist will be at the Bound Art book fair at the Whitworth on the 7th and 8th of October. Well have copies of our latest magazine and our new book manchester MODERN. 

There will be plenty of other art, design and photography publishers there from across GB and Europe. 

So.. come along and see.