“This is Manchester, we do things differently here…”
Anthony H Wilson
In the 19th century, Manchester’s city-based business community came up with the idea of developing the Manchester Ship Canal. Facing stiff opposition from Liverpool (some things never change), the project – costing the equivalent of £1.65 billion – gained the necessary Act of Parliament, becoming the largest river navigation canal in the world. It miraculously transformed Manchester into the UK’s third busiest port in the country, despite being located 36 miles from the sea.
As the pre-eminent industrial metropolis of the UK, the city led the Industrial Revolution and expanded at an astonishing rate during that period . Manchester has always broken the mould and established itself at the forefront of new technology. The city is a crucible for the creation of ‘firsts’ which has contributed to its current position as a place with true global appeal.
It’s the place where Rutherford split the atom, where the world’s first stored-programme computer was invented, where Rolls met Royce, where the world’s first passenger railway station was built and, most recently, where graphene was discovered and is set to revolutionize the technology industry which, according to Howard Bernstein, “is synonymous with Manchester”.
The Manchester city region also has its own investment models and is the UK’s first devolved economic region. It has strong civic leadership and public and private partnerships with a reputation for delivering success. It is a place that is, without question, the UK’s second city with an unrivalled vibrancy and, according to Brian Cox, is “uniquely placed” to take its place at the forefront of a science-driven economic revolution (once more).
We, as Manchester Architects, want very much to be central to that growth, to contribute significantly to the quality of the built environment in the city and to become a body with a voice within the capital of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’.
“On the sixth day God created Manchester”
“While tower cranes continue to dominate the skyline of our capital, the city [of London] and the wider south-east seems to be cooling off from the breakneck speed of recent years. The regions are, finally, getting a look in. In architecture, people are talking about one particular city and that is Manchester.”
It is in that context that Manchester Architects currently operates as the most successful RIBA branch in the UK. Its members are producing architecture that is an expression of Manchester’s ascendency, with investors keen to develop new quarters, places and buildings within the city and a pace and scale of development that is simply breath-taking.
New architectural practices are being created, bringing a fresh approach to the profession, and firms long-established elsewhere in the UK are also coming to the city in numbers. This influx is welcome and can only improve the quality of built environment in Manchester, transforming it into a truly international, cosmopolitan location.
We are proud that our architects are at the forefront of this process however there is still lots to do, with major developments planned for St John’s, St Michael’s, Mayfield, Oxford Road Corridor, Manchester University, MMU, Manchester Central and Circle Square amongst many others.
We champion the importance of design quality in the city, with our President and other Council members taking an active role in the RIBA Places Matter! RIBA Design Review Panel. Places Matter! provides an important service in the design development process and planning officers, developers and clients are increasingly seeing its material benefits to the quality of what is built in the city.
We also organise an annual awards event in June, which celebrates the best projects that are planned, under construction or completed in the city. The awards have become increasingly high-profile over recent years and are enthusiastically sought after, promoting healthy competition within Manchester’s architectural industry.
Manchester has a wonderful and prestigious past but, it is clear that in the coming years, it also has an incredibly exciting future which Manchester Architects are incredibly proud to be a part of.
“The best way to predict the future is to create it”
It is in this context that the Manchester Architects have put together a programme for this year that focuses completely on Manchester. We have a wide and varied membership and the ultimate aim is for us to develop a platform, a voice and a position in Manchester, from which we can effect change and fulfil our aim which is to nurture, develop and support architects within the city and the region beyond.
We will achieve this by arranging a series of high-quality lectures, with leading architects discussing about their work currently underway in the city. We plan to arrange site visits to these buildings and others to increase the exposure to construction activity, particularly of our younger members.
We also plan to hold a Future Manchester symposium, to launch the awards week and give Manchester’s architectural community a chance to critically debate the future of the city.