manchester modernist society

Archive for May, 2012|Monthly archive page

a UMIST for everyone

In architecture, background, ideas, society, the buildings, uncategorized on May 28, 2012 at 8:35 am

Talking of public realm and the benefits of campus facilities in the heart of the city, a quick delve into the City Library’s Manchester Room reveals a fascinating glimpse into the wider aims and ambitions behind the planning of the proposed new educational precinct in 1963.

Manchester and Its Regions, A Survey prepared for The British Association, MUP, 1962, includes a chapter entitled The University of the Future written by Vincent Knowles, Registrar of Manchester University from 1952-79.

Knowles was the doyen of all the British universities’ registrars and it was an open secret that the network his former staff had established throughout university administration in the country was known to other registrars as the Manchester Mafia and that Knowles was affectionately known as the Godfather. (A History of the University of Manchester, 1973–1990 English Historical Review (2004) 119(482): 759-761).

In this chapter Knowles talks about the role of universities generally for a ‘new era’. Closer to home he outlines the humble beginnings of the universities, praises all the achievements gained so far for the benefit of the city, its students and its citizens alike, whilst warning against complacency, advocating expansion and improvement as urgent projects in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Knowles sets out the vision for Manchester as a university town par excellence, illustrating the extent to which an educational campus was key to the larger post war reconstruction of the city. The 1945 plan provided the structure for zoning much of central south Manchester along the ribbon of existing institutions and for clearing large acreage from Brunswick to Fallowfield to make an academic campus – 60 acres either side of Oxford Rd, a new area of 18 acres on the west side of Oxford Rd running up to Whitworth Park for the development of halls of residence, and 24 acres for more halls in Fallowfield – ‘town and gown, he says, being drawn together in the interests of both’.

On the responsibility of Parliament and local government to plan and legislate for the future of higher education, he notes, ‘the university of the past was built by visionary men of wealth but those of the future is one where government and parliament now realise, albeit belatedly, that if our precious heritage is to survive it must be supported in far greater measure by the state and thus be able to expand its contribution to the life of the nation’

Interestingly the plan includes provision of courts, lawns and trees, and whilst he acknowledges that more land had since been given over to construction, he hoped that the ideal might be adhered to in the future, ‘as it would benefit not only the life of the university itself but the whole of Manchester, since the enjoyment of campus would not be limited to those residing or working on it’.

Meanwhile for UMIST he predicted that nationally there would be an increased need for more and highly trained technologists, hence the expansion of its campus – ‘the scheme provides for a number of tall buildings arranged to form courts or quads laid out with lawns and trees ad it has been necessary to eliminate 2 loops in the river Medlock by culverts, which is now almost complete. Major buildings completed include the conversion of a former cotton mill for the Dept of Chemical Engineering, a new staff house and lecture room block with large buildings to house the civil engineering division due to be ready in 1963. Further buildings include fibre technology, chemistry, a refectory and student and residential tower. By 1964-5 the scheme will be complete and there will be a need to move across to the area between Sackville St and Upper Brook Street already earmarked for more development.’

This ambition, with its lawns, courts, trees and airy quadrangles, its sports halls,  public galleries and museums, would create  a new public landscape where investment into research and development for the new technological revolution could result in enjoyment and benefits for all. A CAMPUS for everyone…


UMIST’s long lost swimming pool

In uncategorized on May 25, 2012 at 5:54 pm

High up in the roof space of the Sackville St main building extension (Bradshaw Gass & Hope, designed 1927, completed 1957) is the intriguing K floor.

When we snook in last week it was set up as an exam room but evidence of its former life as an old fashioned Sports Hall is easy to spot.

However it seems that originally a swimming pool was planned for the top floor but the idea was dropped amidst worries that the weight of water might cause substantial structural issues.

Shame….a deco-esque rooftop swimming pool would be just the ticket right now for a cooling dip as the city enjoys a much needed heatwave……

Well I Never…???

In uncategorized on May 24, 2012 at 6:30 pm

Interesting snippets for your delight….

  • the Renold Building and the Barnes Wallis Building originally faced each other across a bowling green and for a long time the Renold’s Rock Bar/café was named the Bowling Green in its honour. Disappointingly it is now a landscaped garden….
  • Manchester Moon Dust – lunar soil gathered from the Sea Of Tranqullity by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin during the Apollo landing in 1969 made its way to several universities worldwide for study via NASA,  including Manchester and UMIST. The UK received 16 samples, a portion of which came to Manchester via Jack Zussman, Chair of Geology, and John Geake at UMIST physics dept who collaborated with scientists in Hull and Paris on 20g of fine dust to determine the surface properties and radiation history of the moon.

** a little of this moon dust also went to the Museum for display in the ‘public interest’ – and it proved to be one of its most successful exhibitions to date – over 5 days more than 24,000 visitors queued down the street to view what many reported to the Manchester Evening News looked just like cigarette ash!

  • UMIST students were a distinct group with their own ways and traditions – think Neil out of The Young Ones – and most nights out revolved around the Barnes Wallis Students Union. However there was always the nearby Swinging Sporran (now the Retro Bar) for after hours drinking, rocking out and talking physics. Originally a bikers/rock pub and club, UMIST science bods would go there to swing their long hair and flairs to concept albums by the likes of YES and Genesis… Later on it spawned a new generation of techno and house nights, including early sets by the Dust Brothers before they conquered the world as The Chemical Brothers.
  • Another prominent feature of the student calendar was the Bogle Stroll, a 55-mile long sponsored walk for charity held annually during Rag Week. Thousands of students left Manchester Rag headquarters at UMIST campus just before midnight and walked all night through Salford and back. In the days before mobile phones the only official communication link for the entire event was a single BT Radiophone installed the Bogle Warlord’s (the Chief Steward’s) car. So, unofficially, Radio Rag was the link between the event organisers and the walkers.

** It would broadcast all night and the organisers instructed walkers to carry portable radios and tune in. There is a lovely website here reminiscing about the logistics of the stroll and the radio broadcast, complete with one or two surviving clips from back in the day. Well worth a quick read….

  • Vimto, Manchester’s answer to Ribena, the original ‘Vim Tonic for health and temperance’, was formulated in a shed on Granby Row in 1908. An elaborate and suitably jolly public sculpture now marks the spot.
  • The beautiful dome in Sackville Main Building houses the Godlee Observatory, home to the Manchester Astrological Society, complete with telescopes in the actual tower, octagonal meeting rooms beneath, and society archives. It was bequeathed to the university in 1903 by Francis Godlee, Quaker, lawyer and all round Good Egg.

Got any gorgeous stories to share? why not pop them on here for our mutual delectation……the more the merrier!

so what’s all the fuss about UMIST then…??

In uncategorized on May 23, 2012 at 7:45 pm

so just why are we banging on about UMIST as a whole rather than only a few specific buildings to be recognised as being of particular architectural merit? here’s why in a nutshell…..

  • The campus is important as a symbol of the city’s leading role in C20 technology: electrical and chemical engineering; advanced textile manufacturing; nuclear engineering; and so on. It’s rather like the Ancoats area was to early cotton manufacturing in the 1820s but 80 or 90 years later, reinforced in the post-1945 years when Britain was still a world-leading scientific and engineering country.
  •  The UMIST campus is almost unique as a contained inner-city example of the post-war expansion of British Universities.
  • The handling of the composition of the buildings in the masterplan is a subtle and sophisticated piece of urban design. The effortlessness with which one may move from the Sackville Street building to the Ferranti building belies the complexity of planning and building on a contaminated site with a river and a railway viaduct running through it!
  • These are the best buildings of WA Gibbon (of Cruikshank & Seward), an extremely talented architect and reflect his love of concrete and his awards and travels sponsored by the concrete society including a visit to Brazil to meet Oscar Niemeyer.
  • The exposed plant equipment on the roof of the Chemical Engineering Pilot plant pre-dates the Pompidou in Paris by four years!
  • There are unique works of art by Victor Pasmore, Anthony Hollaway and Hans Tidsall embedded in the fabric of the site and the buildings.
  • The open space is as valuable to the city and the composition as the built elements. There are few open green spaces in Manchester city centre especially since Piccadilly Gardens were reconstructed.
  • There are no C20 conservation areas in Manchester and this site has magnificent buildings and a unique social and educational story to tell….

**Thanks to Richard Brook, Senior Lecturer at Manchester School of Architecture for his expertise, enthusiasm & erudite summary of UMIST’s unique landscape.

The Construction of a thoroughly Modern Campus

In uncategorized on May 11, 2012 at 8:12 pm

UMIST was the vanguard of Britain’s post-war “white heat of technology” era: electronics, nuclear engineering, chemicals, artificial textiles, aeronautics and computing. A gleaming white campus of iconic architecture, artworks and sculptural experiments, reflecting its social, cultural and scientific significance for the development of twentieth century Manchester – a narrative every bit as important to Manchester as that of the industrial revolution.

Lord Bowden’s ambitions, the aspirations of the new welfare state and the city’s own Educational Plan eventually combined to create its unique landscape given the seal of approval in  the Manchester Pevsner Guide –

‘The UMIST campus has the most impressive of the post war buildings, thanks mainly to the contribution of WA Gibbon of Cruikshank and Seward’, (p 106).

It’s a complicated story – originally the City of Manchester 1945 Plan envisaged expanding the educational centre from the university site on Oxford Rd and integrating it into a new road system in a scheme drawn up by Sir Hubert Worthington, the distinguished local architect who trained with Sir Edwin Lutyens.  Part of this post war reconstruction included clearing existing housing to create new academic, cultural and residential areas – in effect an entire university district filled with creative, bohemian and boffin types. However the clearances didn’t happen for another 20 years and the idea of closing off Oxford Rd to create this enclosed campus never came to fruition either, though the dream has re-surfaced on and off ever since…

Then in 1962 Lord Bowden commissioned a plan for a student village drawn up by John Sheard of Manchester architects Cruikshank and Steward, but within a year the city council, Manchester University, UMIST and Manchester United Hospitals appointed newcomers Wilson and Womersley to prepare yet another development plan for the whole of the education precinct. The pair produced a grand design to create an integrated campus with segregation of pedestrians and traffic via high level walkways linking the university to RNCM and MMU art department. This also came to nothing apart from a few walk way provisions, the ghosts of which survive along the edges of the Mabel Tylecote Building and above the Precinct centre.

The perseverance of Bowden meant that the newly founded Institute did eventually get the core of its own masterplan underway. As Richard Brook explains in his article for the Twentieth century society website

The new UMIST campus expanded to the south of the Manchester to Liverpool railway, extending into Chorlton upon Medlock, and included a number of new buildings and conversions by various architects including Harry S. Fairhurst + Sons and Thomas Worthington + Sons, both long established Manchester firms. It was the latter who designed the uncompromising square grid facades of Staff House (1960); Hubert Worthington, son of Thomas, was responsible for the design of the original Educational Centre in the 1945 plan.

The masterplan for the campus was developed in 1960 by W.A. Gibbon of Cruickshank and Seward and it is Gibbon’s legacy that presides over the stepped site as it descends toward the Medlock Valley. Chandos Hall, the Renold Building, the Barnes-Wallis building and the Ferranti Building are all by Gibbon and all feature his trademark white concrete. He is known to have visited Brazil prior to this commission and was influenced by the work of Niemeyer, though the only real flourishing gesture is the curved stair that elegantly sweeps into the courtyard between the Renold and Barnes-Wallis buildings.

The result was what even the picky old Pevsner declares embodies a ‘sense of purpose lacking in most of their contemporaries….’ (p124)

And what this tangled web of a tale demonstrates is that UMIST lies at the centre of a series of wider plans and aspirations of the Corporation, its various planners, architects and several scattered educational institutions to match the optimistic post war mood of the nation and ensure Manchester remained at the forefront of the new technological revolution.

in some forgotten corners UMIST still exists

In society on May 10, 2012 at 2:42 pm

The Emergence of UMIST

In background on May 9, 2012 at 11:40 pm

From its beginnings as the Mechanics Institute over on Princess St, UMIST developed piecemeal, starting with the imposing structure on Sackville St being formally opened by the Prime Minister A.J. Balfour on 15th October 1902. This brought together most departments of the School of Technology under one roof and by 1908 had added a dyeing, bleaching, printing and finishing house for textiles, fully equipped with paper making machinery.

Historical maps of the area show a gradual purchasing of nearby vacant plots, presumably with further expansion in mind, but by 1928 the shortage of space was so acute that Velvet House, a vacant warehouse opposite the main entrance, was acquired and adapted to provide a home for departments including Municipal Engineering and Building. An extension to Sackville Street’s Main building began in 1938, halted by the second world war, and made painfully slow progress  in the long austerity post war years due to labour and material shortages. Photographs of the extension in the 1952 Jubilee publication show the steel frame, parts of which were by then 14 years old, still exposed!

By 1949 over 8500 students were enrolled, yet most were still studying non-degree courses. But the appointment of B. V. Bowden (later Lord Bowden) in 1953 ushered in a new phase of expansion and confidence. During 1955 and 1956 the Manchester College of Science and Technology achieved independent university status under its own Royal Charter and became separately funded from the University Grants Committee. All non-degree courses were moved to the Manchester Polytechnic (Manchester Metropolitan University) and its name finally changed to the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology.

UMIST and the Victoria University of Manchester retained close ties for the second half of the 20th century, with UMIST students being awarded, or having the choice of, a University of Manchester degree until full autonomy in 1993.

UMIST was finally born, just 142 years after that legendary meeting in the Bridgewater Arms to conceive of a mechanics institute for working men….

Signage & Typefaces

In uncategorized on May 9, 2012 at 2:31 pm

We do like a nice typeface


Ghost Signs

In uncategorized on May 9, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Following the merger of UMIST with the University of Manchester in 2004, there was a concerted effort to remove all references to the Institution, but look closely and there remain ghostly reminders…

The Mechanics Institute

In background on May 9, 2012 at 11:46 am

Today, the old UMIST campus is simply part of the University of Manchester, eaten up by the merger in 2004, but before then it was a fully functioning university in its own right, The University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology.

Its history is closely linked to Manchester’s emergence as the world’s first industrial city, formed by local industrialists and businessmen to ensure their workers could learn the basic principles of science –  the Mechanics’ Institute, funded entirely by private means, provided part time study in mechanics and chemistry, set up on Princess St where the labour history museum is now. Appropriately enough, the so-called father of atomic theory, the chemist John Dalton, was Vice President.

By 1879 JH Reynolds made it part of a growing movement for technical education and linked it with the new city and guilds examinations, successfully enlisting industrial support at a time when UK manufacturers were increasingly worried about foreign competition. This relationship between education and business, research and industrial application was the institution’s driving force, mutually beneficial to the city’s growth and dominance in the new industrial age, and providing much needed education to its working citizenry. It became the new Technical School, eventually taken over by the city in 1892.

Eventually a new building opened in 1902 on Sackville St, which would teach science for industrial application whilst the nearby Owens College concentrated on educating ‘professional’ men. This marked a change in the Manchester story – up to now the capital for new builds and chairs of departments had come mainly from industry rather than the local authority. And as befits its roots in the early chemical industry of the region, the Tech (as it was commonly called) pioneered Chemical Engineering as an academic subject in Britain, with lectures by George E. Davis (1888) highly influential in defining the discipline.

But perhaps a more significant advance was the foundation in 1905 of a Faculty of Technology, answerable academically to its ‘younger sister’ the Victoria University of Manchester (formerly Owens College) and awarding BSc and MSc degrees, the beginnings of UMIST as a University and the first technology faculty in the country….