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Under Manchester

On Monday afternoon we were given the opportunity to go on a guided tour of a part of the massive sprawl of underground tunnels that lie invisible under Manchester. The system we went into was part of an initiative to run an underwater canal under deansgate to allow for easier shipment of good across the city but in WWII the site was given over as a bomb shelter.

The tour guide was very good even if he did go on about the human side of it a bit too much with some very sensationalist accounts of war-time Manchester, one of which ended in a postman’s head being blown off by a bomb landing on the opposite side of the street. Aside from that he was very informative and quite funny about the inevitable conspiracies that surround a place like this, not being accessible to the public etc.

Part of our newest project is to create a landscape between one site and another and the thought of submerged passageways was an intriguing one, our tour guide took us to various points in the tunnel and told us the corresponding space above our heads, most of which was the AMC cinemas but it still made you think of the city as a complex and multifaceted organism with secrets and a history besides the built evidence above.


City of Bits

Part of our project is the installation of a digital gallery in the Peace Garden, St. Peter’s Square, and so as part of this we’ve been given some recommended reading in the form of “City of Bits”. Our building is intended to become a digital hub for visitors to see planned improvements to the city and maybe to speculate on the Manchester of the future, contrasting with the gallery space in the Memorial Hall which reflects the Manchester of the past. This book, then, with it’s visions of the future from a 1996 stand-point shows, in a way, the vision we should be expressing in our designs.

I love a bit of future-city speak and so this book really has been fascinating to read. Mitchell talks about the new information age and its effects both on a human scale up through architecture and onto city and world-wide consequences of both free information and technological advancement. Of course at times his speculations seem pedestrian, for example when he talks about videos being always available on the net on seperate channels but innovation is a strange and unwieldy thing especially in the area of computing. Rates of silicon evolution far exceed that of our carbon-based race with mere memory capabilities and transfer speeds doubling every two years. The internet speeds up this process by allowing communication of ideas on a massive scale so Mitchell’s prediction could never have anticipated the meteoric rise of Youtube and the like.

In the same way he talks about GPS enabled car navigation and it’s possible implementation where a car will be able to vocalize directions. Smart-phones have blown this out of the water in an impossible way and have almost enabled some of his other speculations such as the body-net where items on your person are all synced to behave simultaneously.

Key for our project however is his talk about information architecture and it’s relation with classical examples. He talks about how the circular shape of many city libraries reflects the information-fetching programs of computer hard-disks where the information is laid out so that a person in the centre is equidistant from all possible data/books.

He also warns of the dangers to our current city-wide ecosystem due to new-tech living. He says that cities currently have natural synchronous rhythms such as prime time, rush hour and bus schedules. The Net has none of these, it is asynchronous with TV always available and work conducted through wires. “Temporal rhythm becomes white noise”.

I haven’t finished reading the book yet but there’s just a lot of ideas flying around so I had to get them on the page. Also, talking of a lot of stuff on the page, here’s some site analysis from Tuesday:

A1 Presentation sheets

DIY Camera Obscura

Although the reasoning behind this project’s title is a little out of left field we took some time off this weekend to create our own camera obscura in my friend’s room. Although the concept was relatively new to Ed, Richard and myself the general principle has been known in China since the 5th century BC. Since then it was a gradual progression of invention until it became a portable artistic aide in the 17th century with many artists using it because it allowed a projection in perfect perspective onto a large canvas. The general idea is that a small hole is created through with the light enters and (like in the eye) is flipped onto the canvas behind. In richard’s room we blacked out the windows and left a circle around the size of a toilet roll tube and then set the camera to about a 30 second exposure. The reversing of the image creates that interesting and slightly mind bending effect of the ground being on the ceiling with cars zipping across the corners of the room and we were able to have a bit of fun with the effect, projecting it onto materials and standing outside on the street with a light. The snow that was present however briefly on Saturday gave a brilliant contrast at street level and all in all it was nice to get a bit of practical experimentation done.

In our gallery space we will be displaying photographs of old Manchester through the ages but I feel it would be misplaced not to include some archive footage through projectors and the like and maybe even a cheeky camera obscura somewhere in the gallery, maybe of the street outside or of the sky on the ground, something that plays into the reversal of things and projection of the outside world. The subject is also pertinent for the connecting space that we have to manufacture where the emphasis is not on creation but morphing and landscaping the space to connect the two areas. A while ago there was this post by Jim Sanborn about the minimalism of spaces and natural configurations. This simple act of homogenisation implies something deeper about the digital age that we are moving toward, that trimming of nature to suit our new straight edged conformed and vectorized cityscapes. The town hall is a modern architect’s worst nightmare, too much detail. Reduce, revamp.

Emotions are running high



As part of the introduction to our newest project we were asked to produce three large abstract images to describe our emotional response to the site. The various tutors on the course have very different approaches to a project with our tutor last term giving more of a hands-off objective slant which I think had its merits as you didn’t feel led into a design, it was a more organic process. Our new tutor is more inclined toward subjective design, which is pretty much what I’d do anyway but this had made me experiment more than I would have previously.

This site, for me, is all about the light. The room stands in stark contrast to the rest of the building, light and airy where the basement is bleak and dark. When thinking about restoring a building, the past will inevitably play a large part and looking at this spacious room with it’s pulpit like balcony you can imagine a church scene in the slanted light, tall Gothic windows juxtaposing the gutted appearance of the place as it is now.

Abandoned buildings offer a strange feeling of pulling back the curtain, observing something hidden away and embarrising, neglect is a terrible thing to see but it is pulled into focus by the proud exterior of the building, offering a clean slate to reimagine a lost area of the city.

Also this weekend I’ve been experimenting with Ecotect which has been great fun so I’ll post some sweet wind patterns and the like tomorrow. I’m gradually moving toward a set style for these posts with exception for this one as it’s a bit rushed. On days when it has been slow working I’ll post what I’ve been working on and a brief little bit about it but on days where it’s less hectic I’ll try and relate my work to a wider architectural point. My post will be “long’uns” and “short’uns” but all equally invaluable to the world of Architecture. Oh wait no *not valuable. Reached 300 views which is huge.

Location Location etc

During Thursday’s lecture our head of year showed a clip of Sherlock Holmes in which the locations of rooms and sets are flipped between in the usual Hollywood trickery. A scene set in parliament (in the film) is actually filmed in Manchester’s town hall. Strangely, when I lept off the sofa yesterday when me and my house-mates were watching the film and spouted this fact they were all less than impressed, in fact they told me to shut it…

While sitting in silence fuming at the kind of philistines I was forced to share a house with I started thinking about different films in which locations and sets are given the old switcheroo. Of course with green-screens location has become a non issue but there are times when the fudging of a location (whether through time, money or some other contraint) can really tell you a lot about the conditions and politics behind the film.

One such film in which the veil is pulled over the viewer’s eyes is the recent release, Roman Polanski’s Carnage. The film is set in a New York appartment but because of Polanski’s extradition is filmed in a flat in Paris with New York skyline’s plastered into the windows. The film reflects in an obvious way Polanski’s own condition, trapped under house arrest and going slightly bonkers but also showing his own attitudes toward American “correctness”. It’s very telling in itself that this decision to set the film in Brooklyn should be taken on a play (The Gods of Carnage) that is set originally in France and was intended for the French upper class and is filmed in Paris. That Polanski should make such an effort to drag that lens onto American interactions is just a step to far in a way and this added to the forceness of the performances for me.

This removal of contextual barriers, the fact that Sherlock Holmes can jump out of a window in Manchester and fall into the Thames, that a whole flat and comment on a class can be transposed onto another city is not just a reality in film but in real life as well. Slowly but surely technology has removed any sort of perceivable barriers in the way we live our lives. It’s only our physical forms that stay so annoyingly rooted while we flit from country to country, space to space. So there we are, maybe I shouldn’t annoy my housemates and should jump up and proclaim things on the internet rather than ruin a perfectly good film with know-all-ery. The Singularity can’t come quickly enough.


Gothic Principles

Got to go to the new site yesterday which turned out to be amazing. From the outside, it’s a venerable Venetian Gothic building with rough sandstone and great tall windows and on the inside it’s this gutted horrible mess. The basement, groundfloor and 1st floor were shabby as all hell having been completely stripped by building work and the dust of quite a few years. The 2nd floor where our project is based is a different matter (above): double heighted and really well lit it was like emerging into another building! This photograph doesn’t quite show the shafting light coming through the windows but it was a really quite amazing. We learnt about how it used to be a church then a club and now it’s been put up for refurbishment. It’s just a shame we won’t be able to go back in for a few weeks, it would have been great to be able to appreciate the space for more than the 10 minutes we were in there for.

We also had a fantastic tour around the town hall and surrounding area, the tour guide was very enthusiastic and slightly ran off course but what was interesting was his immense background knowledge both or Manchester’s architecture but also the political climates that surrounded these buildings. It was really enlightening to see the clash of different ages in such a small site but this is the nature of Manchester: with such epic growth and concentrated city limits Manchester’s centre is a mish-mash of all types of styles, with most finding their way onto our site so that’s nice.

In responce to St Albert’s square with it’s memorial, memorial hall and the town hall forming Manchester’s centre for all things Gothic I’ve concentrated a large proportion of my research over the last day into the design principles of the day. With a lot of talk about proportions and the like I found a book called “Gothic Design Techniques” (edited and translated from its original German by Lon R. Shelby) particularly interesting and relevant. The problem is that at the emergence of the Gothic movement in the mid 12th century architecture was the work of mastercraftsmen who passed their trade down through word of mouth and, while being very knowledgable about their field, were not particularly literate. Books like Villard de Honnecourt’s “sketchbook” (aptly named) is perhaps a lone example of the theories behind 13th century Gothicism and the booklets translated in this book are where the story next picks up. At the start of the 15th century right the way through to the 18th the rise of learning Architecture through books not apprentiships grew, giving birth the “gentlemaan architect” which we know today (cough). This book follows the notes of several German architects at the turn of the 16th century as they explain the geometry behind the spires and plinths associated with Gothic buildings.

Gothicism is all about divinity and resurrection (hence its association with grave yards and the like), with so many spires and gables the intention was to draw the viewers gaze up towards the heavens. As our tour guide said about Waterstone’s Town Hall: “first you have a couple spires, then a platform, a few more spires, then a few more then a ruddy great tower and a golden cotton ball on top. And if that doesn’t make you look up you must be blind.”

New Term, New Brief

We finished exam’s yesterday so I was out last night but we are stright back in it with today’s lecture giving us a chance to talk about our newest brief. The site we’ve been given is the Memorial Hall on Albert Square, alongside the internationally renowned Manchester town hall, so no pressure. Although this project will obviously not be actualised, what has been stressed is appropriateness over all things as conversions of existing and, more importantly, protected buildings is a very touchy subject with many projects being rejected on grounds of taste. In the lecture, our head of year even mentioned the informal criteria that “improvements to a listed building can only be  ‘better’ than what is already there.”

So, the brief is to transform the upper floor of the Memorial Hall, leaving the lower floors for retail rejuvination. This space will be a gallery of either artwork or a history of Manchester’s architecture (that part was unclear) so conservation of specimens and keeping humidity and light levels under control is essential. Additionally we are to create a low lying building in the Peace Garden (the other side of the town hall) to form a hub for digital records of Manchester’s architecture, past and future. The theory behind this is that public records can be found in the Town Hall and all planning applications are visible there but some feel the site too imposing so to bring all records to a public space will bring transparency to the system.

Over the last year we’ve gradually progressed to different building types without any conscious effort: In first year we did small free standing buildings, then larger hypothetical projects. This year we’ve done micro pavilions, medium new builds and now additions. This has worked well to a point, when I look back on last year’s work it’s kind of a joke, the plans are basic and the spaces pretty poorly designed. The transitions haven’t been hard and in the last term alone we’ve had to think about the appropriateness of our designs even if it was just in a throwaway gesture. Now, with this new project, this is now the focus and the task of creating something that can sit next to some really quite famous architecture is very daunting.

Oh and we’re not allowed to touch the actual structure of the hall, this is all facades and the like so there’s another tweak.

As a bit of history here’s the background to the site: The building is Venetian Gothic, built in 1865 by Thomas Worthington at the height of Victorian Gothic revival. It accompanies the Memorial in the centre of St Albert’s square and the tall arched design must have looked pretty impressive right up until that stonking great Town Hall was built right alongside it.

This project really is quite exciting but the pressure of grafting a modern attachment to a mid 19th Century building is quite daunting. It did however remiind me of this clip I saw a few weeks back, proving that grafting is just a case of hard graft. or something like that.

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