Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Meandering round Manchester

The intricate Rylands Library faced by today's glass and steel
What an absorbing place this Manchester is. The ostentatiously wealthy parade in Deansgate, razzing their Maseratis, Lambos and BMWs noisily up the road, past stylish shoppers and glossy shops. A few streets away the massive Arndale teems with crowds while a confusion of trams runs every which way, hooting noisily to clear the errant jaywalker from their path.
And still the re-building goes on
And everywhere, ultra modern glass and steel buildings stand cheek-by-jowl – sometimes very awkwardly – with stone 19th century grandeur and crumbling brick.
Manchester seems to change constantly. I recall the centre was being pulled apart for the Metrolink tramway when we first visited – it's being pulled around again for another new tram line now.
New high rise offices are appearing all the time: the massive IRA bomb of 1996 that destroyed a vast area around the Arndale centre is often claimed as the catalyst for the present wave of development. It may have started there but by now, like Himalayan Balsam, it's everywhere.
The ever changing face of Manchester
Indeed, glamorous glass buildings easily blind one to the rest of the city's architecture but look a little longer and it really is remarkable. Glorious, largely Victorian era, public buildings like the huge Royal Exchange, the Gothic extravagance of the Town Hall or the splendid John Rylands Library stand among banks, hotels, churches all in varied styles and fascinating layers of detail.
Exquisite interior of St Mary's catholic church

Lavish detail on even the most humble frontage
What is clear is that the architects and builders of old were building forever: the abundance of detail and sheer, painstaking craftsmanship is evident on even the most humble office front. Today's buildings seem to be all about 'now' - full of flash and instant eye-appeal. I wonder if the majority will even still be around in a hundred years, let alone admired.
This trip we wandered further afield to the Northern Quarter, a place of small streets and more intimate but no less interesting buildings that is now home to independent bars, clubs and creative businesses.
The facade of the old fishmarket surrounds new development
The sad side of this vibrant and bustling city is all too obvious as well – the numbers of beggars and rough sleepers to be seen around the centre is truly depressing. The gap between the haves and have-nots is very, very obvious.

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