Cottonopolis: Above and Beneath
The Cottonopolis City Planning Department (formerly the City of Manchester) is nestled in amongst the rooftop offices of Sunlight House, besides the Clock Face. Joseph Sunlight, head of the department, takes a seat in the window and looks out onto the city.
Between the skyscrapers are a series of elevated walkways that connect one building to another. In the Manchester 1945 Plan these walkways were put forward as a Le Corbuisier inspired method of segregating vehicles and people – and they were approved in the Oxford Road district. You can see a few which remain to this day as well as the ghosts of old connections between the first floors of neighbouring buildings.
The Royal Northern College of Music has almost removed all traces of its own walkway now but if you look across to the Business School you can clearly see the space where the connecting walkway once attached to it. There are examples all over Manchester today of elevated thinking, though not always complementing each other. Imagine for a moment all of these walkways spanning Oxford Road, taking pedestrians from site to site without the bother of traffic, then think of that greying arm draped around the South of the city – Mancunian Way. Where does that fit in to all of this? A motorway in the heart of the city that runs parallel to the walkways and at that same first floor height.
Another example of this sky-high future can be spotted over at the Mercure Hotel, formerly the Piccadilly Hotel. If you take a look at the building which sits on a podium above the street-level shops, you’ll notice that the original entrance is found up there on the first floor too. Bernard Sunley built this hotel with the vehicular future in mind, reasoning that everyone would arrive by car by the ’60s and no doubt taking inspiration from that lofty Mancunian Way. Sunley didn’t provide a pedestrian way into the building, the only way in was by the concrete car ramp.
These roads aren’t prevalent in Cottonopolis but they do exist, cars are still necessary in Sunlight’s future, but it’s the public transport that makes the city so successful. Sometime after this fanatical road building, a plan was proposed for Manchester’s own underground network. The Picc-Vic line was actually some way to being approved and when the Arndale Centre was built the foundations were made with this tube network in mind, so there’s a cavern underneath the Arndale, right below Topshop, and it’s a ghost station for a line that was never to be.
The tube network would eventually stretch right out to the suburbs of the city and stations were planned at Royal Exchange and St Peters, with a rather lovely reimagining of Albert Square that saw the cobbles outside the Town Hall replaced with a landscaped forecourt. In Cottonopolis, Sunlight saw to it that these plans were approved and by 1973 an extensive underground of high speed trains delivered the public across their rainy city.
Manchester is often regarded as England’s second city. In what ways of you think it might deserve this title?
My answer is really a combination of all the things I’ve covered this week when reimagining the city. It has vision and its the home of many firsts, but when you take a look at who the pioneers of the city have been and who the lovers of the city are, then more often than not these Mancunians transpire to be not Mancunians at all. People choose to live here. They make their most important discoveries here. They want to give something to Manchester and are happy to be referenced as children of the city. I think it’s really this that makes it so important to me and deserving of that title. People adopt the city as their own; refer to themselves as Mancunians not simply a resident of Manchester. A city is as great as its people.
Thank you to Chris Meads for helping put all of this together, and to the wonderful Andy Vine who supplied artwork for this piece. I’m really looking forward to the rest of ‘A Wondrous Place’, and my question for next week’s guest curator Jonathan Greenbank is:
Liverpool is a city born of the success of its port. What does the water mean to you?