Creativity amongst the Carbuncles
Last week I took the chance whilst waiting for a meeting to look out over Media City from one of the best viewpoints – Quay West, our own temporary town hall. The officer I was meeting caught me staring out across the span of water and skyscrapers and remarked "It’s an impressive view, isn’t it Councillor!". My reply surprised her;
"The Quays lack something, they’re soulless, they’ve been so controlled, they’ve designed out bustle, there’s nothing going on except what the developers and the two councils provide or put on. They need to let go."
This week we learn that ‘The Carbuncle Cup’ , named after Prince Charles’s infamous comments, and awarded by the architectural magazine ‘Building Design’ to the worst realised projects of the year, has been won by our very own ‘Media City’. The judges’ comments are scathing;
They said the waterside site location – alongside the Lowry arts centre and the Imperial War Museum North – appeared to have “everything going for it” but failed to realise the “urban aspiration” indicated by its name.
“The overwhelming sense is one of extreme anxiety on the part of the architects about the development’s isolation from the centre of Manchester.
“The incessant visual excitement reads as a desperate attempt to compensate for an underlying lack of urban vitality.
"“How uncreative can a ‘Creative Quarter’ be? And which truly creative person would ever want to work in such a place?”
Perhaps surprisingly, I’m pleased with these comments. They are a very loud wake up call. Cutting through the scathing hyperbole of the judges’ criticisms over the clash of claddings used on buildings, the core of both their comments this week and mine last week are the same. The place lacks a buzz. It needs the sparks of creativity that will only happen if we enable small scale businesses, cafés, even burger and kebab stalls to set up. We have got to stop believing that a sculpture trail is going to entice people to walk around the Quays. Instead I’d rather we removed all requirements to license street peddlers in the area, in fact I’d like to allow stalls to be set up wherever one can be squeezed in.
I hope the reaction to this indictment isn’t just a defensive sneer at southern judges, but is taken as a positive stimulus to look below the skyscrapers and look instead at the empty promenades and squares on both banks of the Quays.If you want creativity, you’re going to need the bustle of the bazaar rather than the zombification of Lowry outlets and a sculpture trail.
Next week it’s Stretford at the Council
At next week’s Council Meeting we are scheduled to debate Stretford Town Centre following the loss of TJ Hughes from the centre. We are calling for support to be given to the town centre:
As land owners of Stretford Mall this Council recognises the need to support the future of the Mall for the benefit of the local economy, jobs and local community. We are concerned at the recent announcement of the closure of TJ Hughes and the empty shop units on Chester Road. We therefore call on the Council to support, utilising a proportion of the rental income it receives from the Mall, initiatives which will help to stimulate the Mall. This could include such joint initiatives as the development of a lay-by on Chester Road next to the Mall and improvements to the Mall itself etc.
Stretford town centre frustrates the life out of me. I’m glad we’ve drafted this motion in this manner because usually as soon as you mention Stretford to the Conservatives, you get the response ‘We’d love to support Stretford but it’s cursed by having a blooming great prime A road going through it and a privately owned Mall, so we can’t do anything.’ This motion of the Labour Group points to some of the small things that can and should be done now.
I’m convinced we should go further and look outside the box to try to support Stretford in other ways too. One thing never to accept is that such barriers as the A56 or the concrete cladding of a 60s arndale mean that Stretford has to lump it.
The first challenge is to raise our own expectations as to what is possible within the restrictions imposed by the A56 and mall. And where better to get expectations challenged than our universities in their architectural departments? We should commission some design work. Ideally I’d like a business such as Tesco to be the sponsor of work from students. It would be good for the image of Tesco which has taken a bashing locally and good for Stretford to get some blue-sky thinking on what the place could look like with a bit of imagination. I have absolutely no building or architectural background but even I can see that Kingsway could be enhanced if the backs of the old shops were to be renovated to provide a new frontage. What could we do with the Essoldo corner? Let’s ask young people with the skills and imagination boring councillors wouldn’t dream of and prepare to get blown away.
Overall, it’s too easy to label our developments both old and new as carbuncles and then walk away. I believe in creativity that comes not from a grand corporate design but the ingenuity and imagination of people looking at things from the perspective of those who live and use the place, rather than a slick presentation.