Manchester - great architecture in a great city

Manchester has always been renowned as a city of great architecture, ranging from the historic buildings of the Victorian Age to the modern structures springing from its recent renovation.

Many of the city’s architectural wonders are actually reminders of the city’s former glory days as the global centre of the world’s cotton trade. Today, those old cotton warehouses remain unchanged on the outside despite being converted for other uses. As a result, much of the city’s external appearance remains the same and its original character is mostly intact.

Like many cities dating back to the Industrial Revolution, Manchester’s old architecture is clearly influenced by the city of Venice in Italy. This is especially evident in the South and East of Albert Square as well as the Bridgewater Canal portion near Beetham Tower.

There are many skyscrapers in Manchester, most of them constructed during the 1960s and 1970s. In addition, the new millennium has brought a resurgence in the construction of skyscrapers, particularly corporate and residential blocks that have been recently completed or are currently still under construction. One of the most impressive of this lot is Beetham Tower, which is still under construction but is projected to be the tallest building in the United Kingdom outside of London once it is completed. However, that distinction could be short-lived. Even now, there is another Manchester structure that may soon claim that title as plans are afoot to construct an even taller building behind Manchester Piccadilly station.

Among Manchester’s most popular architectural structures are the following:

Manchester Central Library

The Manchester Central Library is one of the city’s most famous buildings. It was based on a design by E. Vincent Harris and erected in 1934, but it seems much older than that because of its traditional classical architecture.

The Bridgewater Hall

The Bridgewater Hall, a world-class international concert venue, was constructed in 1996 at a cost of £42 million. It is best known as the home of the Hallé Orchestra and the Manchester Boys' Choir as well as a regular venue of BBC Philharmonic and Manchester Camerata concerts. The venue hosts over 250 performances a year. It marked its 10th anniversary with special performances by La Scala Philharmonic, St Petersburg Philharmonic and world-renowned pianist Alfred Brendel.

The Corn Exchange

Built in 1897, the Corn Exchange (now the Triangle shopping centre) has been recently renovated and reopened, following extensive damage from the 1996 IRA bombing. Its former Edwardian interiors have been replaced by upscale retail outlets like MUJI, a flagship Adidas store, O'Neill, Calvin Klein and Jigsaw.

The G-Mex Centre

The G-MEX centre or Greater Manchester EXhibition centre was established in December 1963 and was accorded Grade I listed building status but that has since been downgraded to Grade II. It is best known as a venue for superstar rock concerts, particularly by Manchester’s own world-famous rock band, Oasis, who performed there in 1997. However, the G-Mex Centre no longer stages concerts due to the construction of the nearby MEN Arena, Europe's biggest indoor concert venue.

Manchester Town Hall

The Manchester Town Hall, constructed in 1877, houses the city’s government and administrative branches. It was based on a design by architect Alfred Waterhouse along the lines of the Victorian Gothic revival and features impressive murals by Ford Madox Brown. It was listed as a Grade I listed building on February 25, 1952. Due to its similarity to the Palace of Westminster (and since filming is forbidden there), the Manchester Town Hall is often filmed as a ‘body double’ in political films and dramas.

The Royal Exchange

The Royal Exchange was erected in the impressive nineteenth century as a facility for cotton traders and it served as a cotton exchange until 1968. Today, it is home to the Royal Exchange Theatre, Royal Exchange shopping centre and other stores on street level, including Lush, Nike, Pastiche and other brands. There have been two occasions when the Royal Exchange was severely damaged – once during World War II when a direct hit killed hundreds of people and again in 1996 when an IRA bomb exploded nearby and caused the building to be closed for renovation for two years.

Urbis Museum

The Urbis Museum is a popular exhibition centre designed by Ian Simpson which regularly features interactive exhibits on city life, particularly with regard to social and environmental issues that affect the city’s future urban development. It opened in June 2002. Among its regular exhibition media are graphic design, architecture, graffiti, photography, music and fashion.

Victoria Baths

Victoria Baths opened in 1906 to provide private baths and a laundry to local residents as well as three swimming pools and a Turkish bath. It was constructed at great cost but was viewed at the time as a fitting structure that further reinforced Manchester’s stature as one of the wealthiest municipalities in the world. In 1952, Victoria Baths became the site of the first public jacuzzi (then known as the Aeratone) in the United Kingdom.

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