I wrote a piece a while ago about my favourite building in Manchester. This post takes a look at one of the buildings that I think is most intriguing. It has ended up as more of a photo essay than a detailed expatiation, due to the fact that information about this building in particular, is difficult to come by. Nonetheless, this adds to its appeal as an architectural and cultural enigma.
This currently derelict art deco building was designed in the 1930′s to be a central office for the Department of Health and Social security (DHSS) in Manchester’s city centre. The Manchester Pevsner Architectural Guide describes it as follows:
“the former Employment Exchange (DHSS) was designed in 1936 by David Thompsom for the Office of Works, but work was suspended until 1948 when E H Montegue Ebbs took over. Brick, thin but cheap.”
A Perfect quote: thin but cheap.
It displays the distinct modernist characteristics of its time; a bright red-orange brick construction with dreary factoryesque monolithic proportions made up mainly of flat vertical and horizontal surfaces, except for the striking use of curved brick walls. A symmetrical and repetitive window scheme – now mostly shattered after years of neglect – supplemented by parallel skirting and ledges and tempered by the application of restrained design flair as evidenced by the odd pothole and long glass tiled window spanning five stories on the south, over the canal.
All the more intriguing is that construction was halted before completion due to World War II, leaving it to be completed during more austere times after the war. At this time, fully fifteen years later the building opened under the supervision of E.H. Montague Ebbs in 1951 (evidenced by the iron detail above the central door, shown below). Materials were being priced at a premium, resulting in a building that doesn’t quite live up to the quality expected of the 1930′s. That said, it remained true to the original design and is one of Manchester’s few remaining modernist buildings.
Although derelict for years, it was bought by a development company (Liverpool-based Albany Crown) to demolish and turn into yet another generic skyscraper. Luckily for us, it had a reprieve when the development company went into liquidation and the plan fell through. Although not totally safe – take note of the sign declaring that floors are liable to collapse – it still stands as an icon of Thirties style and design in the heart of Manchester. You can see it for yourself at Aytoun Street, just off Piccadilly.
Jonathan Schofield debated both sides of this redevelopment argument back in 2008: Architecture: The Good, the Average and the Ugly
All images are courtesy of Chris Jones.
Should they finally knock the Employment Exchange down and if so, what would you like to see in its place?