Sunday, November 14, 2010

Manchester Town Hall

Manchester Town Hall is a Victorian-era, Neo-gothic municipal building in Manchester, England. The building functions as the ceremonial headquarters of Manchester City Council and houses a number of local government departments.

Completed by architect Alfred Waterhouse in 1877, the building features imposing murals by the artist Ford Madox Brown depicting important events in the history of the city. 

Design stipulations for the Town Hall had Included provision for "the sufficiency of window light supplied throughout the building." This was addressed by the use of a number of architectural devices: suspended first floor rooms, made possible by the use of iron-framed construction, and skylights, extra windows and dormers, "borrowed lights" for interior spaces and glazed white bricks in conjunction with mosaic marble paving in areas where the light was "less strong".
Waterhouse's design for Manchester's new Town Hall used a Gothic style with limited carved decoration and a uniform colour. This, along with a limited amount of modelling detail, was a departure from the High Victorian architecture heaviness and use of colour in contemporary Ruskinian Gothic buildings, and the Town Hall was criticised by some Manchester inhabitants for not being Gothic enough. 

Many also commented on the decision to spend large amounts of money on a building "when most of its architectural effect would be lost because ruined by soot and made nearly invisible by smoke." Waterhouse's design proved successful, however, and although the exterior was blackened by the late 1890s, the stonework was not badly damaged and was in a suitable condition to be to be cleaned and brought back to its original appearance in the late 1960s.

When I visited the site, the town hall was gearing up for the annual "lights on" ceremony, including the absolutely ugliest santa claus I have ever seen.

I spoke with one of the crew about it, and he commented that they had changed it from the old inflatable one, because of problems with punctures.  He also said that the faceless orange character was popular in some new kids cartoon.  I guess the old man with the white beard isn't politically correct anymore... An additional consequence of this work, was that the interior was completely restricted, so I couldn't see any of the murals.
Leave it to the Victorians to make a government building with so much flair that it makes any similar purpose American municipal hall look like a barn.

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