A Tour of Manchester's Hidden Building Art

There's a whole host of little hidden gems adorning the city's buildings. Eagle eyes at the ready...

By Ben Brown | 15 September 2020

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Dotted throughout the city are little bits of tile art, created by a French bloke called Invader. Of course that’s not his real Christian name, nobody’s parents are that cruel – it is in fact a name referring to the kind of art he does – which is pixel art – usually in the form of some baddies from Space Invaders or Pac Man or some other obscure 1980’s arcade game. Manchester is home to 47 of the little things – so keep an eye out as you walk around, although to be fair a lot of them have started falling apart. You still get the idea though.


The Binks Pineapple
Plonked right on the busiest corner of the Northern Quarter is the Binks Building, a rather unassuming structure that will soon be home to new bar and restaurant Wolf At The Door. There’s also a few swanky offices further up too in case you’re in the market for a new working space. Take a long look up right to the very top of the building though and you’ll notice something a bit weird – a big fucking pineapple! It was commissioned in the late 90’s and created by ceramic artist Kate Malone as a symbol of ‘friendship and hospitality’. Okay.


Big Boys’ Toy
Now I’m going to show a huge level of ignorance here because when the sun goes down and I’m having a few pints in the Northern Quarter I always forget to check this big bugger out. Therefore, I’m not entirely sure it’s still flashing. Basically it’s a huge 12-metre-high tower on top of the NCP car park that should flash all manner of colours when it’s dark. I remember it used to do it years ago but I can’t think of whether it still flashes. Does it? Well in case you’re wondering what it is, it was built by a bloke called Peter Freeman and was originally installed as part of the now non-existent Northern Quarter Street Festival in 1998.


Mark Kennedy’s Mosaics
Granted these aren’t exactly ‘hidden’ but I didn’t not want to include them because they have become rather iconic in recent years. Created by ‘mosaic man’ Mark Kennedy, the images depict many aspects of Manchester life as well as many of the city’s icons – from footballers to Corrie stars. Turning the corner onto Short Street you’ll also notice the mosaics continue down the street, turning into the face of Crazy Pedro and then finishing on a new one depicting the late Mark E. Smith. You can read more about these right here:

Mark Kennedy: In Conversation with Manchester’s Mosaic Man


Perched Exotic Birds
As you come out of the excellent Kabana in the Northern Quarter, full on grilled meats and carbs, tilt your head up and you’ll notice a couple of perches on high, adorned with a range of exotic birds. What’s going on here then? Well this is a piece created by Brighton based sculptor Guy Holder as a reference to the history of the area in a time where most of the shops on Tib Street sold some form of exotic animals or birds. The idea is supposed to be that even though the various shops don’t exist anymore the birds are still there having escaped the bondage of captivity. They look cool too.


Under the bridge fungus on Great Marlborough Street
I have very little to no information on these odd bits of art so I’m going to put it out there for the people of Manchester to tell me. Anyone who’s had to queue up for a gig at Gorilla will have noticed these thick discs of white sticking out of the wall, looking like a form of geometric fungus poking out of the bricks. Who made them? I don’t know. Why did they make them? I don’t know. Why is Google useless sometimes? Again, I need help. Someone out there must know?


Spring Gardens Post Office Murals
Pop into the Post Office just off Market Street and while you’re queuing up behind a bunch of tutting pensioners you can either enjoy or scoff at the mental fibre glass murals that adorn the walls. They date back to 1969 and they’re pretty horrible to be fair. Created in a modern post-war style similar to the works of William Mitchell, they’ve survived countless renovations and refits but they’re still going strong. Personally I think it’s about time to retire them now – get rid and get something better up. Like some pictures of me.


Ancoats Peeps
Located all through Ancoats, these little holes allow you to ‘peep’ into the past – exploring the history of the area which was always notorious for the fact that it was a proper shit hole for many years. Designed by Dan Dubowitz, the peeps give you a chance to see what it used to be like in certain parts of the area, and they’re there to encourage people to walk about, explore Ancoats and also to perhaps inflame some quest to learn more.


Image: Dellboyy Art / CC

Manchester’s Banksy
Did you know that there’s a Banksy in Manchester? Yep, there’s one here and it’s in the Northern Quarter. You know that weird electrical box that people spray paint all the time on Tib Street? Well it’s on there and I’m not going to lie – it’s a bit shit. To stop people from painting over it or from trying to prise the bricks out to sell on eBay, some industrious council official decided to put a bit of clear plastic over it so people could still enjoy it’s crappy-ness. Well, people have stuck stickers all over the plastic now so you can’t see it even if you wanted to. Perhaps peer down the crack in the side?


Lemn Sissay Pavement Poetry
Another one in the NQ – I do leave this area I promise! Get yourself down Tib Street (again!) and you’ll end up walking all over the words of legendary Manc poet Lemn Sissay – whose work has been immortalised into the pavement on little stone tiles all the way up the road. To be fair over the years many of the tiles have been pried up or cracked and kicked down a grid so they don’t make much sense anymore – not that I’d have been able to understand what was going on in the first place.


The LGBT Heritage Trail
The observant amongst you will have noticed little rainbow mosaics dotted throughout the city – exactly like the one pictured above. These little nuggets of tile art are part of a heritage trail that goes through the entire city, highlighting areas of historical interest for the LGBTQ+ community. Commissioned in 2005, these little beauties were designed once again by ‘mosaic man’ Mark Kennedy and there’s 18 of them knocking about. Find them all and just like in Pokémon you get a prize. Respect.


Sound Bites on Oldham Street
An art trail made by a bloke called Tim Rushton (who also designed the font for the Lemn Sissay pavement poetry), these little cast iron triangles of art depict the many aspects associated with the Manchester music scene. So of course you’ve got a little reference to the Hacienda, Oasis and there’s even one about the Inspiral Carpets – Tim must really have been struggling to fill the quota there. Luckily nobody has had the strength to steal one of them yet but give it time – you remember what happened to Mobike.