Building Secrets: NOMA and beyond

Less than a couple of decades ago business and commerce in central Manchester meant the area known as ‘Co-Op City.’

By Manchester's Finest | Last updated 30 March 2020

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Although not a Co-Op building this also included what is now The Printworks, which was then a centre for newspaper production. Production which not only included physical printing (hence the huge factory like entrances to the print atrium), but also journalism.

It has to be said that after lunch in The Printworks – then rather daftly called Maxwell House serving the ego of its ill-fated newspaper magnate owner Robert Maxwell – there was always a distinct but pervasive whiff of Boddingtons Bitter.

From The Printworks to the CIS tower the area was like a beehive, very Mancunian, with thousands of people in and out of the tower and the magnificent, mostly Edwardian, buildings. All human life was there.

Commerce, insurance, wholesale food and products infrastructure, banking…and all of the services that went with every commercial activity.

My role during those times was in design and marketing. And there was a lot of it, supporting the most diverse commercial activities. Of course things have changed, our City has changed beyond recognition and focus in just two decades.

Last week I visited The Old Bank Residency with Alex Watson of Manchester’s Finest. I have to admit that whilst Alex chatted to Jess of Standard Practice (the creative consultancy charged with breathing new if temporary creative life into the old Co-Op bank building) I wandered off mentally into times gone by when I had had countless meetings in this and other buildings in the complex.

Alex talked to the team making community bells for Yoko Ono’s launch of MIF, whilst I wandered over to a ‘wall safe’ that typifies what those Edwardian Baroque buildings were all about. Power and finance. Whatever happens inside those walls in the future, that safe and every listed feature (that means all of it) will remain.

Although tucked away behind Federation and Hanover buildings is Dantzic. a beautiful example of Art Deco architecture which would, I’m sure, have made the Edwardian Baroque architects shudder – if they ever saw it.

Similarly the CIS Tower is listed, a classic example of 60s architecture, and based on buildings in Chicago. Whilst we are on that (America that is), it seems that NOMA, as the district has been named, is not widely understood.

It is simply a shortened version of North Manchester. (SOMA, South of Market, San Francisco; SOHO, South of Houston, TRIBECA, Triangle Below Canal Street, both New York.)

Again I spent thousands of hours half way up that tower, which whilst classic, has the worst typographic version of CIS that the City owns. I hope that that’s not listed too. Look up, see what you think…

My big issue at the moment is that the Edwardian buildings have very scary entrances. I guess that they were designed to be imposing, ‘enter here all ye who fear.’ With future plans for mixed use of retail and leisure I really think that getting people through scary doors in the first place may be an issue. But then people do get used to things.

I’m not an architect, nor a planner. But to me some form of modern covered intervention, taking out traffic on the streets between the buildings without interfering in any way with their integrity might encourage future punters.

I’m thinking of Hopkins Architect’s linking of the space between Manchester Art Gallery and The Royal Manchester Institution. Beautiful, inviting, open modern space which joins two listed buildings.

But NOMA is really just part of the master plan to expand our City beyond what we now recognise as our City and push out into the near suburbs – with all the innovation that that will bring. Manchester is pushing out in all directions. On the other side of the City Mayfield through to Ardwick for example.

Eventually NOMA will not be on ‘the edge. It will take another couple of decades, with plans to create a City River Park along the River Irk through Collyhurst to Queens Park and 15,000 new homes within fifteen years along that park way. Of course once the City River Park reaches Queens Park, then it has reached Harpurhey through Collyhurst. And on.

At the moment nobody in Harpurhey would, I guess, imagine taking what is just a couple of miles walk along a City River Park into the town centre. Into NOMA and beyond. But when that happens NOMA and North Manchester will buzz again.

Featured image credit: Mikey / CC 2.0