Last weekend for a fleeting moment in the old Visitors Information Centre in the Town Hall Extension five proposals appeared.
The best entrant in Confidential’s opinion is the second simplest and the one pictured here. This levels out the sunken gardens, creates strong pathways and moves the weight of the tram station to the north west side of the track thus reducing the imposition on the Cenotaph – sadly the brief doesn’t allow the station to be moved.
This was the shortlist for the re-modelling of St Peter's Square, the most confused public space in central Manchester. The winner will be announced in a couple of months and the work will be completed by 2014. All the entries were anonymous to keep the judges on their unpreferential treatment toes.
Part of the Council’s press release announcing the shortlist said: ‘St Peter’s Square currently lacks a unified identity and is somewhat cluttered because it has evolved gradually over the years.’
The Square is more of an obstacle course than a public space: there’s the weird walled crèche, the grim sunken Peace Gardens, a cycle track designed for knocking people over and a bus lane that makes an island of the tram stop. Worst of all the tram station is smacked into the face of the cenotaph with all the grace of an Asbo kid showing his arse to a war veteran on Remembrance Sunday.
The five shortlisted entries all identify these issues and iron them out in various cunning ways most of which fail. But even the worst of the entries has a trump card up it sleeve which will help in creating cohesion.
The Mosley Street part of the Square on the south east side and the bus lane between will be closed to traffic. Only Princess and Oxford Streets, to the north east and the south west will remain open - trams will continue to run through the square.
This has given the entrants a fantastic opportunity to create a truly memorable civic space.
The best in Confidential’s opinion is the second simplest and the one pictured here. This levels out the sunken gardens, creates strong pathways and moves the weight of the tram station to the north west side of the track thus reducing the imposition on the Cenotaph – sadly the brief doesn’t allow the station to be moved.
The way nature has been treated in this design is bold and imaginative. On the Princess Street side a wood of very tall native and exotic trees will be housed in circular seating structures. How on earth such tall trees can be delivered intact is hard to work out but they would have to be tall from the beginning not mere saplings. If they were the latter we’d have to wait years for the effect and I don’t know about you, but I’m impatient.
The problem with the Council brief for these designs was the decision to ask for a Peterloo commemoration (when fifteen people were struck down in the struggle for democratic rights in 1819). It’s a problem because any such monument should be somewhere along Windmill Street round the corner, where the Peterloo Massacre actually occurred.
The big X motif on our fave design is horrible, doesn’t mark the spot and is a clumsy reference to the ballot box cross. The over the top detail on it referring to massacre would be hard to decipher coherently either.
Confidential has often argued that Manchester should have its own Walk of Achievement marking Manchester’s pioneering spirit (Click here). Paving stones could contain a fact each and provide a walkway for city children to learn how important their city is and thus build identity and sense of place. It’d impress tourists and guests to Manchester as well. Maybe St Peter’s Square could be the location.
The monumental error of the monument aside all the proposals are notable for avoiding any attempt at grassing over the space.
This brings us to the sorry state of Piccadilly where the lawns have suffered their own massacre.
The official line comes from Councillor Pat Karney, Manchester Council's city centre spokesman.
He told Confidential: "Piccadilly Gardens has proved hugely popular this summer with families flocking to enjoy the warm weather. Unfortunately, it has been the victim of its own success as the combination of the prolonged dry spell and the very high number of people concentrated in a small area, have left it parched despite regular watering. I will be calling a meeting of officers to consider whether we need to review the situation."
Apparently there are new ideas about how to plant the grass without having to replant it at huge cost every two or three years. But these measures won’t be implemented until January. So that’s six months of mud and ugliness.
Confidential knows there is tremendous sentimentality about the lawns, but if they can’t be maintained adequately under the new measures and in two years they are burnt out again, perhaps it’s time to consider a hard surface with lots of judicious planting to create pretty and maintainable greenery.
We don’t need lawns in the busiest squares in Manchester, as the entrants to the St Peter’s Square design competition all realised. Lawns under millions of feet get beaten to a pulp every time. Personally I look forward one day to strolling between two exciting, bustling squares of real scale – as St Peter’s Square and Piccadilly Gardens undoubtedly are – and finding them both mud-free.
Ugly mud face Piccadilly
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