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The Fountains Of Salford Do Frolic And Smoke

Jonathan Schofield on the lights fantastic, water vapour and the fire brigade

Published on October 22nd 2012.

The Fountains Of Salford Do Frolic And Smoke

Salford's on metaphorical fire. Lights. Weird chimney thingy-ma-jigs. Dancing fountains. Water vapour like steam or smoke. 

After an emotional afternoon trying vodka martinis at the Living Room and en route - albeit a strange route - to the launch of an Annie Lennox photography exhibition in the Lowry Hotel, I stumbled across a surreal interlude.

Salford might live to regret those towers if not the fountains. The fountains are fun. But were the towers necessary at all on this site? Probably not. Will they look good by 2015? Umm. 

Here's a video.

Ignore the commentary referring to smoke and steam, that's an example of my stupidity in action. Those bad boys in Health and Safety probably wouldn't allow the use of scalding hot gases in a series of play fountains would they? What you're seeing here is water vapour - very cooling apparently in a heatwave. 

It so happened that the fountains and the odd tin towers were being tested for the grand opening - by Christmas - of Greengate Square.

In a canvas shelter nearby were a couple of gents including Mel Chantry, who has designed the steel towers and helped out with the fountain design along with a company called The Fountain Workshop.

As revealed in Sleuth on Friday, Mel Chantry was the chap who designed those now destroyed steel structures that used to be outside the Corn Exchange when it was called the Triangle.

Mel Chantry's first jobMel Chantry's first job"Oh dear," said Chantry, "you remembered them. That was my first job. They weren't very good were they? I'm glad they're gone, Exchange Square is much better without them."

The reason for the towers and the water vapour and the fiery lights at Greengate is sweet if obvious. The site of the square was a bus station from 1930 but had been intensively industrialised before that date.

"For a century or more Salford and Manchester were filled with smoke and fire, that stained the buildings and was visually key to the cities" said Chantry.

"There was also a station (Exchange Station) above the site full of steam trains. The lights and the towers and the water vapour are bringing that back. They represent smoky industrialisation. The towers are similar in inspiration to the chimneys Danny Boyle used in the opening ceremony at the Olympics."

Beacons of industry then. Maybe something like the paintings of Adolphe Valette made visible.

India HouseIndia House, painted 1912, now in Manchester Art Gallery

Couple of points on this.

It must be remembered that Boyle's chimneys lasted for about fifteen minutes and then became a Youtube memory. And maybe shiny steel isn't the best material in which to recall smoke blackened industrial Manchester and Salford. A more begrimmed darker material might have worked better.

The result is Salford might live to regret these skin-thin towers if not the fountains. The fountains are fun.

But were the towers necessary at all on this site? Will they look good by 2015? Umm. 

Planners and designers should plan for lasting, robust public squares, with features that don't date or need frequently renewing. The sorry lawns at Piccadilly Gardens are a case in point of features that need too much upkeep.

At least Salford has an opportunity to cock-a-snoop at Manchester. If it can make the fountains work efficiently then it will do something its larger neighbour has failed to do for a generation. 

The towers are also clearly intended to serve another purpose. They're beacons to announce the space and the eventual changes that will take place all the way west from here to Trinity Way. Until those changes happen their function will be more humble. They'll be a come-hither for sandwich botherers. 

The whole public realm at Greengate Square, special effects, stairs and new bridge included, was funded by various public agencies to the tune of £10.2m. The concept was from a Dutch company called Grontmij.

Greengate SquareGreengate Square

The footbridge was designed by Arup Group.  

It is superb.

The bridge has strength and beauty and is already proving popular with the public. Confidential has been criticising its positioning for ages as useless, but we were wrong about the design. The sleek sweep over the River Irwell is lovely. More about this bridge next week. 

Finally, there are unseen problems arising from novel square design. When the water vapour effect and fiery red lights from the towers were being tested a week or two ago someone called the Fire Brigade.

Art became an emergency. 

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19 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousOctober 22nd 2012.

Is there going to be a grand opening of sorts?

MarkOctober 22nd 2012.

I walk past this on the way to work everyday, its a horrible redevelopment, the lights look cheap and the smoke coming out of the horrible metal turrets look like a power station gone wrong! Could have been a nice green area overlooking the river... what a mess!

Jonathan SchofieldOctober 22nd 2012.

Mark, why the obsession with green? If there's one thing I agree with in this area - a twinkle-toed walk from Cathedral Gardens - is that we need no lawns. This place is the hard heart of the Industrial Revolution, no flower beds required. But you're right I reckon about the towers, they will not stand the test of time.

AnonymousOctober 22nd 2012.

Beacons, metaphorical chimneys; whatever they are, they are fugly. Clear away those horrible things away and we might actually have a half decent (albeit relatively barren) new public space.

AnonymousOctober 22nd 2012.

See Sheaf Square in Sheffield for how hard landscaping, industry-themed public art and water should be done. That knocks the spots of Greengate in the same way Sheffield's Peace Gardens knocks the spots off Piccadilly Gardens. Lesson: if you are going to commission a new public square - go to Sheffield.

5 Responses: Reply To This...
Poster BoyOctober 22nd 2012.

JS opinion -seconded.

Anonymous comment -seconded.

the Whalley RangerOctober 22nd 2012.

Anon, if you are going to commission a public square, go to....Spain.

AnonymousOctober 22nd 2012.

Thirded. Sheffield is probably the best city in the UK for getting public spaces right.

Madame BlavatskyOctober 23rd 2012.

Maybe they sent these Sheffield steel structures over laughing very hard

AnonymousOctober 23rd 2012.

Agree! Sheffield public realm (the newer stuff) is very good. Manchester's and now Salford's is largely crap. Media City is an exception to this... very good indeed.

AnonymousOctober 23rd 2012.

I have lived nearby for 6 years and spent the last year and a half walking past this development. I'm not sure what the builders have been doing but in the same time this took the Shard had topped out, I get the idea of connecting both of the cities but the landscaping feels cheap and will date quickly.

The towers complete with lights look like a cheap prop from Doctor Who, the bins from Bijou give it a nice industrial feel on the square and the bridge link is a bit ott considering it's situated next to... a bridge.

If Ask ever build Embankment around this square it may work but at the moment it feels out of place.

Chris BamfordOctober 23rd 2012.

Looks great in the photos and the videos, thanks for posting this up Jonathan. Just seeking a bit of clarification... is this The Urban Cove element - as opposed to the actual Greengate Square.

KarenOctober 23rd 2012.

I live across the road from this and to be fair when it was first put in I thought they looked horrendous but having walked past it many times now I actually really like it. At night the floor lighting and water look really pretty and a million times better than the tramp and heroin invested car park that was there before! I must admit the metal statues sticking out I really didn’t like but they've definitely grown on me and now smoke comes out the top it looks really nice from my balcony, reminding me of steam trains. A steam train incidentally also passes by so they complement each other.

For those want grass then just walk around the corner and sit down with the current teenage emoting teenage generation at the back of the cathedral. If this area were grassed I have no doubt that it would then also be infest by the kids - hey I know they've got to go somewhere but I'd rather it weren't right next door to where I live!

Manchester is regenerated and industrial and I think this reflects it perfectly.

Ghostly TomOctober 24th 2012.

What worries me about them is for how long will they actually function properly? We don't seem to have a great record in keeping these things working fully. The water features in Piccadilly Gardens, Cathedral Gardens and Exchange Square all have parts that don't function as they were first intended. And there were the water features in Hardman Square. I saw them working once, when they switched them on in the middle of a sunny afternoon when people were using them for seats. It was hilarious! The only water features that actually work seem to be the fountains in St. Ann's Square and the Victoria Fountain in Albert Square. So I guess I'd better get down there and see them before they stop working.

This development does look a little weird at the moment. Maybe it will look better when the area has been redeveloped and people are using it as the architect intended it to be. I know it's just across the river from the Cathedral and it is connected to it but I can't imagine many people wandering across to sit there as it is.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousOctober 24th 2012.

We are sh*te at keeping stuff working. It's shocking.

SHKOctober 24th 2012.

Total waste of time and money. It would have been better to have returned this to a bus station (not a terminus) of sorts. Another waste is the area cut off in front of the cathedral. Fait accompli, wasn't it? Doesn't anyone listen at the council?

Mo LevineOctober 27th 2012.

I like the fountains but I am worried about the rear side of Bijou Nightclub which now has its bins in the new square and presents a blank aspect to it. A new coffee shop here would work a treat. South facing too for maximising the sunshine.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Ghostly TomOctober 28th 2012.

I went to look at it. It would be greatly improved if the back end of the club didn't open on to it. Hopefully they will orientate the club to take advantage go the space. The view from the space isn't great either. Some of Manchester's nastiest architecture is on show and the view of the Cathedral is truncated. The river has rubbish in it and, while there was water flowing in the fountains, the 'smoke' bit didn't seem to be working. It's a bleak space and while I was there no one seemed inclined to linger. A nice cafe, a few trees and some flower beds would help. And the chimney things look cheap and nasty. I can see them going within a couple of years.

AnonymousSeptember 17th 2013.

Lovely with the BINS along one side from the club....

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