IT's right to spend public money to create an effect. It's right to make citizens proud. Council budgets can't just be for front line services, there has to be confidence to exercise flair, to show off.
If you are designing a space to reflect civic authority, dignity and duty then you can't get better than this. A room full of symbolism, a representation of the bigger idea, of shared identity for rich and poor.
That's what Manchester thought in the 1920s and 30s when completing the Town Hall Extension and the Central Library.
Emmanuel Vincent Harris, the architect of both, was given enough funds to not only complete the buildings but also to create assertive, exciting, civic spaces.
The project to build the Town Hall Extension (completed in 1938) and Central Library (completed in 1934) was tagged 'the really big thing' in UK architectural circles and the results were called 'a good deed in a depressing world'.
The Rates Hall in the Town Hall Extension now opened to the public shows how Harris delivered for Manchester a stunningly beautiful room. Having been wonderfully restored by Ian Simpson Architects, it is again one of the five best rooms in the city and amongst the best in the country.
The curve of the space as it enfolds Central Library, the use of polychromatic marbles, the lofty doors, the exceptional light fittings, the splendid coats of arms, the light casting shadows from tall windows, the repeated pattern of arches on each side impresses the viewer with its power but also its feeling of 'rightness'.
If you are designing a space to reflect civic authority, dignity and duty then you can't get better than this. A room full of symbolism, a representation of the bigger idea, of shared identity for rich and poor, a common purpose. This message is reinforced by the coats of arms which, interestingly, include both Manchester's and Lancashire's. City identity and regional identity.
Of course those notions of duty were twisted in the eighties when - let's be frank about this - idiots with no sense of why cities need spaces such as these, chopped up the Rates Hall, hid its grandeur behind partitions and poorly designed posters and denied the city this beautiful space.
In my early twenties I took a spin round Waterhouse's great Town Hall next door and found that someone had thought it a good idea to suspend a glitter ball in the middle of the Banqueting Hall.
The city council is - usually - cleverer now and they are to be congratulated with Ian Simpson Architects for opening up the Rates Hall and using it as a meet and greet area for Council customer services.
But there is a cloud on the horizon in the form of the glass link proposed between the Town Hall Extension and Central Library which would impose a doorway through one of the windows in that sweet, sweet curve of the building.
Maybe the unimprovable beauty of this space will act as a deterrent to the idea.
Having rediscovered the Rates Hall for Manchester why would anybody want to mess with it.
There will be a full review of the architectural merit of the Town Hall Extension when it is fully open. You can visit the Rates Hall every weekday during business hours. The entrance is from Mount Street.
The Lancashire coat of arms is equally prominent
Eagles on the windows. The only slightly sinister note in this glorious room are these eagles on the outside of windows which are very much of their time and somehow recall the Fascist regimes in Germany and Italy.
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