Style & Meaning
Architecture in Thomas Horsfall's Manchester
In The Example of Germany, Thomas Horsfall criticized Manchester for not having "a single building" that is "pleasant to look at," and having nothing to offer "the community that can make them respect their city and feel glad to be alive." (Horsfall 1904, 22) This, he saw as proof of the inefficiency of his town's municipal government. Thomas Horsfall's mentor and inspiration John Ruskin, wanted to bring art to the working classes through architecture. Though not an architect himself, Ruskin wrote an essay critiquing the architectural styles found in Manchester. In his essay The Nature of Gothic, he disapproved of classical architecture because he thought the geometric nature of its design enslaved the workers who build it. (Ruskin 1892, 14) For Ruskin, Gothic was the ideal architecture for Manchester, because of the freedom of artistic expression it gave the builder. Unlike the classical style, the asymmetrical appearance of gothic buildings, with its ornamentations of nature, reflected God's love for the imperfect. This neo-Gothic movement was meant to bring nature back into the city and to inspire the working masses. By examining different forms of architecture found in Manchester, we can see how the visions of Thomas Horsfall and John Ruskin influenced building design throughout the city.
Here are two examples of buildings in Manchester built using the classical design. In The Stones of Venice and Seven Lamps, John Ruskin views the classical style as “pagan” and “making slaves of its workmen.” (Hopkins 2014, 124) The Friends' Meeting House, built and designed in 1828 by the architect Richard Lane, is shown in the first two pictures sourced from the Manchester Art Gallery. It was built as a Quaker meeting house and is still in use today. He built other buildings like this, in the classical style all around Manchester, and he was known for his Greek-inspired architectural designs. If you look at the design, you will notice many things that stand out from its features. Symmetry, it’s symmetrical down the center; proportion, it’s mathematically proportionate; and also simplicity, the building is not very high because the Greeks didn’t build any higher than two stories.
The building in the next two pictures is Manchester’s Free Trade Hall, designed in 1853 by the architect Edward Walters. This structure is also in the classical style, modeled after the Italian Palazzo design. It was constructed to commemorate the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 and the Free Trade Movement, which gave Manchester much of its wealth during the nineteenth century.
The photos above are some examples of the neo-Gothic architecture that John Ruskin was such a strong supporter of. Unlike classical styles, the Gothic was "natural and fluid," allowing workers the to express themselves in their work. For Ruskin, the Gothic represented "authentic, pre-industrial modes of labour and an honest relationship sustained between materials, craftsmen and, ultimately God." (Hopkins 2014, 124) Like Thomas Horsfall, Manchester’s architects were inspired by Ruskin, and they “believed that good Gothic architecture could restore something of nature to the barren industrial city.” (Mosley 2013, 48) Because its streets lacked any form of vegetation, Manchester had to greatly rely on its architecture to beautify the city. The first picture is a drawing of the Binyon and Fryer Warehouse by Alfred Waterhouse, who built the structure in 1855. The building façade appears much less symmetrical than the classical style shown in the previous examples, and it uses a variety of different building materials ranging from “brick, stone, terracotta, slates, and tiles.” (Bowler 2000, 181) Alfred Waterhouse would later build the Manchester Assize Courts, shown in the second photo, which Ruskin thought was “much beyond everything yet done in England on my principles.” (Mosley 2013, 48)He was one of Richard Lane’s students, an architect known for his classical designs, such as the Friends' Meeting House. His contemporary and rival Thomas Worthington, was part of the first Ruskin Society that was responsible for bringing art exhibitions to Ancoats.
The most notable of Waterhouse’s achievements is Manchester Town Hall, built in 1868, seen in the last two pictures. By using design elements from thirteenth century Northern Europe, (Gorst 2003, 34) the building appears as if it had been there for hundreds of years. While the neo-Gothic architecture borrowed from medieval designs, it was furnished with “modern heating and ventilation systems,” decorated with “symbols of local industry and commerce,” and was “representative of new fashions in London.” (Seed 1986, 81) By building something of this magnitude, one can arguably say that Waterhouse was successful in fulfilling Thomas Horsfall's visions, of providing the city with a building that is beautiful to look at, and the city can be proud of.
There were some opponents to Gothic design, which some thought the “high-level ornamentation” “trapped soot and corroded more quickly than areas of plain stone.” (Bowler 2000, 182) By the early twentieth century, Manchester's architects began using new building materials like steel, concrete, and glass. Prefabricated and space-saving construction techniques transformed the role of walls to serve as mere screens between the upright columns of a framework, rather than making them the elements of support, as it had traditionally been. To save weight, lighter and cheaper materials began to be used in newer wall constructions. Glass began to play a greater importance in the “New Architecture” (Gropius 1965, 25) that soon became more common. The first two pictures are paintings of the National Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857, which was a prefabricated structure that highly utilized plate glass windows in its design. This allowed the interior of the building to be naturally lit by sunlight. John Ruskin however, disliked these new building designs.
The last two pictures are paintings of the India House in Manchester, which were also steel framed buildings with large windows that allowed in natural light. If you look at the windows of the building, it resembles a typical American skyscraper with its many glass panels. Although the mass produced nature of these newer buildings went against Ruskin’s principles, some aspects of its design would have been agreeable to both Thomas Horsfall and John Ruskin. Such as the element of large windows that allow natural sunlight and the ability for a structure to freely expand to meet the needs of the builder. These examples of prefabricated buildings show us how architecture in Manchester, has gradually shifted away from the Ruskinian Gothic style.
Written by Scott Kim