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Brook, R., 2021.

Tracing Urban Manchester: Palimpsests of Post-war Planning

Output Type:Conference paper
Presented at:Histories of Urban Design: Global Trajectories and Local Realities
Venue:ETH Zurich
Dates:15/11/2021 - 17/11/2021

In Britain, during the post-war period, many urban design professionals were architect-planners. A considerable proportion of these were employed by local authorities. A drive by the state to use legislation to control and influence the shape of development created a very specific set of circumstances. Central government policy was filtered and interpreted by local government councillors and their officers and each town or city approached this in a different way. The legislation and the training enabled a very particular mode of urban design that was characterised by ambitious three-dimensional visions. Such ambition was also underpinned by non-statutory guidance that reflected the zeitgeist for vertical separation in urban settings, such as Sir Colin Buchanan's Traffic in Towns.

In this paper I will look at the city of Manchester. Manchester's 1945 Plan, directed by City Engineer and Surveyor, Rowland Nicholas, was one of the most comprehensive in Britain, yet it faltered due to a lack of capital and lack of material resources. In the 1960s, Manchester's first Chief Planner, John Millar, revisited the urban design of the entire central area with a team of talented young planners, recruited from the region. Their work was arguably greater in its scope and definition than that produced in 1945 and shaped the city for the next 50 years. Though only partially realised, the framework for development established in the mid 1960s and approved in 1968, set the tone for almost all the changes to follow.

Here, I will explore how central government legislation was interpreted spatially by Manchester's planners using drawings and models and how these visions continued to inform development well into the twenty-first century. In so doing, I will present an inverted archaeology of the city that traces the patterns established on paper and the long-term physical residue of these gestures.