As soon as I stepped outside my flat, that all too familiar autumn chill sprang on my face bringing back memories of the day I first arrived in Manchester. Trees were just starting to turn orange, yellow and brown. The crisp autumnal beginnings cast a perfect hue to the city’s surroundings. All around me I hear people speaking in that unmistakable Mancunian accent. To my ear they sounded Scottish but not quite. That bohemian Britannic mood was palpable in the air and I can almost feel the metallic vibe of Manchester’s historical importance – the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.
Manchester’s Indelible Mark
The transformation from a market town to a major city began in the late 1700s when the Duke of Bridgewater constructed the canal that brought in cheap coal. With the advent of the steam engine, the spinning jenny and the water frame, textile became easier to manufacture shaping Manchester as the ‘cottonopolis’ of the world. Imagine yourself in the middle of a beautiful tumult – new ways of doing things, new ways of thinking, new world order. The Industrial Revolution’s greatest inventors and thinkers were either born here or had notable years spent here in pursuit of greater things.
At the height of Queen Victoria’s reign, Manchester’s massive warehouses and mills rivaled the towers and cathedrals of London. Commerce and trade bustled more vigorously in Manchester than in any part of England. The world’s first railway system operated from Manchester to Liverpool creating an even busier trade route. The Manchester Bee in the city crest depicts this spirit of industry and may have originated the expression “busy as a bee.” New ways of thinking were fostered in its educational institutions while political reforms were espoused as the Parliament and the Labour movements began. Karl Marx debated with Friedrich Engels on a table beside the window in Chetham Library. Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters led England’s suffragettes in the streets of St. Peter. In the laboratories of the University of Manchester, John Dalton developed the first atomic theory while Ernest Rutherford split the atom. Later on Alan Turing would configure the world’s first true computer. Artists flocked to the Art Treasures Exhibition that showcased various displays and performances. Manchester was an unstoppable juggernaut that attracted capitalists, freethinkers, scientists and artists. The newspaper The Guardian once wrote. “What Manchester does today, the world does tomorrow.” Indeed, Manchester was the epicenter that rocked the world.
The Red Brick University
Booth Street West has been my second home here in Manchester. It houses the Manchester Business School (MBS) where I attend classes. MBS is the only school in the world to offer a masters degree in the field of reputation management. The business school is part of the university’s largest faculty, the Faculty of Humanities. The University of Manchester (UoM) itself is the UK’s most popular university with enrolment totaling almost 60,000 from all over the world. The university is actually the result of the 2004 merger of two education giants, the Victoria University of Manchester and the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST).
Today, UoM enjoys remarkable international reputation. Its Doctor of Business Administration program is ranked by Financial Times as the best all over the world. In terms of research prowess, UoM ranked third behind Oxford and Cambridge. In October 2010, UoM Professors Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery of the graphene, the thinnest but strongest material known to man. The University now has 25 Nobel laureates under its belt. Other Nobel Prize winners teaching in the university are former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz and Sir John Sulston who sequenced the DNA of the nematode.
Through various forums, the students were able to interact with the CEOs and executives of important companies like Shell, HSBC, Tesco, and of course, the popular Manchester United FC. The John Rylands Library, housing UK’s most extensive academic collection, is a treasure trove of reading materials from original manuscripts to electronic journals and e-books. Whenever I scan the shelves of the John Rylands and Sackville libraries or walk through the corridors of Whitworth Hall, I can’t help but imagine that Rutherford, Turing or Engels also touched the same bookshelf or walked in the same halls. Student facility is state-of-the-art. The entire campus is connected to the internet wirelessly. According to IT Services, the university has also one of the fastest broadbands in all of Europe.
Coming to this red brick city made a lasting impression on me. Far from the maddening crowd of London, Manchester offers the amenities of a modern city with the ambience of bohemian culture. The city is like a perfumisto’s fragrance notes done right. The top notes would be a metallic opening reminiscent of its vibrant industrial past. The heart notes whip up a spritz of multicultural experience reflected in the international student composition. In my class, the Brits are the minorities and we Asians are the majority. The base notes give a distinct vibe distilled by the Mancunian way of life that is cosmopolitan and traditional all at once. Student life is both exhilarating and overwhelming. The parade of faces in the morning excites me to no end. The cold weather chills my bones but gives me a sense of wonder.
Mancunian Architecture and Sustainable Buildings
One of the things I love to do in my free time is walk around the city center and get inspiration from its unique architecture. The urban blight and pollution that was inflicted by the factories were wiped out. Old warehouses still survive today but they have undergone an amazing transformation finding their newfound utility as chic shopping malls, edgy residential buildings or restored attractions. Elsewhere, forward-looking architecture punctuates the skyline with environmentally designed buildings that are made even more stunning with their almost bizarre structure.
A few meters from my flat is a very noticeable yellow and orange brick building. The Victoria Baths is fashioned after the famous Bath Spa in the South. This Edwardian building houses three swimming pools with ornate tiles on its cubicles. Sunny Lowry was the first English woman to swim the Channel and she trained for the crossing by swimming at the Victoria Baths.
Along Whitworth Street approaching the university district, the Bridgewater House looms with its all-white Portland façade. This beautiful Grade II listed building is now home to the Manchester Office of the British Council. Further down the street as you turn to Oxford Street, another gargantuan Baroque building emerges. The St. James Building was used as an office-warehouse by a company that employed 620,000 people in its 2,000 mills in Northwest England.
Going green. The Metroshuttle is a hybrid public transport vehicle that uses 30 per cent less fuel and reduce emissions by an estimated 140 tons of carbon per year across the full service.
The 40-year old CIS Tower once held the record as Manchester’s tallest building and Europe’s third tallest. But it now holds an even impressive record – the largest solar façade and solar power system in Europe. The Cooperative Bank, the building owner, installed weatherproof cladding using photovoltaic panels. According to the Northwest Regional Development Agency, the CIS Tower used 7,244 Sharp 80-watt modules to clad the entire building. You can make 6.8 million pieces of toast or 9.9 million cups of tea every year using the tower’s solar generated power.
In the business district of Spinningfield, an impeccable structure rises. The Civil Justice Centre is a complex web of ductwork that allows air to circulate through the building providing as a natural ventilation system. On its east façade, it uses the ‘environmental veil’ to control solar heating while maximizing natural daylight.
The Beetham Tower dominates the city center skyline. At 169 meters, it is the tallest building in Manchester by a considerable margin. The first 23 floors of the building belong to Hilton Hotels with their signature restaurant, Cloud 23. Floors 24 to 48 provide residential apartments.
Sitting on an island of land between Chepstow Street and Bridgewater Street is a happy yellow sanctuary of a Victorian pub. The building dates back to the early 19th Century commemorating a horse-drawn stagecoach that ran between Manchester and London. Peveril of the Peak is a popular pub frequented by local celebrities.
My Four Seasons, My Manchester
Like the changing of the seasons, Manchester is a continuing transformation. It reached its zenith during the Industrial Revolution. It slumbered after World War II until the 1980’s. But today, it is stirring anew in the springtime of its re-birth. It has rediscovered its new role in the global order of things as it transforms yet again. It may no longer be the workhouse of the world but it certainly influenced modern-day capitalism, political reform and social awareness. Breathtakingly ambitious, this was the place where people came to make their names – and did, with no small measure of success. While Manchester is a city that has a past, it has its eyes set on the future. The joy of living in Manchester today is that, without too much effort, you get to experience a slice of both. But first, I need to wrap this snood around my neck. It’s autumn once again and the streets are just as lovely as a summer day.
This article also comes out in the 3rd quarter edition of Pulse of Firstgen Magazine.