joseph-sunlight

Sunlight Building, Manchester, England
Photo by Hayley Flynn via The Guardian

From “An urbanist’s guide to Manchester,” a write-up of a Deco building in the heart of the city.

What’s the best building?

Nothing beats the simplicity of Art Deco Sunlight House on Quay Street. Designed by Joseph Sunlight and used as his offices, Sunlight was a fairly eccentric man, during his lunch breaks he would take over from the bellboy and operate the lifts. His name often crops up in newspaper archives, the letters section especially, where he chips in with his opinions on new building proposals. He usually offered more idealistic cultural alternatives such as a large gallery and museum instead of the modernist Piccadilly Plaza complex of offices and hotels that was eventually built.

When Sunlight died he was the biggest taxpayer in the city and had in his portfolio of work thousands upon thousands of council houses. It’s said that he requested to be buried in a mausoleum on the roof of the building but no such burial happened. Up there instead are a collection of small but perfectly formed Art Deco eagles perched on spikes and posing majestically. At one time higher than anywhere else in the city, Sunlight House heralded a new age, one where smog cloaked chimneys were a thing of the past, and bold new architecture was on the horizon.

A Wondrous Place

Last week I was asked to curate the Northern Spirit theatre company’s new project A Wondrous Place. The project is a collaborative piece from some of the best writers in the north of England and I am over the moon to have been chosen to be part of that. In the build up to a new show by Northern Spirit a collective of writers, whose own blogs and projects are fundamentally based upon a love for where they live, have come together to celebrate the north.

My week followed in the footsteps of many wonderful writers, some of whom I already followed with interest, including Natalie Bradbury of The Shrieking Violet and Dan Feeney of In a Town So Small. 

The theme for my week was Cottonopolis: A Skyline Reimagined, a journey through the skyline of Manchester with architect Joseph Sunlight as head of the city’s planning department. I cover proposals that the city denied and buildings we demolished, but with Sunlight at the helm approving these visions and denying demolitions. It’s a fictional account of actual plans and buildings and it’s Manchester as Cottonopolis - a Chicago-inspired, noir novel of a city. 

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