The Modernist Fallacy: Manchester vs. Tadao Ando

/ Architecture /

World popularity, status and title of Pritzker laureate do not mean that architectural objects designed by a recognized genius are inviolable. The municipality of Manchester is demolishing the object built by Tadao Ando in 2002: that's what the residents of the city wanted.

A petition to demolish the 6-meter curved wall, which is part of Tadao Ando's sculpture pavilion, has collected 20 signatures from Manchester residents.

"Berlin Wall" - that's how the residents of Manchester called the detached fragment of the pavilion, built according to the project of Tadao Ando

The wall, which was designed as a noise isolation screen between the square and the traffic interchange, is used by local vandals as a surface for graffiti. Photo: Ardfern

"Concrete dystopia", "the worst of monuments", "Berlin Wall" - if you list all the epithets used in the local press about the design of a public square in the heart of Manchester, it becomes clear: residents sincerely hate Piccadilly Gardens in their modern incarnation. And not only residents, but also tourists - on Tripadvisor, this prominent location in Manchester has a minimum rating and a lot of negative reviews.

This is what Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester looked like before the 2002 renovation. Photo source:

This is what Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester looked like before the 2002 renovation. Photo source:

Until 2002, Piccadilly Gardens had been a square in the traditional style for half a century - with geometrically regular flower beds, a fountain in the center and benches under shade trees around the perimeter. The territory of the square, the size of a football field, was located in a recess - a couple of meters below the level of the surrounding streets. And at a certain point, while developing a program of public safety measures, the Manchester authorities (recall, Manchester has repeatedly become the target of attacks by IRA militants) recognized the square as a dangerous place.

Piccadilly Gardens after reconstruction by Tadao Ando

In 2002, the international competition for the reconstruction of Piccadilly Gardens was won by the project of architect Tadao Ando, ​​who is often called the "Japanese Le Corbusier" and "concrete poet" in the professional press. Tadao Ando suggested raising the square to street level and shielding the space from the noisy traffic intersection with a crescent-shaped pavilion with a separate detail — a curved concrete wall. A large oval flat pool with 180 nozzles and lighting became the focal point of the square.

A fountain with 180 nozzles and lighting is the pride of Arup. Photo source:

Instead of flowerbeds with peers, the land was sown with lawn. Engineering and construction works were carried out by designers of such a reputable company as Arup. "A laconic, transparent space that encourages communication" - these are the characteristics of Manchester's new square after the reconstruction. The Prime Minister of Great Britain called it "the best public space in the country". And, it should be noted, this is the only object of Tadao Ando in Great Britain.

However... people could not fall in love with the sculptural brutality of the buildings of the Japanese modernist. The pavilion became a shelter for the homeless and marginalized. Its walls, and especially a separate section of the wall, were regularly covered with graffiti, and the utilities even had to include surface cleaning in the schedule of permanent works. The fountain, which Arup was so proud of, turned out to be vandal-resistant.

The glass lampshades of the lighting were often broken, and within a couple of years, the idyllic pictures of children frolicking among the water jets remained only in archival photos. Solid lawns were so quickly trampled by passers-by that city gardeners did not have time to renew them. Despite claims that pedestrian routes were carefully modeled at the pre-project level, people somehow neglected the paved paths.

Part of the Tadao Ando pavilion is occupied by a cafe, part is used as a transit zone for the passage from the traffic interchange to the square. Photo: Wojtek Gurak

The six-meter concrete wall was demolished a few days ago. Photo: Ardfern

In a moment, there were no defenders of Tadao Ando's design left in the local city council, and the municipality decided that the detached wall would be demolished already in November 2020, and the landscape of the square would be radically changed. This task was entrusted to LDA Design - they will have to return Piccadilly Gardens to a more "garden" look by adding trees and flowers, and also, if possible, soften the brutalism of Tadao Ando's concrete pavilion with the help of twisting plants. Despite the desire of local activists to completely get rid of the unattractive (in their opinion) architectural object, the demolition of the pavilion could not be agreed with its private owner, while the sculptural fragment of the "wall" appeared on the balance sheet of the municipality.

The case of Manchester's Piccadilly Gardens deserves detailed professional analysis. At what stage and what mistakes were made? Did the tastes of residents really change so dramatically from 2002 to 2020, or were their opinions not taken into account from the beginning? Is everything simpler, and street vandalism nullifies all the sociological plans of architects regarding qualitative improvement of the environment?