The Plastic Hippo

June 5, 2011

Hold fast that which is good

Filed under: Environment,Transport — theplastichippo @ 7:45 pm

There are very few examples of architecture that can provoke stunned open-mouthed amazement. The Trafford Centre in Manchester is one such building, but for all the wrong reasons.

A recent visit to Manchester required enduring the “quality retail experience” of the sprawling mega-mall between the Bridgewater and Manchester Ship canals. The Lego Discovery Centre might lie within the boundaries of the vast shopping complex, but the building shares none of the charm and all of the pain of an unseen Lego brick encountering the sole of a bare foot on the upstairs landing in the dead of night. Quiet understatement is not an epithet attributable to the Trafford Centre.

The notion of a gargantuan, out-of-town űber plaza is a curious concept. On the one hand, placing a variety of retail outlets in one location would seem to make sense if a canny developer was intent on catering for the day-to -day needs of the consumer. On the other hand, however, accessing the goodies on sale is only possible by car or the poorer relation that is public transport. Car parks outnumber the shops and it is impossible to reach the treasure on foot. There are no pavements or pedestrian crossings on the six lane highways that encircle the drive-in superstores designed, it seems, as a kind of moat to keep the shoppers in rather than keeping marauding bandits out.

The idea of everything close together is not new; it’s called a village or a town centre. The point that the developers have missed is that the needs of consumers cannot be imposed because needs constantly change as communities evolve. Gathering together for communal protection against wolves, bears and foreigners, people needed to buy stuff like food, woad and sacrificial goats. Luxuries like soap would have to wait until the blacksmiths became a garage, the bank became a wine bar, the school became a detention centre, the church became a ruin and the pub became a bonfire. Huge supermarket chains, who seem to think that their brand name should end in a vowel to induce familiar joviality, opened massive aircraft hangers filled with dubious provender on ring roads and near to motorway junctions. Traditional and ancient market squares evolved into urinals ringed by charity shops and mobile phone outlets and occupied by surly youth and bewildered dossers.

The Trafford Centre is of a different kidney than the bland missile silos of out-of-town hypermarkets. Costing £600million to build, it opened in 1998 and is characterised by a rather strange mock rococo architectural style. Along with murals depicting Mediterranean scenes, there are portraits of the developers in the garb of Roman emperors and a vast replication of the deck of an ocean liner in the cavernous food hall. Subtle it is not and the place displays the crass ornamentation of lottery winner chic. If it had a soul, the Trafford Centre would be delighted to be described as a Temple of Mammon. With a 20 screen cinema, 60 fast food outlets and acres of prime retail floor space, everything on sale is a luxury. An attempt to buy a bag of apples ended in fruitless failure.

As ghastly as the interior is, it was left to the exterior main entrance of the grandly named Great Hall to take the breath away. A centurion, flanked by a Gryphon and a Unicorn sat atop the pillared entrance. Reclining pert trumpeters, full size plastic palm trees and fibre glass “Roman” statues completed the scene. Strangely, each statue had the same title according to the plaques at the base. “Children must be supervised. Do not climb”. The artists remain uncredited.

Above the main doors, the borough motto of Trafford has been chiselled, or more probably moulded, into the pre-stressed concrete. “Hold fast that which is good”. For some reason, the hoards of shopper decided to ignore this advice and were not attempting to pull down this monstrosity using only their bare hands.

After escaping the temple and travelling past the boarded up shops, derelict pubs and abandoned cafés of Trafford and Hulme and beyond, at least local people unable to find apples will know where they can get their hands on some good quality sushi, some Vivienne Westwood haute couture and something cuddly from the Disney store. All major cards accepted.


1 Comment »

  1. Whilst you’re eloquent style amuses me, your article fails to advertise the positives of the centre, which amongst other things, include a concentration of employment prospects. I would probably be unemployed if not for what stands on what used to be empty farmland. Now I bring home the bacon.

    Fuck you.

    Comment by Chris — April 8, 2012 @ 9:32 pm | Reply

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