I was born and spent the first five years of my life in Manchester, England. My elder sister went to college there in the early 1960s, before we all moved to the Midlands, and this weekend my daughter completed the circle by starting at the University of Manchester.
Looking from the car park outside my daughter’s Halls in Fallowfield, you can just make out a rather odd looking building peeping through the trees.
And looking from her kitchen near the top of Owen’s Tower you get a totally different perspective.
Its playful shape has earned it the nickname “The Toast Rack” and this is where my sister was at college all those years ago. Back then it was the Hollings Domestic and Trades College, and later became part of the Manchester Metropolitan University. Following Manchester Met’s decision to close some of its sites and unite its campuses, the building is now empty and up for sale.
Designed by the city architect L. C. Howitt, construction started in 1957 and the official opening took place in 1960. I assume he was a man with a sense of humour: Because he was designing for a domestic science and trades college, he chose to shape the main building as a toast rack; the attached cafeteria building, he shaped as a fried egg. Novelty architecture, without a doubt.
The seven storey building has a concrete frame with brick infill at the bottom of each floor. The building tapers as it rises, with distinctive concrete piers forming parabolic arches over the apex of the building. The architecture critic Nikolaus Pevsner described it as “a perfect piece of pop architecture”. English Heritage awarded it Grade II status in 1998, describing it as “a distinctive and memorable building which demonstrates this architect’s love of structural gymnastics in a dramatic way”.