Competition design for Manchester Library and Art Gallery

MX.09 Competition design for Manchester Library and Art Gallery

Address: Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester
Date: 1911
Client: Manchester City Council
Authorship: Authorship category 4 (Office) (Office)

In September 1910, Manchester City Council resolved to erect a combined library and art gallery on the site of the city's recently demolished Infirmary. 1 The municipal art collection had outgrown its home in Charles Barry's Royal Institution building in Moseley Street, and the library was inadequately housed in the early 19th-century former town hall in King Street. The new building would bring both institutions together under one roof, providing them with greatly enlarged and improved accommodation. The extremely prominent island site – close to the London Road railway terminus and bounded by some of the city's principal commercial streets – represented a major architectural opportunity.

Conditions for a two-stage architectural competition were published in January 1911, with Reginald Blomfield named as assessor. 2 In the first round, architects were required to submit rough sketch designs in pencil for a building covering 5,500 square yards (4599 sq m) and costing not more than £250,000. Submissions received numbered 223, from which ten firms were selected for the second round. 3 The final designs of these ten, including the eventual winners Crouch, Butler & Savage of Birmingham, were extensively discussed and illustrated in the Builder. 4 It has been said that Mackintosh submitted one of the premiated designs, but this is not the case. 5 Rather, a junior member of Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh's office, Andrew Graham Henderson, and a former member, John R. Hacking, jointly submitted a design in their own names, which was among the ten successful ones. Hacking died in July 1911, before the final result of the competition was announced. 6

The library and art gallery scheme was almost immediately abandoned (the site ultimately became Piccadilly Gardens, a public open space). The competition is nevertheless interesting for what it reveals about the context in which Mackintosh was working by this date. All ten of the successful entries were monumental classical designs, reflecting not only Blomfield's personal preference for this type of classicism but the whole trend of public architecture at the time, under French and, increasingly, American influence. Hacking's and Henderson's success demonstrates the younger men's ability (and competition-winning potential) in the favoured style of the day, while Mackintosh, whose own work was individualistic and rooted in vernacular traditions, found himself marginalised by these developments.



1: Builder, 99, 24 September 1910, p. 331.

2: Builder, 100, 6 January 1911, p. 13; 20 January 1911, pp. 73–4.

3: Builder, 100, 5 May 1911, p. 540; 23 June 1911, p. 780.

4: Builder, 101, 15 December 1911, pp. 706–20. The ten successful architects were: H. Percy Adams and Charles Holden (London); Robert Atkinson (London); Bradshaw & Gass and A. J. Hope (Bolton); Cooper & Slater (Blackburn); Crouch, Butler & Savage (Birmingham); R. Fielding Farrar (Leeds); A. Graham Henderson and J. R. Hacking (Glasgow); Frank W. Simon (Liverpool); Warwick & Hall (London); and T. Worthington & Son (Manchester).

5: Dictionary of Scottish Architects, [accessed 17 March 2013].

6: Dictionary of Scottish Architects, [accessed 17 March 2013].