Building of the decade
Roger Federer. Shane Warne. Zinedine Zidane. Contenders for best athlete of the decade, maybe, but not one among them is the best new building completed in the North West in the 2000s.
These are mine. What are yours?
1. Civil Justice Centre, Manchester, 2007. Just bloody gorgeous. People argue about the success of Spinningfields – usually envious office agents and developers not involved with it. Lacking sunlight, corporate, samey. But there is no argument about the CJC. The witty, radical, imposing design was the debut in the region for Aussie architects Denton Corker Marshall in Manchester. Pure class.
2. Beetham Tower, 111 Old Hall Street, Liverpool, 2004. Okay, better-looking buildings were to come along later in the decade when values and investment allowed. But it's easy to forget how crap the city was before it got motoring. At the end of the 1990s it was a dire, unloved, downward looking place with a can't-do mentality. And absolute scepticism about any grand projects.
Then Hugh Frost, hitherto a student landlord in south Liverpool, agreed to let his supremely ambitious son get a hand on the wheel, headed into the city centre and decided to kick ass.
I was a young reporter on the business desk of the Liverpool Daily Post in 1999 when I was invited to lunch with the equally young Stephen Beetham and his stepmother, Cathy Frost.
After an entertaining lunch in Ziba on Berry Street, just about the only decent restaurant back then, I got back to the office and gave a press-pack from Beetham to my boss, business editor Alex Hunt. He read it and raised his eyebrows: "You've got your first splash [page one lead story]." Hacks on the Echo laughed and said I'd been sold a kite. I still don't know what that means but the Beetham Tower was built and I wrote a lot more property splashes after that (not all about buildings that were built).
3. The Hilton, 301 Deansgate, Manchester, 2006.
The Beethams refined and improved their model of hotel-under-residential for this bigger and better version. Attracted a massive amount of national coverage not only for the developer but also Manchester and architect Ian Simpson.
Dominates the city skyline like no other building.
4. The Lowry, 2000, and Imperial War Museum North, 2002. So I cheated and put two in fourth place. It's my list. Also, is it Salford Quays, Trafford Wharf, The Quays, Manchester, edge-of-centre, city fringe, city region, Greater Manchester. Who cares?
They're just two cool buildings that didn't resemble anything else in Britain at the time and marked a cultural gear change and geographical shift in focus for Manchester.
The sexy shiny couple are separated by the ship canal that marks the local authority border. From the outside, I enjoy them as one view.
It's funny to think about what Peel had planned for the third headland opposite these two landmark buildings if the BBC deal had not happened. If memory serves me rightly a five-star hotel was to complete an interesting threesome.
5. Timber Wharf, Manchester, 2002. The real way to do city living. No badly insulated refurbished warehouse over a nightclub, stepping out into the morning vomit on the street below. The wharf was Urban Splash's first new build development and the result of an international competition won by Glenn Howells.
It reminds me of those giant glass condos in Paris suburbs full of human detail and intrigue. Its appeal is as much about location: oddly discreet but showy at the same time, removed but not far from the madding crowd, walk-able along the canal in to town, with space around to breathe, and with a busy train-line out front for added voyeuristic glamour.
As a car-less commuter it creates an irresistibly fascinating threshold as you enter Manchester on the 7.59 from Hunts Cross to Norwich. Bikes on balconies, trendy objets d'art in giant windows, residents on mobile phones watching the train watch them.