Manchester University Hollings Campus, Wilmslow Rd, LC Howitt, 1958 – 60, Grade II listed
The Toast Rack has to rank as Manchester’s most unusual and audacious building, far more in fact than the much touted Iconic gestures of the 90’s building boom such as London’s famous Gherkin et al. And in 1960 when the “toast rack” opened, the local press and a vocal minority of the general public had plenty to say about it – much of it critical – but even the hard to please renowned architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner proclaimed it as “a perfect piece of pop architecture”. Ironic indeed then that this much loved, beautiful and irreplaceable building faces an uncertain future now that MMU have fallen prey to the rampant supercampus epidemic currently sweeping our institutions, abandoning the Hollings campus altogether to move to new doubtless anodyne ‘ikea sheds’ somewhere in Hulme…
The buildings, making up the MMU’s Hollings Campus in the otherwise decidedly leafy Victorian Rusholme, were designed in 1958 by the City Architect L. C. Howitt who was also responsible for re-modelling the interior of Manchester Free Trade Hall after the original was destroyed in WWII, and designing the majestic Crown Courts in Crown Square. Its distinctive shape – a giant toblerone triangle with parabolic concrete arches on top that gives it the look of a great big toastrack – gives the building its ‘pop’ appeal, and that well known nickname indicates the enormous affection that not only former students but the city at large has come to have for this little piece of space age design in the suburbs. As would be expected from an architect of Howitt’s calibre, it comes as no surprise to discover that there is also much practicality behind the cute loveable shape. The tapering shape provides different sized teaching spaces for small or large classes, the tailoring workshops were kept separate to minimise noise from the sewing machines, and “The Fried Egg” – a low round building with a circular hall intended for catwalk shows – houses the library and two refectories.
Deservedly this gem of a building received English Heritage listing status in 1998, in keeping with its status as one of the best designs of its era and one of the city’s most cherished buildings; a testimony to a great architect and reflecting the optimism and ingenuity of the late 50’s. For an enthusiastic description plus a short history of the building do read Nothing to See Here, and the affectionate tribute A taste for toast.
Our very own postcard set celebrating the Toastrack – amongst others, is featured in the Manchester Evening News here.