21st Century Architecture in Manchester, UK

Updated on June 12, 2018
Iammattdoran profile image

Matt is an avid traveller and self-confessed 'man of the world'. He is passionate about his home city, Manchester, & travelling the world.

Manchester Architecture

Once known as 'Cottonopolis', the City of Manchester in Northern England was, during the 19th century, the largest producer of cotton garments in the world. Manchester was at the very heart of the international cotton and textile trade and a considerable number of advances in industrial technology were developed in the city. The City of Manchester was built on industry and this was reflected in the architecture of Manchester. Huge mills and warehouses dominated the Manchester architecture scene. These mills and warehouses formed the city centre with a donut of Victorian terraced housing forming a dense inner-city area.

Classic Architecture in Manchester

Colonnade of Manchester Town Hall Extension fronting on to St Peter's Square
Colonnade of Manchester Town Hall Extension fronting on to St Peter's Square | Source

By the mid-19th century Manchester architecture was exemplified by cotton mills. There were over one hundred cotton mills in Manchester, many good examples of this fine period of architecture in Manchester still stand today and have been converted for more modern uses such as apartments, hotels, offices and restaurants etc. Even a cinema and bowling alley. However, by the early part of the 20th century the industry had fallen into decline. Cotton production had started to move to other parts of the world. The mills became empty and fell into disrepair. Before any attempt at the regeneration of Manchester could be attempted however, further damage was inflicted during the second war, followed by a period of intense destruction and clearing of land for new development.

Architectural Styles in Manchester

Classic juxtaposition between old and new architecture in Manchester
Classic juxtaposition between old and new architecture in Manchester | Source

Huge new social housing projects were created - many of which would not even see out the end of the century for failing so badly - and new offices and hotels were built to the then-fashionable architectural designs of the 1960's and 70's British architecture scene. But, investment and employment was lacking. Whole families and generations found themselves out of work and unable to get back into the workplace. Social problems deepened and the city found itself labouring and destitute. Architecture in Manchester and much of British architecture went into a black hole for the next few decades.

Where is Manchester

Manchester, UK

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A New Dawn for Architecture in Manchester

As the 21st century approached a new generation started to rise from the rubble and drag Manchester into the future with vision and ambition and enthusiasm. Modern Manchester architects like Ian Simpson and Roger Stephenson were the architects modern Manchester needed to demonstrate its intentions. After an IRA bomb destroyed part of Manchester City Centre in 1996 the city was united in thrusting Manchester into the 21st century, and for the first time in years there was architecture in Manchester that people were proud of.

Manchester Architecture Poll

Do you prefer modern architecture or more traditional architecture?

See results

Architecture in Manchester Today

Today, Manchester City Centre is modern, cosmopolitan, safe, vibrant and still distinctly Mancunian, and the architecture in the city aptly reflects this new confidence. Below are just a few of the new building projects which have been built within the last few years that represent Manchesters ambition and success. Of course, the city also attracts a lot of international attention through the continued success of Manchester United and Manchester City football clubs.

Oxford Street at Dusk. Manchester
Oxford Street at Dusk. Manchester | Source

The Beetham Tower

Completed in 2006 at a height of 157 metres and 50 floors this was, for a short time, the tallest residential building in Europe and is the tallest building in the UK outside of London. The building has won many architecture and design awards and is possibly the best example of the new wave of bold architecture in Manchester. The lower half of the building is a 285 bed Hilton hotel with a spectacular cocktail bar on the 23rd floor offering awesome views over Manchester and the surrounding area. The upper floors feature 219 residential apartments including a stunning duplex apartment on the top floors bought by the architect, Ian Simpson, for three million pounds. This has apartment has the largest floor plan of any apartment outside of London.

Manchester Beetham Tower (Hilton Tower)

The Beetham Tower with that classic juxtaposition between old and new.
The Beetham Tower with that classic juxtaposition between old and new. | Source

The Civil Justice Centre

This 17 floor, 80 metre shining example of modern architecture in Manchester was completed in 2007 as part of the Spinningfields development in Central Manchester. It house 46 court rooms and is the largest purpose built law courts to be built in the UK since the Royal Courts of Justice were built in London in 1882. At the time of completion the building had the largest glass wall in Europe, but many agree that the most interesting feature of the architecture is the way in which the buildings' floors cantilever at the sides. Some of these floors cantilever out of the building to 15 metres. It's this feature that has given it the nickname of the 'filing cabinet'. The architectural design of this stunning building was done by the Australian architect, Denton Corker Marshall. This building has also won numerous architecture and design awards.

Manchester Civil Justice Centre

Manchester Civil Justice Centre
Manchester Civil Justice Centre


Completed in 2002 it was the glass-clad Urbis that really signalled Manchesters growing ambition and intent upon entering the 21st century and is an iconic example of modern Manchester architecture. At only 6 floors high it's not the tallest building but it's striking aesthetic certainly draws the eye of all passing visitors. Here the architect designed a stunningly simple, yet very elegant glass building that slopes it's way down from a height of 35 metres. For the first 10 years of it's life the Urbis building contained a permanent museum dedicated to the modern city. It also had temporary exhibits but many felt that the space inside was never effectively utilised. Since 2012 Urbis has become home to the National Football Museum which moved from it's former home in Preston. As with the Beetham Tower, Urbis was also designed by local Manchester architect, Ian Simpson who is responsible for much of the 21st architecture in Manchester.

Urbis (National Football Museum)

Urbis (National Football Museum)
Urbis (National Football Museum) | Source
Urbis (National Football Museum)
Urbis (National Football Museum) | Source

One Angel Square

In 2008 the Cooperative Group, a company founded and based in Manchester, announced plans for a new HQ and the redevelopment of several million square foot of land in the northern part of Central Manchester.

Completed in 2013 the new Cooperative Group headquarters, One Angel Square, set the bar at a very high architectural level for other new developments to come in this part of the city. The double-skinned building is one of the most environmentally friendly office buildings in the world and is ultra low carbon. One Angel Square is 72.5 metres tall with 17 floors and holds 3000 staff. The building was designed by architects 3DReid and demonstrates that architecture in Manchester continues to excel.

The new building is the centrepiece of a large new public square that highlights quality architecture in Manchester and also quality landscape architecture.

One Angel Square, Manchester
One Angel Square, Manchester

The Imperial War Museum North

Berlin-based Polish architect Daniel Libeskind won an international competition held in 1997 for the design of this iconic building. Situated just over a mile outside of the centre of Manchester at The Quays, the Imperial War Museum North (or IWMN) was officially opened to the public in July 2002, the same summer in which Manchester hosted the Commonwealth Games. Being given the opportunity to design the building was something very close to the heart of Libeskind as, hailing from Poland, he had lost dozens of family members during the second world war. In his words Libeskind says of his design, 'I wanted to create a building that people will find interesting and wish to visit, yet reflects the serious nature of a war museum. I have imagined the globe broken into fragments and taken the pieces to form a building, three shards that together represent conflict on land, in the air and on water.' This is a great addition to the architecture in Manchester.

Imperial War Museum North, Manchester
Imperial War Museum North, Manchester

Manchester Architecture Poll 2

Which is your Favourite Example of Manchester Architecture?

See results

Questions & Answers


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      • Iammattdoran profile imageAUTHOR

        Matt Doran 

        6 years ago from Manchester, UK

        Thanks for the comment srsddn. Manchester has certainly changed a lot on the last 20 years but is still a great place to live and study.

      • srsddn profile image


        6 years ago from Dehra Dun, India

        iammattdoran, Thanks for sharing all these wonderful architectural additions to Manchester. I wish I could visit it once again and see the changes/additions myself after a gap of two decades. I was a student at University of Manchester in 1991-92. It is a great city and I love it. Voted up and pinned.

      • playtime2013 profile image

        Michael Zhang 

        6 years ago from Beijing, China

        Ok, thank you very much for your advice! I think I'll have sufficient time to enjoy England!

      • Iammattdoran profile imageAUTHOR

        Matt Doran 

        6 years ago from Manchester, UK

        Thanks for the comment playtime. Most visits to England don't tend to stray too far out of London. I'm not saying there's a whole lot to see and do in Manchester but it's a pretty cool city to visit.

      • playtime2013 profile image

        Michael Zhang 

        6 years ago from Beijing, China

        Really attractive guide for me as I'll travel to the UK this summer. Thanks a lot for your efforts to converge them together!


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