The Cornerhouse was, for many years, the place to go to see Independent, Classic and “Art House” films and challenging Contemporary art in Manchester. On the corner of Oxford Road and Whitworth Street West, and opposite Oxford Road railway station, it was at a busy location close to the city centre and two Universities. It opened on 3 October 1985. Prior to that the only place that screened non-mainstream films in Manchester was the Aaben cinema in the middle of Hulme, not the most attractive place to go for a night out.
The Cornerhouse closed in May this year when the new arts centre “Home”, located 5 minutes walk away on Tony Wilson Square, just of Whitworth Street West. The venue both replaced the Cornerhouse and provides a home for the relocated Library Theatre Company and has two theatres, five cinema screens and exhibition space. It officially opened on 21 May and we finally got round to visiting last Saturday when we went to see one of my all time favourite films, The Third Man, which has been released with a digitally restored print.
Tony Wilson Square is a new development and as well as Home there’s offices, a trendy hotel and a car park with flashy orange cladding.
Tucked up against the railway arches, it’s a relatively simple, utilitarian structure; a box like wedge of a building with a curved front and back, with a glass clad exterior. Form certainly follows function in it’s design. The Guardian architecture critic was underwhelmed, calling it “an unpromising start” and likened it to “an anonymous office building”.
On a sunny afternoon there were quite a few people hanging around the cafe and outdoor seating and also sitting and milling around the square. I thought the area was a little antiseptic, but I guess there’s plenty of time for the area to be able to develop an atmosphere
Inside it’s quite utilitarian with bare concrete walls and concrete ceiling largely exposed. only partially hidden by lighting fixtures, services and some panels, and a grey epoxy floor.
The main design features inside are the pine staircase and stairwell with pine surrounding the doors to the lifts. Rather Scandinavian (although the architects, Mecanoo architecten, are from the Netherlands)
There’s a bar and cafe on the ground floor and a restaurant on the first floor.
The film was showing in one of the smaller cinemas. There was a decent view of the screen from where we sat close to the back. The seats were comfortable, although the leg room was a little restricted.
I rather liked this old-fashioned cinema projector sited at the entrance to the cinemas on the second floor.
After the film we had a look around the exhibitions. There were works by Magda Archer displayed in the lobby areas on the first and second floors with an exhibition “The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things. Showing in the galleries on the ground floor (reviews to follow). These are spacious, but there’s no natural light, only harsh artificial lighting.
Personally I thought the building was pleasant enough. It isn’t as flash as other modern buildings where the architects seem mainly interested in showing off, and, with the possible exception of the artificially lit gallery space, it seems to fulfil it’s intended functions well. Time will tell whether a “buzz” and lively atmosphere will develop in the area.