Events & Activities / Toastrack Museum

Who designed the Toastrack? An Unofficial History

Throughout the Modernists’ residency at Hollings, our sedulous architectural researcher Matthew Steele has been trying to get a fuller and much rounder picture of our favourite paraboloid, the Toastrack. He’s been delving into the archives, and drinking with the architect – yes, you heard us right.

Matthew and Angela Connelly will be presenting their findings as a paper in the forthcoming Unofficial Histories conference in Manchester. Their paper is  “aimed at discovering who L.C. Howitt was, what he built and what remains, and to uncover his influence and legacy in shaping the City of Manchester, whilst challenging traditional art and architectural histories that privilege the ‘heroic’ architect, and demonstrating the problematic issue of attribution for building design in the historical record” … So, who exactly did design the Toastrack?

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Unofficial Histories – Paper Proposal

Title: A Manchester Definition of ‘Toastrack’

Authors: Matthew Steele & Angela Connelly

Abstract

Definition of toast rack (OED, 2013)

Noun: a rack for holding slices of toast at table.

Informal: a tram or bus with full-width seats and open sides.

We offer the colloquial definition, as follows: A building on the Hollings Campus, Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU).  It has become known locally as “the Toastrack” and the adjoining structure, “the Poached Egg”.

The ‘official’ name of the building was the Domestic and Trades College. Attributed to the City Architect of the Manchester Corporation, Leonard Cecil Howitt, the building opened in 1960 and taught courses including cookery, needlework and fashion design. Grade II listed by English Heritage, April 1998, Pevsner described the building as a “whacking big piece of pop architecture which will no doubt, when it is old enough, find its devotees” (Pevsner 1969, p324)

In the final year of MMU’s tenure of the building, Manchester Modernist Society are ‘creatives-in-residence’ at the Toastrack hoping to inspire collaborations and explorations of the building. This paper presents the results of an archival intervention aimed at discovering who Howitt was, what he built, and what remains, to uncover his influence and legacy in shaping the City of Manchester.

However, buildings are the work of many hands. Challenging traditional art and architectural histories that privilege the “heroic” architect, we demonstrate the problematic issue of attribution for building design in the historical record. Drawing on oral histories and visual evidence, we show how one City Architects Department operated as a design collective. In doing so, we also reflect on the immediate availability of visual, aural, and documentary sources and the challenges in writing and displaying history as an equally co-operative enterprise that can involve architects, academics, activists and other contributors.

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