Tall Storeys At CUBE, 113-115 Portland Street, Manchester, until 9 January Manchester's architecture centre, CUBE, relaunched itself recently and declared its ambition with an exhibition on tall buildings - increasingly omnipresent in the North West.
Sadly, there is little behind this ambition in a confused and confusing show which fails even within its own terms.
On two oors of CUBE, visitors are presented with a series of mainly unbuilt projects through the slick and sunlit medium of computer-generated images. These, necessarily, always present the buildings from the most advantageous position at the centre of their virtual world.
A cynic might argue that this is the real subject of the exhibition, where the medium truly is the message.
What are they like to walk past, sit under, be inside, or view on the skyline? Where are they appropriate and is it possible to have a contextual tall building on its own or must many be gathered together? A few projects nearing completion, such as Manchester's Beetham Tower and Liverpool's Unity Building, are highlighted.
Banners show a range of other nondescript towers around the North West, and indeed the world, without any discernible rhyme or reason.
We learn little about these schemes from the few images and the occasional accompanying model, apart from the fact that a lot has been spent on their presentation and that they are tall, or big, or both. How tall is tall? Projects range from a mere 20 to 60 storeys but nowhere is a definition, or any criticism, offered. On the strength of this show, tall buildings, as a building type, also have no history. It's a real missed opportunity. Artist-in-residence Peter Bobby's photographs of 'life at the top' of them don't add much either, but at least they give some respite from the products of the computer.
In this show, size, it seems, is all. Perhaps this is right?
Perhaps we have no adequate way of assessing these buildings psychologically due to their sheer height? When MORI carried out an opinion poll a few years ago the results were fairly evenly balanced - no doubt much to the chagrin of English Heritage which, along with half of those surveyed, might like to protect skylines in the same way we protect a historic building.
The best part of the show - which in its defence is at least called correctly a 'showcase' - is the video interviews with architects Ian Simpson and John Healiss. These begin to explore the debate about tall buildings the rest of the exhibition ignores. And as there are plans for a series of related events alongside the 'showcase' (including a debate on 7 December), it may be that some light and shade is eventually introduced into this vapid ahistorical world.
Rob Sutton is an architectural writer based in New York