Details of facades, Town Hall, Manchester
Architect: Alfred Waterhouse (1866-1877)
Drawing: Alfred Waterhouse (1866-1877)
Source: RIBA British Architectural Library Drawings & Archives Collection
Waterhouse was a genius at planning. He was also immensely talented as a decorator, his buildings being delightful for their variety. Most celebrated is his decorative scheme for the Natural History Museum, London (1873-81). Manchester Town Hall comes a close second, for which this busy sheet of drawings was created.
To really understand a building, and an architect’s thought-processes, we need to look at detailed working drawings. This drawing concentrates on one of the corners of this triangular site. Here Waterhouse was especially creative with the massing, pushing out the wall with a buttress and oriel window above, and showing depth with niches.
Waterhouse’s sharp eye for detail is obvious. The oriel windows are especially impressive, their masonry crisp, the large stone blocks marked with many mouldings. There is a profusion of carving around the traceried windows. Inside this oriel, the ceiling is vaulted. Looking at this drawing, we can appreciate Waterhouse’s wide study of Medieval architecture, and begin to understand why this building cost the astronomical amount it did – then some £775,000.