Here’s what architecture can teach us about building the Northern Powerhouse


Here’s what architecture can teach us about building the northern powerhouse

George Osborne’s cuts to disability benefits have been stopped in their tracks, and the chancellor’s grand scheme to reinvigorate the North of England now faces its own challenges.

Osborne’s vision for a “Northern Powerhouse” will see new mayors, improved transport links and a cultural and economic resurgence in northern cities over the coming years. But while it sounds like a liberation for the north, which has long been living in the shadow of London’s economy, there are still big question marks over which cities will actually benefit, and how. Some reckoned that Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle would be included – though there have since been complications.

Even if we set aside these details, competition between the industrial cities of the north has often made meaningful collaboration impossible. If the Northern Powerhouse is to draw out a common sense of regional identity, northerners must be persuaded to overcome the vanity of small differences noisily played out on football terraces during derby fixtures.

That’s where architecture can step in: it provides both historical continuity, and a sense of identity. The wealth generated by the industrial revolution is embodied in the proud 18th and 19th-century buildings that define the streets of northern cities. Just think of the classical face of Newcastle’s Literary and Philosophical Society, or the imposing Gothic clock tower of Manchester’s Town Hall. Over the years, buildings like these have helped to foster a sense of local civic pride and communal history.

Now, the new economic resurgence promised by the Northern Powerhouse calls for contemporary architecture which also feels timeless and of its place. Unfortunately, many of the buildings constructed over the last 15 years have proved uninspiring, and the public tends to have low expectations for new developments. […]