If These Walls Could Talk…

It’s our last week here in the University of Manchester’s Sackville St Building. The shelves are emptying, boxes are filling and we’re all overcome with bittersweet emotions; the excitement about our future in Manchester Central Library mixed with the melancholy of leaving somewhere we’ve called home for the past few years. I get terribly sentimental about buildings I’ve inhabited – it’s as if I leave a little bit of myself behind every time I move on somewhere new.

But if these walls could talk they’d have more interesting things to talk about than my short stay here.

The Sackville Street Building is a huge, grand, disheveled, labyrinthine, multiple personality building, based on the University of Manchester’s North Campus; some will remember it as the UMIST Main Building, before the two universities merged in 2004. Renaissance architectural motifs, grand halls and stained glass windows rub up against mind-blowing technology facilities, such as the Molecular Beam Epitaxy lab and the Dalton Nuclear Institute. Whilst in other parts of the building there are miles of deserted, locker-lined corridors and rooms that have been locked since 1980.

As you walk around you feel the weight of history. Since opening in 1902 it has housed variously the Manchester School of Technology, Manchester College of Technology (or ‘the Tech’), the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) and now the University of Manchester. The Tech was the first higher education technology faculty in the country, and chemical engineering as a discipline was pioneered in this building. All those scientific minds!

Sounds like an odd place for an anti-racism library doesn’t it? Maybe it hasn’t been the best location for us – accessing and navigating such a complex building has been tricky for some of our audiences. But when we outgrew our old premises and moved here in 2010 we were delighted with our beautiful, spacious, light-filled library space, and will be sorry to leave it.  And maybe it isn’t such a strange place for us. This part of campus is really multi-cultural – science and technology subjects have always attracted overseas students, and listening to the different languages spoken in the lift every morning reminds me of the positive impact foreigners continue to have on our industry and economy.

This was brought home to me this week when I spotted, tucked away on a dark corner (hence the less-than-brilliant photo) of B floor, this lovely multi-coloured piece of textile art:

wall hanging

The accompanying sign that reads:

Melissa Craft
‘Network of Nations’
Winner of the 1999 Student Wall-Hanging Competition.
The entwining branches refer to the coming together of many nationalities into UMIST, the colours represent the four seasons.

Says it all really.

I got a bit carried away with my camera and took a whole series of pictures of this fantastic building for posterity.  I’m not exactly David Bailey, but here’s a selection:

We’ve got a busy couple of weeks of moving, unpacking and generally getting settled in to our new home in Manchester Central Library – which reopens on 22nd March! Keep an eye on Twitter, Facebook and our website for details of location and opening times – looking forward to seeing you there!
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