The Toast Rack, Manchester
If you ask directions to Manchester Metropolitan University's Hollings Campus you might get some blank looks, but if you ask for the Toast Rack everyone will know what you mean. Once you catch sight of it there’s no need to explain its nickname – it's a huge tapering building with parabolic concrete arches on top that give it the look of a great big toastrack. There is a legend that in the 1970s students made a giant slice of polystyrene toast and stuck it on the roof for rag week. And if that wasn't enough, to augment the big breakfast theme there is an adjoining building which being small and round is known as The Fried Egg.
The culinary moniker fits well as the building, described by renowned architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as "a perfect piece of pop architecture" began life as a classroom block for Manchester’s Domestic and Trades College which had been teaching cookery and domestic science in various incarnations since 1901. It is now home to MMU's Faculty of Food, Clothing and Hospitality Management. With over 2,000 students it is the largest concentration of domestic science students in the UK - and yes, they do sandwich courses.
The buildings were designed in 1958 by City Architect L. C. (Leonard) Howitt who was also responsible for re-modelling the interior of Manchester Free Trade Hall after the original was destroyed in WWII, and designing the Crown Courts in Crown Square. Although it looks playful, there was a practical intent. The tapering shape provides different sized teaching spaces for small or large classes (although the varying room sizes reportedly caused heating problems until the building was refurbished in the 1990s). Beside the main building there are tailoring workshops which were kept separate to minimise noise from the sewing machines, and “The Fried Egg” - a low round building with a circular hall intended for catwalk shows which houses the library and two refectories.
Grade II listed in 1998 it is one of the great moments of postwar architecture, embodying the spirit of optimism and ingenuity that prevailed in the late 1950s. The building has had many opponents, but many have grown to love it. However, national treasure to some, "a considerable future maintenance liability" to its owners. The University plans to move out of this site by 2010 suggesting that The Toast Rack could soon be popping up again as desirable city centre apartments.
Toast Rack photos
All photos by Trevira. Used with thanks.
How to get there
The Manchester Metropolitan University, Faculty of Food, Clothing & Hospitality Management, Old Hall Lane
Manchester M14 6HR. Local map.