Eamonn Canniffe


The contemporary post-industrial city has developed within a system where every square metre of its area might be assessed for its economic productivity and market value. Retail space, leisure space, even public open space, as well as housing and work environments are quantifiable and comparable in financial terms as the ultimate test of their value. This conception of urban space as units of capital has its origins in the industrial development of centres such as Manchester where, largely unencumbered by earlier urban patterns, the idea of the modern city could thrive. As a ‘shock city’ Manchester, during the peak of its industrial growth in the early nineteenth century was an object of fascination and repulsion to the visitors it attracted. Opinion and rhetoric dominated social, economic and political debate, but dispassionate spatial analysis was rare. In the view of contemporary authors the town had few significant public spaces, instead being largely comprised of the vast industrial structures that crowded around the roads and canals. The mills were assessed for legal and insurance purposes, however, at a time of rabid competition and the prevalence of industrial accidents. The surveys that have survived provide the first opportunities to assess these examples of new urban space. The image results of a settlement composed of a single type, the mill or warehouse. Ancillary structures, most especially the workers’ housing did not merit recording. In these products of spatial calculation the Manchester mill can be seen to set the pattern both for the productive spaces of industry and the spatial framework of the contemporary city, where the public space is one of consumption rather than community. The supervised and privatised public space of the contemporary city finds its genius loci in the industrial typology of its commercial origins.


How to Cite
Canniffe, E. (2016) “Urban morphology and the post-industrial city: commercial space in Manchester”, The Journal of Public Space, 1(1), pp. 53–62. doi: 10.5204/jps.v1i1.10.
Author Biography

Eamonn Canniffe, Manchester School of Architecture

Eamonn Canniffe leads the MA Architecture + Urbanism at the msa. He was born in Manchester in 1960 and was educated in Architecture at Cambridge and Harvard Universities. In 1996 he held a Rome Scholarship in the Fine Arts at the British School at Rome. Between 1986 and 1998 he taught at the University of Manchester School of Architecture, and between 1998 and 2006 at the University of Sheffield School of Architecture. He is the author of 'Urban Ethic: Design in the Contemporary City' (Routledge 2006) and 'The Politics of the Piazza: the history and meaning of the Italian square' (Ashgate 2008), which he presented at the De Bosis Colloquium in Italian Studies at Harvard University in 2009. He is co-author (with Tom Jefferies) of 'Manchester Architecture Guide' (1999) and (with Peter Blundell Jones) of 'Modern Architecture through Case Studies 1945-1990' (Architectural Press 2007), a Chinese edition of which 现代建筑的演变 1945--1990年 was published in 2009. Future publications include the editing of 'The City Past and Present: Global perspectives on urban history and change' (Ashgate 2009). He has recently been appointed as Architecture Series Editor for Ashgate Publishing http://www.ashgate.com/studiesinarchitecture nurturing the publication of high quality and original research by international authors during the next few years


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