Skip to main content

Shock City: Image and Architecture in Industrial Manchester

Project overview

This project is funded by the British Academy/Leverhulme Trust in the form of a one-year Senior Research Fellowship for Professor Mark Crinson.

Industrial Manchester was recognised from the early nineteenth century and has long been understood since, as the 'shock city' (to use Asa Briggs' famous term) of the Industrial Revolution. It was the exemplary city for the experience of industrial modernity as this was felt in the rapid emergence of new social formations, technologies and new political configurations. Also often discussed is how the new industrial middle class reacted to the still-medieval governance of the city by forging new institutions. Although social and economic history has developed sophisticated analyses of this situation, art history has not produced sustained studies of the form and appearance of the city as a product of, and response to, these changes.

Research aims

Shock City proposes this can only be done by an integrated study of images, architecture and urbanism, as they were structured around those epochal differences created by industrial change - the pre-industrial city, the chaotic shock city, and the ‘civilised’ after-shock city. Essentially this is the study of the urban imaginary (ways of dreaming, ways of justifying, ways of creating distinction) of these ascendant industrial middle classes.

Shock City’s central questions concern this urban imaginary. How was it constructed, out of what conflicts and possibilities, and with what resources and constraints in the visual media and architectural culture?

Outputs and outcomes

The project channels its answers through several thematic strands:

  • forms of memorialising the pre-industrial city; the idea of a townscape of free trade
  • the ways Manchester did and did not express its centrality to the cotton empire
  • industrial pollution understood as a cultural problem
  • the image of industrial technology in Gothic Revival architecture
  • the reciprocity between places of work, particularly finance, and leisure.