I was delighted to spot a little man, decked out in Alpine clothes and straw hat, catching some sunshine on the roof of 79 Piccadilly. Just around the corner, leaning on the balustrade, I discovered he had an identical friend. It was surprising to find that there’s no real information online about the figures and so I considered taking the story in another direction; talking about the O.K Cafe that also occupies the building downstairs and the history behind the name.
Historically the Okasional Cafes were squats, social centres for anarchists and environmental activists and in recent times a demonstration in the benefits of non-profit community spaces. In fact if you’re reading this at the time of publishing then you can go and check out the Castlefield OK Cafe right now. It seems to make a lot of sense to use an otherwise empty space for a community project, but I don’t know enough about the economy or politics to go into that and the mystery of the little men was too intriguing to leave alone.
Built in 1877, the original architects of the building were Clegg and Knowles. The duo were prolific architects who specialised in grand warehouses, the likes of which were admired by tourists who would travel to Manchester during the industrial revolution to marvel at the ornate and unusually tall warehouses of Manchester (the warehouses and mills were built upwards to offset the expensive land rent. As an indication of the success and growth of the period this was during a time in which Manchester’s population trebled in the space of 39 years. During the same time period London’s population had only doubled).
After the completion of The Atheneum, considered one of the most inspirational buildings in Manchester’s architectural history, the general building trend of the time followed suit and ‘palazzo’, an elegant Italian Renaissance style build, was born. So why then is 79 Piccadilly so different from the norm?