(By Irna Qureshi/Guardian) This weekend Bradford will host a new literature festival, featuring poetry, storytelling and debates. Here, festival co-director Irna Qureshi offers a guide to the city’s architectural gems
The Wool Exchange
The Wool Exchange shows Bradford’s ease with the confluence of old and new. Known today as the stunning home of Waterstones, Bradford city centre’s last remaining bookshop, the ornate Gothic-style building was in fact a trading centre, emblematic of the great wealth which Bradford had gained from the wool trade by the mid-19th century. The city’s importance of that time is signified by the laying of the foundation stones by the then Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston. The best place to soak up the surroundings so evocative of Bradford’s glory days is in the café on the mezzanine floor.
The Wool Exchange, with its unique combination of heritage, architecture and books, has now become the iconic image for the Bradford Literature Festival, which launches this weekend, with events set in many of the city’s architectural gems, bequeathed by Bradford’s distinguished history as wool capital of the world.
Not only is the 19th century City Hall one of Bradford’s most distinctive buildings, it is also symbolic of the self-confidence Bradford has strived to regain in recent years. The building’s elevations feature 35 carved statues, each seven foot high, of British monarch, in order of reign, beginning with William I and ending with Henry VIII. The two Queens, Elizabeth 1 and Victoria, take their places on either side of the main entrance.
By contrast, the basement housed a police station, cells and a steep stairwell leading up to a wood-panelled Victorian courtroom (used famously in Coronation Street for Tracy Barlow’s murder trial), all of which have just been opened to the public, as part of the new Bradford Police Museum.
The Midland Hotel
A jewel in Bradford’s historic crown, the Midland is a step back in time. Dating back to the 1890s, it was built by the Midland Railway Company as a showpiece adjoining the new Midland Station. The original side entrance, which would have brought passengers inside directly from the train platform, remains impeccably preserved, still evoking the memory of porters pulling iron-wheeled carts, laden with leather bound luggage, up the boarded incline to the hotel lobby.
Sadly, the hotel has now been severed from the station, with most guests these days preferring to arrive by car. It was the imposing façade and fine interiors, including two mirrored ballrooms, which made the Midland a natural choice for the rich and famous. Sir Henry Irving, the greatest actor of the Victorian age, famously died here.
The ghosts of Jewish merchants are felt most profoundly in Little Germany. Initially attracted by Bradford’s lucrative wool trade, the merchants – many of whom were German – understood the need for impressive business premises to give themselves a competitive edge. Mimicking the architecture of their home country, they spared no expense in building imposing warehouses, showrooms and offices using the finest quality Yorkshire stone, to store the goods they exported from Bradford. With the Jewish merchants long departed, the village still boasts the largest group of listed buildings in the country, and is now reimagined as Bradford’s cultural quarter.
Former Odeon Cinema
The former Odeon cinema has been at the centre of a decade-long vigorous campaign, which initially saved it from demolition and is now focussed on its redevelopment as a world class live event venue, in the heart of Bradford. One of the most emotive issues in the city, the once-sumptuous Art Deco building with its iconic towers, exemplifies the tenacity of Bradford’s people, and has come to symbolise local heritage, pride and the value of democracy.
Bradford Central Mosque
In a city where green domed mosques are as common as derelict mills, you’d be forgiven for not noticing the grey slate-domed Jamiyat Tabligh-ul-Islam Mosque. Located at the top of the city centre, just off Westgate, the Bradford Central Mosque, as it’s also known, is the first in the country to be constructed using the same local slate and distinctive honey-coloured stone as the surrounding mills and terraces. The effect is one of architectural integration, revealing gently how the Muslim faith can adapt to local custom and reflect the hues of the culture over which it flows.
While most cities settle for a public square, Bradford’s gathering place boasts the largest urban water feature in the UK. The magical space has not only transformed the heart of Bradford and brought people back into the centre, it is also spearheading the city’s economic regeneration. The unique space is transformative too; exuding a Parisian calm on a crisp morning, and a Blackpool vibe on a hot summer’s day. The Mirror Pool, with its irresistible one hundred fountain displays, has inadvertently become a free, fun day out for young families. No wonder locals have dubbed it “Bradford on the Beach”.
University of Bradford
When it comes to innovative eco-sensitive design, the University of Bradford appears to be leading the way. Its purpose-built £40m student village, named The Green, is the most sustainable development of its kind in the world. By making the most of natural resources like solar power and rainwater, the building costs very little to heat and light. Resident students are even encouraged to grow vegetables.
The university’s re:centre, a flexible space for research and micro-businesses, is the largest hemp constructed building in Europe and incorporates a wealth of environmental features such as natural ventilation.
David Hockney Building, Bradford College
What better way for a college to inspire its students than to remind them of the prestigious figures that have been there before them? This is surely what Bradford College had in mind when they named their newly opened high-tech building after David Hockney, the internationally acclaimed Bradford-born artist and Bradford College alumnus. Like Hockney’s work, the building is a visual feast; an open plan layout, imaginative use of colour and stunning views across the city. At a cost of £50m, it is also proof of the investment being made in education in Bradford.