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In Zhuzhou, China a group of villas have just been completed on the roof of a shopping mall. This concept has been labelled the future of urban planning, but this future had already been realised over thirty years ago at Cromford Court, Manchester.

A view from above, 1981.

Cromford Court, known to tenants as ‘the podium’, was a housing association venture by Manchester City Council and it could be found on top of The Arndale Centre – a shopping centre that stands to this day. In all 60 dwellings could be found on the rooftops of the Arndale and they were inhabited from 1981 until 2003, when they were demolished as part of a lengthy redevelopment brought on by the devastating IRA bomb in 1996.

Prince Philip opening Cromford Court housing, 1981.

Cromford Court took its name from the area that was levelled prior to the shopping centre itself being built. A city surveyor in 1962 said that Manchester was “crystallized in its Victorian setting“ by these dense, dirty collection of Victorian buildings that housed beat clubs and cafés and gained a reputation as a maze of inequity.

The beat clubs that saturated the area were the cause of much concern for the authorities – they were unlicensed members only venues, as such they didn’t have to abide by the same legislations as licensed public venues. This led to uncontrollable opening hours,  undesirables   and the prevalence of  amphetamines (Purple Hearts) and marijuana.

The view from the street, 2002.

One of the most notable of the clubs in the area was The Magic Village, the owner of which would later himself live on the eponymous rooftop houses of 80s Manchester. The club was a leaky venue with a rope swing on the dancefloor, it saw the likes of Pink Floyd, David Bowie and Jethro Tull grace the stage.

“Who needed beer all you had to do was breathe” 

Andrew Gibbons, Manchester Beat

In 1965 the Manchester Corporation Act was passed meaning that the clubs could be closed at will. At the time Manchester had 250 beat clubs, just over a year later it had 3.

An archive image from Manchester Libraries showing the surrounding area before the Arndale Centre.

Today the Arndale Centre that now occupies the area is the third largest city centre shopping mall in Europe and after the IRA bomb the insurance payouts made it the most expensive man-made disaster ever. The redevelopment that followed in the wake of the attack gave Manchester a chance to rebuild, but despite this the Arndale still regularly makes the lists of most ugly and least loved buildings in the UK.

Although the houses on the roof weren’t directly affected by the bomb, when the tenants returned to the rooftops there was a general feeling of uncertainty; they knew their tenancy wasn’t finite and that the Arndale wanted to move them on and modernise and rejuvenate itself in the wake of the devastation. The houses had no place in the city’s vision for the future. Eventually, in April 2003, the last residents moved out and the houses demolished.

The podium, clad in ‘bile coloured ceramics’ is the reason the Arndale is referred to as the world’s largest urinal.

For all the ideals the rooftop location presented it did have its downfalls   – the financial handing of the company was peculiar and often unfair, and the area was a go-to venue for parties which, although not a problem in itself, left the area open to crime much like the Cromford Court that came before.

It’s a bitter irony that the very things that continued to support Manchester as the Original Modern City over the years were swept under the carpet in moves to modernise the city. Cromford Court isn’t the only rooftop housing in Manchester: in 1940 the caretaker of Ship Canal House lived on the roof with his wife, up among the chimneys.

This article originally appeared on The Skyliner. Get in touch with the author @custardlove.

The first and only spy I ever met introduced himself as Richard  – my flight mate on a trans-Atlantic in 2010. Richard spoke excellent German, although with a strong old East-German accent. Being retired, he came back to Berlin every year to go cycling in the countryside. When I asked him what job he used to do in Berlin, his reply was: spying, of course! At the end of the 60s, intelligence agencies had their eyes on top graduates like him, and when he was approached because of his knack for languages and breaking codes, he signed up with the NSA. To avoid the Vietnam conflict, he learned Russian and German and ended up in the divided, cold-war Berlin, Germany. I was getting excited – having explored the remains of the NSA field station atop the hill of Teufelsberg, I asked Richard if he had ever been up there when it was still active. Why, yes, he had worked there for years! he told me.

view from afar of the main tower flanked by two radomesThe main tower of the listening station, flanked by two radomes

Teufelsberg (literally: devil’s mountain) is an artificial hill consisting of heaped up WWII rubble, with Albert Speer’s never completed “Wehrtechnische Fakultà­Æ’ ¤t” buried underneath. In their search for good vantage points and clear signals, mobile allied listening units found it to be nearly ideal, and one of the NSA’s largest listening stations was built on “The Hill.”

Because it was actually in the British sector, the station was shared between British and American intelligence agencies. My new-found friend didn’t mention how closely the allies collaborated, but auxiliary services such as power, heating, cafeteria and waste disposal were shared. The Americans had their ears pointed East to listen in on the Eastern block, but they were also tapping into wireless communication systems in West Berlin. Rumors have it that there was a network of tunnels or at least one big excavation dug into the hill for escape and other purposes. When I pressed him about it, Richard wouldn’t confirm anything of the sort. Switching to English, he joked “If I told you, I’d have to kill you!”

But he went on to describe how the station was not only equipped with then state of the art technology in the form of antennae, satellite dishes, radio and signal reception equipment, but also shredders and incinerators for the destruction of confidential and sensitive documents. And lest geeky agents like him forgot about the enemy over all these toys, the DEFCON indicator served as constant reminder that it was a live scenario, not just fun and games.

view from below of the main towerView from below of the main tower.

All that technology is gone, though; after the Berlin wall fell, the facility was re-purposed for civil air traffic control for a while. What remained of the abandoned equipment has since then been stripped, vandalized, or destroyed. Today the station is in ruins and potentially dangerous. Any explorer should tread carefully, watch out for holes in the floor and stay away from the open elevator shaft. Those afraid of heights should avoid climbing the towers at all: the radio-transparent canvas (made of similar material as the cover of the radomes) shielding the tower sides has largely been vandalized and removed, and the torn and shredded remains are flapping eerily in the wind. Guardrails are often missing, and any fall is most likely fatal.

torn canvas cover of the main tower in the windWatch your step!

Nonetheless, the climb is rewarding: the dome on top is still intact, and due to the structure’s size and shape, an eerie yet beautiful echo can be experienced. People have been known to go up there to sing or play music to maximize the effect. A window cut into the West side of the dome’s cover is the perfect spot to catch the sun setting over Grunewald. The platform below offers a 360 panorama of Berlin and the forest.

At least for a while, there were official (and unofficial) guided tours available; when I asked Richard if he had ever been back to his old post, he declined. The cold war is over, he said, and seeing his former workplace in its sorry state was not going to stir any nostalgic feelings in him. He preferred his bicycle explorations around Berlin to re-visiting that particular piece of history upon Teufelsberg.

main tower dome and radomeOtherworldly structures.

Berlin has many opportunities for urban exploration  – what makes the abandoned listening station one of the most popular destinations is the allure of the cold-war spy game feel the place has on those of us who are not retired NSA agents. Upon approach, the structure looks alien and otherworldly. Wild boar roam the hill and the Grunewald forest, so sticking to paths and roads is advised. Due to numerous holes in the chain link fences, entering the compound is fairly easy. It’s private property, but trespass is a favorite Berlin pastime, and the many curious visitors and even picnickers on warm summer days seem to enjoy something they feel entitled to.

In September 2011, a German artist installed a USB dead drop on Teufelsberg. As part of an anonymous, offline, peer-to-peer file-sharing network in public space, a  USB dead drop is a flash drive embedded into any publicly accessible wall, building, curb or likewise. Anyone is welcome to read the drive’s contents  – a modern version of the dead drops spies used to exchange information without having to meet in person. According to the artist, the drive on Teufelsberg contains confidential files from the cold war era.

Teufelsberg graffiti - "The best mom ever"“The most beautiful and honest things in this world are the most imperfect and human.”   – graffiti on Teufelsberg

Re-development in Berlin can be a touchy subject, and the hill’s future remains muddled: the investor who originally bought the site from the Berlin senate went bankrupt over exploding building costs and resistance from environmentalists. Film-maker David Lynch added to the Teufelsberg pipe dreams with plans to buy the site and erect a “Vedic Peace University.” Another proposal which has yet to be made public once again mentions luxury apartments, a hotel with conference center and a spy museum. As the protests for conserving the former Tempelhof airfield as a public park have shown, the general public is opposed to progress re-shaping the cityscape. The average Berliner feels strongly for the few remaining historic derelict sites.

sunset caught through the torn canvas of the main towerSunset over Grunewald forest, caught through the torn canvas cover of the main tower

Der Berliner Teufelsberg [MAP]

A late post mortem    – Detailed information and pictures about the abandoned NSA field listening station, assembled by the Chaos Computer Club

Explore Berlin  – Berlin urban exploration wiki [GERMAN]

Follow Untapped Cities on Twitter and Facebook! Get in touch with the author @flachrattenmann.


The Untapped Web Bites are editor picks of the best online reads of the week from each of our cities and the most Untapped places across the globe.

It’s the last weekend of the Whitney Biennial [NY Art Beat]

In a ranking of the best city parks nationwide, San Francisco comes out on top. [The Atlantic Cities]

Karl Lagerfield is to transform Paris’ newly renovated Salon d’Honneur and the Grand Palais to a sanctuary in the sky for the 26th Biennale des Antiquaires. [Architectural Digest]

Korean artists find the soul in Seoul’s abandoned spaces, and turn them into transient art in the process. [The Korea Herald]

Follow Untapped Cities on Twitter and like us on Facebook!

The Untapped Web Bites are editor picks of the best online reads of the week from each of our cities and the most Untapped places across the globe.

NYC Next Idea’s new batch of wild and crazy New York startup ideas. [Beta Beat]

New York’s burgeoning tech industry, as seen on 568 Broadway. [Crain's New York]

You may be able to purchase a domain name with a .nyc suffix in the near future. NYC is seeking a contract with a company based in . . . Virginia. [NY Times]

Muni turns 100. [Market Street Railway]

Community Gallery on Ames Alley. [Mission Mission]

Is this yours? Police post slideshow of stolen property recovered from alleged serial burglar. [SF Appeal]

An ode to urban exploration: The Paris Metro. [Sleepy City]

Urban decay from around the globe, a hauntingly beautiful sight. [Noupe]

Follow Untapped Cities on Twitter and like us on Facebook!

The Untapped Web Bites are editor picks of the best online reads of the week from each of our cities and the most Untapped places across the globe.

Wallabout, Brooklyn: as close to off the grid as urban gets, next to the Brooklyn Navy Yard [NY Times]

A bodega’s cavernous secret reveals a hidden theater [Tumblr]

Keep up to date on-the-go with a series of public transportation oriented apps. [Lifehacker]

Yoga arrives to San Francisco International Airport. [CBS Local]

Burritto Justice: Shipwrecks, some beer, and a good dose of San Francisco history. [Burrito Justice]

The perennial debate between New York and Paris is embodied in art prints. [Society 6] [Untapped Paris article]

It may sound like some elaborate pun pointed at amusement park giants, but it isn’t. Meet Napoleonland. [Telegraph]

The FBI is seeking to monitor social media sites for posts relevant to terrorism, surveillance operations, online crime and other points of interest. [New Scientist]

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