Beneath the Arches: Re-appropriating the Spaces of Infrastructure in Manchester

  • Brian Rosa

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis sets out to explore the implications that transport infrastructures have on the production and perception of the urban built environment. Particularly, it focuses on the Victorian brick viaducts constructed to support the elevated railway in Manchester, England. It concentrates on Manchester's post-industrial restructuring and re-imaging since the late 1960s, exploring how the presence of brick railway viaducts, as well as the uses beneath their arches, have impacted strategies for revalorisation in the wake of gradual deindustrialisation. In exploring the changing symbolic economy of landscapes dominated by railway infrastructure, as well as the shifting uses and images of railway arches, this thesis explores the interplay between political economy and the aesthetic and symbolic dimensions of urban regeneration. Upon establishing the mutually constituted history of Manchester's elevated railways and its city centre and demonstrating how this 19th century process has shaped the form and character of the city, it excavates a cultural history of the infrastructural landscapes of the city. Special emphasis is placed on the uses and perceptions of railway arches, which have long served as symbols of dereliction and social disorder. These spatial and cultural histories act as a foundation for analysing how the city's railway viaducts have been implicated in the re-imagining of Manchester as a post-industrial city. These histories and representations are explored in relation to property-led strategies of environmental improvement, industrial displacement, and heritage tourism along the southern fringe of Manchester city centre, focusing on three thematic and spatially bound case studies. These case studies rely on documentary data of planning and design strategies, interviews with elite actors involved in the re-imaging of Manchester city centre, and ethnographic observation. Using critical discourse analysis, the thesis unpacks the narrative relationship between dominant representations of these spaces and professional justifications for their material and symbolic reconfiguration.
Date of Award1 Aug 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMaria Kaika (Supervisor) & James Evans (Supervisor)


  • urban history
  • symbolic economy
  • post-industrial
  • qualitative
  • viaduct
  • gentrification
  • geography
  • built environment
  • infrastructure
  • Manchester
  • symbolism
  • urbanism

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