Emma Coop combines drawing with photography to investigate the significance of Hulme's inner city green spaces.

05.07.24 - 31.08.24

Hulme has become a byword for bold, sweeping architectural transformations, first seen in the modernist era’s extensive redevelopment of the Victorian 'slums' and then again in the 1990s. In her exhibition, Emma Coop meticulously redrafts maps by hand to decipher the complex history, with a particular emphasis on envisioning urban landscapes devoid of buildings, focusing instead on the verdant urban spaces.

The dramatic modernist overhaul of Hulme, followed by its notorious decline, is a story familiar to many in Manchester and beyond. Once home to one of Europe’s most expansive housing projects, marked by its ‘streets in the sky’ and the emblematic Crescents, it stood for just over twenty years. Yet, Emma Coop chooses not to dwell on the architectural shortcomings or the surge in crime. Instead, she explores an often-ignored aspect of Hulme’s identity: its public green spaces. She investigates whether a legacy of modernism continues to flourish, at least in part, within Hulme’s green enclaves.

The transformation of Hulme begins with the industrial revolution whereby concentrated poor quality housing was built at rapid pace to house the workers of Manchester’s factories. The 1945 City of Manchester Plan was created to address the city’s problems, ‘the meanness and squalor of Hulme’ and ‘the drab streets... the sulphurous and sunless atmosphere’.

Hulme, at that time, was characterised by hard surfaces, and very little in the way of green space or trees. With the City’s air thick with pollution from the factories, trees struggled to grow. This hard urban environment barren of nature is characterised in the paintings of Lowry. 

The masterplan designed by the City Architect’s department and Wilson and Womersley set out to create a futuristic vision in complete contrast: ‘large-scale building groups and open spaces, and, above all, by skilful landscaping and extensive tree planting, it is our endeavour to achieve, at Hulme, a solution to the problems of twentieth-century living’.

During the 20th Century 9% of lowland meadows and 90% of coppiced woodland in England and Wales was lost. This was a trend successfully reversed in Hulme in the 70’s. However the post industrial legacy across the landscape of Manchester means there is just 7.6 per cent of woodland cover, vastly lower than the average in England. The city is addressing this now with the planting of The Northern Forest, that will see 50 million trees planted over the next 25 years.

In her book Loosing Eden, Lucy Jones asks, “ what way does our disconnection from the natural world affect our mental health, our minds, our emotional lives? And how will climate chaos, extinction and environmental degradation affect the human spirit?” 

'Post demolition now the new re-built Hulme offers another vision, one which I haven’t had the benefit of slowly adapting to, I’m keen to learn how a sense of ‘place’ even 'home' survives beyond buildings and if the modernist utopian vision is still present nestling in the green spaces it established in Hulme. 

I discovered there is something of the topology of the land, the quality of the light at certain times of the days; the angling of shadows, the familiar rustle of leaves at specific points that, whilst I don’t relate to or know a single hard surface, manages to rekindle a familiarity.

The remaining trees are anchor points for plotting my location within an alien architectural landscape. They have grown bigger now: the extra height, rings of growth and their gnarly expanding trunks acknowledge the passing of time. They reign majestically over the new slickly clad buildings —knowingly.

Living in an era with an increasing awareness of the effects of climate change and with the looming deadline for net zero emissions by 2050 it feels particularly pertinent to reflect on a previous era's planning heritage which relied so heavily on creating greenspace.' Emma Coop

05.07.24 - 31.08.24

at the modernist
58 Port Street, Manchester M1 2EQ
open 11am to 5pm, Tuesday to Saturday


Born in 1976, Manchester, she now lives and works in London. Coop undertook her BA in Interactive Arts at MMU before going on to complete a PG Dip and MA in Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art. Recent major exhibitions include: Creekside Open 2019, Wales Contemporary 2020, Expanded Drawing—Air Gallery 2020 and 168th RWA Open 2021. Work is held in private collections in UK, France, Germany and USA. I LIVE ANOTHER LIFE , studio 1.1 Gallery, 2022 was Coop's first solo show in London.

Coop explores an affinity with nature and the elements despite living in cities all her life. Her drawings document a desire to run in the opposite direction, to escape edges, things and people. Recently drawings have combined with photography to create versions of reality that are unseen, that hide and lurk within the everyday. Areas of images depicting human-made things, such as buildings, vehicles, signage and other paraphernalia are obscured under dense layers of graphite. The resulting images reveal only the grown, natural areas of the landscape and offer an alternative vision often barely recognisable with the shift in perspective.

Photographs - Lenka Rayn H