One Saturday morning, I found myself in The Living Room of the Pan Pacific Serviced Suites, a serviced apartment in Singapore that I was reviewing for a night. The Living Room on the mezzanine floor is their library cum lounge area, complete with Macbooks, paperbacks, plush sofas, soft carpets, an Xbox corner and plenty of coffee table books.
In the Living Room that morning, I felt like I was in a private home or library, with none of the student crowds of a community library or the full-day table hoggers at any Starbucks outlet. The place was new and clearly under-utilised, and I had it all to myself.
I made my way there after breakfast and randomly picked up two books that looked interesting to me: Mario Testino’s Private View and Le Corbusier and The Power of Photography. But little did I realise what an impact these two books, especially the latter, would have on me.
Le Corbusier and The Power of Photography had a foreword written by Norman Foster, a famous British architect who designed The Gherkin in London. As I read more about him, I realised that he grew up in Manchester and was inspired by the city’s architecture. He frequently went to the Levenshulme Library and it was there that he read Le Corbusier’s 1923 book, Towards An Architecture.
I lived, worked and studied in Manchester from 2005-2010, and though my cultural profile could not be anymore different to a 78-year-old British man, I felt inspired and somehow related to Norman Foster. Levenshulme was an area that I was very familiar with, having worked at ALL FM, Refresh FM and Greggs Bakery.
For a long time, I never thought very much about my time in Levenshulme and Longsight. It really wasn’t the best of areas in Manchester, and I saw it as a ‘temporary’ period of my life where I was waiting to get out and get a ‘real’ job. This was definitely a chapter of my life which you would not see appear in my professional CV.
And yet.. and yet.. I did spend my best summers there, in the newly-opened Longsight Library where I had the first on popular paperbacks, with my funny and diverse customers at Greggs, with my kind-hearted manager Jason, with the only ASDA in town that serves Halal meat, with movie nights and Sunday afternoon eat overs at Panji and Allan’s, with Shin, Janice and Charlotte my best friends.
I guess for a long time, I could not for the life of me imagine anything good that would come out of an impoverished area like Longsight and Levenshulme. It wasn’t that I disliked my time there, I just didn’t think very much about it. But now as I look back at those years that I thought was spent ‘wasted’ not getting a proper job, here I was reading about Norman Foster, who lived in Levenshulme and is today OBE The Lord Foster of Thames Bank.
He pursued architecture at the Manchester School of Architecture at the age of 31, after having worked as a clerk in the Manchester Town Hall, a building that I also loved very much and where I had once even applied for a job at. His profile said he used to “venture into the city to observe buildings during his lunch breaks and sketched designs while at his desk.”
That is exactly what I used to do during my lunch breaks while working at the Deva Centre on Trinity Way. Some of my photos taken on the iPhone 4 here reflect my love for the city’s architecture, and one of my earliest set of images was called “Manchester you are so quirky yet I love you more and more everyday“.
I truly treasured that Saturday morning alone at The Living Room, curled up on the round sofa alone, peering out at the construction going on next door, sipping a hot mug of Twinnings peppermint tea and dreaming about beautiful buildings. Norman Foster studied architecture at the age of 31. I’m 27 and the best is yet to come.