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Umist facade photo: Aidan O'Rourke

Lets start with the architecture of excess. In the great warehouses and offices around Whitworth Street and Dale Street, Manchester's merchants and magnates decided to put on a bit of a show.

This was a Boom period between the construction of the Ship Canal in 1894 and the First World War and the cotton packing companies and others wanted to flaunt it. Everywhere - remember normally above eye level - you'll see fascinating faces and fantastic patterns, great swags of fruit and garlands of flowers.

A typical building of this period would be UMIST on Whitworth Street, by Spalding and Cross, all crazy terracotta patterns and delicious glimpses of Art Nouveau stained glass. Try and find the head of Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, poking out and giving a hint of the building's purpose.

Indeed one of the best games in these areas of the city centre is to play I-Spy with the curvy, restless lines of Art Nouveau, a style which was deemed a bit too airy-fairy and Gallic to be used in the actual design of buildings but all right for adding a fancy touch of Belle Epoque decadence.

Iron gate.  Photo: Aidan O'RourkeThe finest example, perhaps, of this transient style is the magnificent wrought iron gate between Lancaster House and India House on Whitworth Street. Here a twisted lamp like some vast bud of a hothouse plant is suspended two stories up from a pair of gates which when closed describe a perfect circle.

The architect of the buildings on each side and probably the designer of the gate was the prolific Harry S Fairhurst.

Another building from this period is the Midland Hotel by Charles Trubshaw of 1903.

In the sixties this was called one of the world's ugliest buildings, it is difficult to agree with this when as the sun sets, the whole rear of the hotel facing the G-Mex centre becomes one boiling burnished mass of bronze terracotta.

<Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza Midland Hotel & Funmex Big Wheel.  photo by Aidan O'Rourke

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