Industrial architecture doesn’t get much more archetypal than Castlefield Viaduct, a Grade-II listed railway bridge made of brick and steel, its 56 arches curving above the canals of central Manchester. Built at the tail end of the Victorian era by the same engineers who worked on Blackpool Tower, the structure stopped being used in the late 1960s, then spent the next half-century as a familiar if redundant part of the city skyline.
Its story took a new turn in mid-2022, however, when part of it was unveiled as a sky park complete with trees, flowers and assorted greenery. The concept was partially inspired by New York’s elevated High Line walkway. Stretching for almost a quarter of a mile, the viaduct has been reimagined as an urban green space for locals and visitors. Its entryway is close to the Deansgate-Castlefield tram stop in the city centre.
Having been abandoned for more than 50 years, the structure was already seeing the growth of wild grasses and plants — some segments have been left as they were to show how nature had taken its course — but the formal planting process has created an impressive spread of diagonal beds, colourful seasonal blooms and woodland shrubs and ferns. Four partner organisations, including the nearby Science and Industry Museum, have also created their own plots on the viaduct. Some 3,000 plant species are now growing along its length, ranging from foxtail lilies to silver birch.
The initial plan was to offer guided tours of the viaduct on a year-long trial, running until the end of July 2023, but its popularity has proved so great that plans are in place to extend this until the end of 2024. The ticketing process has also been simplified, making it possible to turn up in the afternoon and wait for open-access entry, rather than needing to have a pre-booked ticket for a tour.
The National Trust, which has been responsible for transforming the viaduct, also hopes to introduce activities along it such as yoga, community-led plays and family tours.
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