The road ends, but the journey continues...

NOMA: what are those round-y, tilted buildings?

Photo seen on my Manc* buddy Andy’s blog
(oh, yes, he’s a published poet, check out his books here – perfect for gift-giving, IMHO)

Manchester Cundall Light4“Whoa, what are those odd round-y tilted buildings?” I asked him in the comment section.

To which he responded with a link to something called NOMA Earth Tubes.
NOMA? What the heck is that?

He further elaborated,
“The atrium is fundamental to the building’s ventilation strategy. Each of its three corners houses one of the building’s vertical service cores. Some 50m3/s of fresh air is sucked into the building from its landscaped forecourt through three giant earth tubes buried beneath the building; this helps temper the air, cooling it in summer and warming it in winter. Air is heated or cooled in a huge basement plant room before giant fans push it up the service cores to the floor plates.”

Sufficiently curious, I clicked on his link reference thus beginning a fun google research journey for this lady on a pleasantly cozy, rainy Saturday afternoon.

At first the photos in and of themselves were delightfully mind-bending

NOMA Earth Tubes at night

NOMA Earth Tubes at night

with accompanying explanatory text,
“Cundall Light4 was appointed by The Co-operative and Hermes to provide the lighting design for the three earth tubes adjacent to the new Co-operative Group office at 1 Angel Square in Manchester.”

Ah, so that’s what Andy’s response was referring to…those Earth Tubes are fully functional building maintenance machine-structures.
As I continued reading, the melding of science, industrial needs and a city’s desire to offer an artistic skyline got my granola-tree-hugging-hippie-soul to singing.
Reading further, integrated into the Earth Tubes are lighting elements which are programmed with a series of vibrant animations, images of poppies for remembrance day, and programmed to create a shadow of the people dancing in front of the earth tubes.
Oh let me do my Dance of Joy! – buildings joining with me in my happy celebrations.
This is not a stagnant installation. Manchester plans on offering future programming to students and artists.These Earth Tubes are life-giving in physical purpose as well as for the whole of a human being.
And now, what about NOMA? Maybe NOMA has something to do with MAnchester. A quick google research turns up over 6 different acronym references; none of which refer to anything related to the Earth tubes or Manchester.

Reading between the lines, I realized NOMA stands for NOrthern MAnchester.

And yes, I left the best discovery for last.  Here’s a short YouTube of the NOMA Earth Tubes – Cundall Light4. Please enjoy and picture this lady twirling round and round and round and round in her modest but freeing Dance of Joy.

*Manc is a local term for native Mancunians


  1. Deborah Brasket

    How ingenious! I wish I could have seen her dance there, what the lights would have done.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Yes, ingenious is a good word.
      The dance is enhanced in my mind’s eye by those huge Earth Tubes in the background – and their possible integration with the spirit of a child? Amazing.

  2. Heather

    I love them! Such strange looking structures, I would never have guessed they had a purpose to them. 🙂 The lights are amazing on them! Thanks for sharing. 🙂 xxx

    • laura bruno lilly

      Yes, I too appreciated them all the more once I learned they were not only artistic, but practical.
      Please thank Dizzy for allowing you to trot over to my site! 😉

  3. Cindy

    Love the look and the functionality of the structures! 🙂

  4. Anna Scott Graham

    That kind of architecture is one of my family’s fave parts of Britain, definitely some thinking outside the box going on. Love how pretty they are at night, what a good post for these darkening days right before the solstice!

    • laura bruno lilly

      Ah yes, your British connection – do you ever think you’ll get to visit again?

  5. Sue

    It’s encouraging that people invest in functional art. I’m particularly tickled that they don’t aim in the same direction.:)

    • laura bruno lilly

      Interesting observation – makes them seem more relatable.

  6. Andy

    Thanks for your further research (and the links to my blog and book).
    I have a connection to this area: Angel Meadow, the name of the place in the 19th Century where these new marvels were built, was a well known slum. I had ancestors living all around this place-Angel Meadow but more in nearby Ancoats. In the 90’s I worked in a factory in this area. Over the road was the site of the old Ragged School where my Dad played pool as a youngster, and to the rear were the concrete flags on which he played football. These covered the mass burial site of victims of a cholera epidemic.
    When the new Co-Operative building was being constructed, the foundations of original buildings from that period were unearthed. I remember reading this article at the time, about a writer who also had ancestral links to the place:

    • laura bruno lilly

      Very touching. The article is sobering, enlightening and strangely inspiring. Perhaps you and others like yourself are proof of their legacy despite horrific circumstances. Thank you for these glimpses into history made more personal through your own connections to them.

  7. Janis

    Love it! Why design boring old buildings when they can be works of art that give us joy? Thanks for the en-lighten-ment!

    • laura bruno lilly

      Thanks for the punny response, Janis!

  8. Irene Frances Olson

    I absolutely LOVE those structures and all the info you’ve provided so we too can appreciate them more.

    • laura bruno lilly

      I thought you might be impressed with the organic nature of these man-made structures!
      Take care, Irene.

  9. Jill Weatherholt

    Google…whatever did we do without it? Fascinating looking structures, Laura. I can see why you were so curious. Happy Sunday!

    • laura bruno lilly

      Yeah, after awhile they began to look like mini-4 Mile Island nuke reactors – yikes! Just had to figure ’em out!

  10. L. Marie

    I also was enchanted by the purpose for the earth tubes as seen in the video. Is this the one you posted at Andy’s blog? How lovely! I hope this project is a continual morale booster. We could all do with that!

    • laura bruno lilly

      Yes, it is the same vid (I didn’t realize when I left the link, it’d put up the actual video in my comment – oops!)
      Doesn’t Manchester remind you of our shared city? A gritty yet artistic, practical and welcoming place.

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