«a quarterly magazine about twentieth century design»
Issue No. 4 brutal
Foreword by Elain Harwood Protect and Die The Unbearable Lightness of Being Ignored Severe Beauty Concrete Paradise Liquid Stone Police Brutality Holidays in Utopia The Old-New Brutalism Brutal Disregard Book Reviews Accrington’s Elephant House
Colophon «the modernist» Issue No. 4 brutal March 2012 ISSN 2046-2905 Editors Jack Hale & Maureen Ward Editorial & Marketing Assistant Emily Gee Design Des Lloyd Behari Manchester Municipal Design Corporation Contributing Writers David Britch / Richard Brook / Julie Campbell / Hannah Darabi & Benoit Grimbert / Honor Gavin / Emily Gee / Elain Harwood / Emma Jones / James Perry / Eddy Rhead / Benjamin Tallis / Aidan Turner-Bishop Contributing Photographers Jan Chlebik / Adam Murray Publisher «manchester modernist society» Office «the modernist» 142 Chapel Street Salford / M3 6AF UK +44 (0)161 839 5460 firstname.lastname@example.org Print Evolutionprint Advertising & Enquiries email@example.com Subscriptions & Stockists www.the-modernist-mag.co.uk The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the respective authors and should not necessarily be considered to represent the opinion of the publisher or its employees.
© 2012 artists / writers / photographers & «the modernist»
here are two Brutalisms, and neither is thoroughly understood nor appreciated. Late in 1953 the Smithsons published a scheme for a house in Fitzrovia, which, with its ‘bare concrete, brickwork and wood… the structure exposed entirely, without internal finishes wherever practicable’ would have been ‘the first exponent of the «new brutalism» in England.’ This was also the first appearance of the term. The approach was elaborated in the Architectural Design for January 1955. Theo Crosby rejected ‘contemporary’ modernism in favour of formal classical proportion, as was being expounded by Rudolf Wittkower, and the Smithsons looked to the principles and spirit of Japanese architecture and peasant dwellings.
Elain Harwood is a historian with English Heritage.
Foreword — Elain Harwood
Foreword — Elain Harwood
Foreword — Elain Harwood
Photograph: James O. Davies, English Heritage Concrete: Denys Lasdun
The Smithsons wrote of a ‘reverence for materials’ without singling out concrete, and their modest (unlisted) house for Derek and Jean Sugden then being built in Watford is Brutalist in its unplastered brickwork, exposed concrete beams and simple tiled floors and timberwork. It is a house easily taken for granted: simple yet radical, with an underlying balance between formality and awkward elevations taken from de Stijl and the Maisons Jaoul. With nothing else to build and a savvy for selfpromotion, the Smithsons certainly made Brutalism Britain’s most important contribution to international architecture after the Arts and Crafts Movement. That international perspective is worth remembering as its greatest monuments are needlessly altered or destroyed. How different is this original Brutalism from what can be called ‘High Brutalism’ in the manner that High Victorian Gothic evolved from the simple lancets of Pugin and his contemporaries. The scale was expanded and the architecture became more expressive in buildings like Sheffield’s Park Hill and Castle Market, Manchester’s Piccadilly Plaza and Gateshead’s Treaty Centre, but while the continuing low budgets and greater size favoured concrete over brick and timber, the pursuit of honest forms and finishes remained. For a moment in the 1960s Brutalism’s cheapness and flexibility united the public and commercial sectors, and north and south; at the end of the decade the Smithsons gave it an added intellectual nous with Robin Hood Gardens. Yet was Brutalism ever as truly fashionable as now, in its moment of destruction?
Protect and Die Cold War Architecture
This page: The Guardian Underground Exchange, Manchester Opposite page: Spadeadam, near Brampton, Cumbria Photographs courtesy of Richard Brook
istorical note: Following the liquidation of the ‘ Gorbachev revisionist clique ’ and military action by Warsaw Pact forces to reinforce the GDR’s Berlin ‘ Anti-Fascist Protection Barrier,’ tensions between NATO and the USSR worsened rapidly. The Cold War became a hot one. Cruise missile attacks on Vladivostock and Minsk provoked SS19 ICMB attacks on Western targets. At 08:37 on Monday, May 19, 1986, two 25 megaton nuclear devices detonated above USAF Burtonwood and Manchester city centre. Everything within a four mile radius of the city centre evaporated immediately with a 100% kill rate. Cars in Stockport melted around their drivers. Aircraft at the airport exploded. People in Chester and Blackburn were horribly burnt. In Sheffield and Blackpool they suffered second degree burns. Millions died or suffered terminal radiation burns. The government of Region 10 (Cumbria—Cheshire) was administered from Regional Seat of Government 10, in Fulwood Barracks, Preston. Martial law was declared; violators were summarily executed. Most of the North West was covered in a radioactive cloud of fatty soot contaminating agricultural land and reservoir supplies. There were no shelters and little health care for the mass population. Fantasy? This was UK Government policy until the early 1990s. Planning for the Cold War by the ruling elite was brutal indeed and this is reflected by its surviving
structures. RSG 10 may still be there and UKWMO (Warning & Monitoring Organisation) Western Sector headquarters survives in Langley Lane near Preston (Grid SD 540365): a massive structure almost buried underground except for a guardhouse and ventilation blocks. Over a hundred people staffed it during exercises. It was stood down in 1991. It had a canteen, male and female dormitories, an elaborate control room, diesel generator, huge oil tanks, communications equipment, airlocks and stores. Imagine an underground three storey office block: a squat, giant tumulus brutally protecting a small elite, excluding us, to die. Architecture and engineering have always been the running dogs of wealth and power. Consider Edward I ’ s Welsh castles or George III ’s Napoleonic refuge in Weedon. Modernism was no exception. There ’s a direct line from Mendelsohn’s 1921 Einstein Tower, Potsdam, to the ‘streamlined’ Noirmont tower on Hitler ’s Atlantic Wall in Jersey. Many Cold War structures have a ruthless functionalism, stripping away democratic pretentions with their raw power. Probably the most Ozymandian structures in Region 10 are the remains of the Blue Streak missile experimental testing site at Spadeadam, near Brampton, Cumbria (pronounced ‘ spade ’ ‘ adam ’). Blue Streak, an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile, was tested there. It was designed to deliver a nuclear warhead to Moscow in 20 minutes. The giant concrete stands used 90,920 litres of water a minute during rocket tests. Work started in 1956, testing in 1959. The plan was, after testing, to ship the rockets —built in Stevenage—to Woomera, Australia, for launch. Handover to the RAF was to be January 1963 but Blue Streak was cancelled in 1960. The stands remain at Spadeadam, the RAF ’s hush-hush Electronic Warfare Centre. Matthew Hyde, in the Pevsner Buildings of England Cumbria, writes “These mute remains have a stark beauty of their own. Although their forms should be dictated only by function, a sinister aesthetic has been at work. ” The project, offering cheap housing, attracted skilled staff to the area. A nice survivor is Millfield, Brampton, a road of Festival-style staff housing. Emergency HQs rely on secure telephone cable and microwave communications. In nuclear war 95% of phones are cut off. Telephone switching exchanges were hardened and reconstructed underground such as the ‘ Guardian ’ exchange in central Manchester. Walk along George Street to glimpse part of the surface structures. In 1955 work began constructing the ‘Backbone ’ network of communication towers, linking London and the rest of the UK. Backbone avoids Manchester but it crosses to Quernmore, Lancs, from Hunters Stones, Yorkshire. One very visible local structure is Heaton Park microwave tower, part of the BT Microwave tower network originating from the BT Tower in London. This links with other towers. Some are concrete; others are functional steel pylons. One of the most conspicuous is London Road repeater station, Carlisle, built in 1964. The mast is 81 meters high. Matthew Hyde enthuses
It is quite thrilling to look at, a steel skeleton in diminishing tiers, each with a perimeter platform, and now festooned with dishes; a touch of Blackpool, a touch of oil rig.” Near Carlisle, at Anthorn, is the impressive MOD radio mast array erected in 1965. It ’s a giant circle of stayed radio masts transmitting very low frequency (VLF) communication to nuclear submarines. Hyde calls it “ oddly festive. ” Don’ t forget Jodrell Bank radio telescope. It first recorded Sputnik’s squawking pips announcing the USSR ’s mastery of space in 1956. What else did it observe? Not all Cold War designs were elementally severe. The V-bombers (Valiants, Victors and the delta-winged Vulcans), which were designed to deliver Mutually Assured Destruction and were continually alert for action, had a powerful elegance. There were no V-Force bases in the North West; the nearest was RAF Finningley. But Vulcans were tested at Avro ’s works at Woodford near Wilmslow. I remember, as a boy, lying in the warm grass gazing at the lumbering black triangle of a Vulcan flying overhead— straight out of an L Ashwell Wood drawing from the Eagle comic: thrillingly, terrifyingly sublime. The Cold War ended and the UKWMO was disbanded. You can now visit English Heritage ’s Cold War bunker at Acomb, York, a Group ROC HQ, much smaller than Langley Lane near Preston. East Germany, Poland and the Baltic States are in the EU. But the UK still has Trident nuclear weapons and that means structures. What ’s probably the biggest building in the North West? [Pub quizzers pay attention] The Devonshire Dock Hall, Barrowin-Furness was erected in 1985 to construct Trident submarines. It ’s an enormous shed with six vast crossroofs. There are giant folding doors at each end. A ship lift inside can move 24,000 tons. It is Big. What happens today if Manchester is nuked? Do you know? “
hose in the aesthetic know have long recognised that there is much more to Prague than the dreamlike castle rising above the Baroque and Rococo confections that jostle for tourists’ attention in the picturesque old town. Interwar Czechoslovakia gained a well-earned reputation for its modernist milieu, from which sprang the painting of František Kupka, the poetry of Vítězslav Nezval and design classics such as the Tatra T77 teardrop tourer. Freed from the shackles of the crumbling Hapsburg empire, architects too ensured that Modernist light flooded the atrium of the trade-fair palace, the bourgeois residences of the Villas Müller (Loos) and Tugendhat (Mies) and fuelled the urban utopianism of Tomáš Baťa’s «shiny phenomenon» in Zlin.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being Ignored — Benjamin Tallis
This thoroughly modern flourishing was tragically cut short by the British and French betrayal of ‘a faraway country’ at Munich, opening the door for Nazi annexation and occupation, ‘liberation’ by the Red Army and the subsequent slide into authoritarian communism. For many, the clipping of the First Republic’s youthful wings marked the end of the Czech modernist line, leaving behind an architectural high-water mark as a reminder of what could have been, of a time when concrete could be the stuff of dreams, rather than the material manifestation of a closing curtain-wall. The monuments to that golden youth are now regular highlights on tourist schedules, heavily featured in guidebooks and design magazines, promoted and maintained by city and state authorities. However, while such acclaim is richly deserved, the politics of material memory are never far from postcommunist surfaces. The focus on the First Republic has meant that many of Prague’s later modernist gems have been ignored, seemingly hidden in plain sight. Whereas Berlin is lauded for its TV Tower and Café Moskau and the former Soviet Union has seen its Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed to widespread acclaim by Frédéric Chaubin, Czech Brutalism has remained largely uncelebrated, mired in the brutal circumstances of its making. Mainly built after the crushing of the 1968 Prague Spring, Brutalist buildings have all too often become seen as the inhuman face of socialist ‘Normalisation.’ In Germany, there was a clear connection (and open competition) between building in the East and the West, reaffirming connection through false division and situating Brutalism as an architecture from within. This was not the case in Czechoslovakia where Brutalism was often equated with unwelcome outside interference and a time when the only
available international style was seen as a material indication of imprisonment, rather than the interwar proof of progressive, dynamic cosmopolitanism. Aesthetically and functionally however, the designs of Karel Prager, Vladimir and Vera Machonin and others, have stood the test of time and are starting to receive the local and international acclaim that they deserve. Much like the myth of the Czech ‘return to Europe’ post–89, Prague did not need to «return to the international architecture scene»1 after the cold war; it had always been there. This realisation has dawned as Czech brutalism not only takes its place in the international pantheon, but it increasingly stands out amidst the contemporary commercial banality. The former federal assembly building (Prager) at the top of Wenceslas Square has been fully refurbished to mark its highly symbolic transformation into part of the national museum and the Kotva department store (Machonin & Machoninova) is a reassuring presence opposite the recent and hideously Disneylike Palladium shopping centre. Hotels such as the Intercontinental and President downtown and the Praha and Pyramida further out have long catered
for the Modern traveller, while commercial buildings such as the Smíchov Komerční Banka and the Cube office complex show the range of brutal beauty in Prague. The re-appraisal of these previously neglected architectural jewels is part of a wider contestation of the totalising narrative of post-communist collective memory which sees the period from 1948–1989 as exclusively that of oppression and suffering, thus condemning the lived experience of millions of people to the garbage heap of history and constructing them in the present as victims and damaged goods. Damning the buildings of that time also helps cast people who live in them today as poor relations. These slights, born of the urge to forget, continue to reverberate in refurbished concrete estates, realised in a brutalist vernacular; from the low rise ‘Solidarity’ and sleek ‘Invalidovna,’ to the fleets of panel-buildings in D’ablice and Jižní Mesto, they are all too easily dismissed as mere communist blocks. In the increasing socio-economic Darwinism of a neoliberalising Europe, it is important to assert that just because you don’t live in a villa doesn’t mean that you don’t belong here.
Prague is often damned with faint praise: deliriously light entertainment for tourists passing between Europe’s sites of heavy, serious, real memory; a refuge from reality for introverted dreamers, trying to stay forever young, like the First Republic they idolise; in short, somewhere to visit, a nice place to play, a temporary refuge from the real business going on elsewhere. Perhaps the belated blooming of Czech brutalism and the recent (and bizarre) decision to re-build the Berliner StadtSchloss (in place of the Palast der Republik) mark a passing of the mnemonic baton, to Bohemia, where Prague is shedding its Berlin complex 2 and is demanding to be seen afresh, as a city in full. This is an urban landscape that runs the gamut of glamour and grit, a schwer site of work and memory, not only licht laughter and forgetting. References: 1 Prague, 20th Century Architecture, Hanzlova, Kohout, Srsnova, Slapeta, Ticha & Templ (Eds), Springer, 1999: p8 2 With respect to the sadly departed and already missed Václav Havel who wrote the concrete poem ‘The Brno Complex’ — «prague»
“ Everything here bespeaks incredible pressures, like those to which a submarine is submitted. ” 1
know the bunker-psyche of the tower block resident. The coruscating skies of a wetland climate seen through a triptych of uPVC council windows. It is a fortress, with a galvanising sense of embattlement. Since the late ’ 70s John Foxx has been sculpting soundscapes about technology, evolution and modernity; themes encapsulated in his 1980 LP Metamatic. Living on the seventh floor of a ’60s tower block on the shoulder of a roaring dual carriageway, the world of Metamatic makes a lot of sense to me. I have experienced for myself its crucial message—what seems at first functional and unfeeling will—if you are receptive—morph over time into something thrilling, enigmatic and beautiful. I hear, in Metamatic the hard, reciprocal echo of space and structure. Urban sites and symbols, angular geometries, functionality. Foxx describes plaza, esplanade, underpass, escalator, pylon. Uncertain relationships, dislocations; how the built environment de-and re-forms its inhabitants. The language is distilled, stripped to the essence of its purpose: Across the plaza / A giant hoarding of Italian cars / The highways curve in over reservoirs (“ Plaza.”) He ’s an angle / she ’s a tangent (“ He ’s a Liquid.” ) In the video for the single “Underpass ” unresolved encounters occur in the negative spaces beneath motorways. New behaviours germinate in formerly hostile environments. The motifs of glowing screen, lit geometric shapes and fluorescence appear like portents of modern life; the attraction-threat of man and technology merging. ‘ Meta-matics’ explores the design of machines that can themselves make art. A blocky appearance; functions exposed and externalised. Materials—concrete, brick, glass, steel, stone. Sculpturally honest and uncompromising. Integrating and protective. Utopian. Inexpensive. These are ‘Brutalist’ qualities/criticisms. Some consider, disapprovingly that Brutalism also “ disregards the context of its environment, instead appearing starkly out of place and alien. ” Furthermore, “ concrete façades do not age well in damp, cloudy climates such as those in North Western Europe… and become streaked with water stains… moss… lichens… and leaching rust.” 2 Journalist, psychiatrist and cultural commentator Theodore Dalrymple goes further. He hates its “ militant bareness.” To him, Brutalism is “ cold-hearted, inhuman,
monstrous.” It even represents “ spiritual, intellectual and moral deformity.” 3 I am thrilled by these qualities and ‘criticisms.’ I seek out these aesthetics in music, poetry, art, environment. How have I come to arrive in this mental landscape; how has it colonised me and me it? Brutalist sites and structures punctuate my personal history like forts along a wall; I have been re-formed by the environments of reservoir, tower block, motorway; compelled to invoke them in sounds, words, drawings, dreams. I am consoled by them, and gradually their stern forms have come to offer gateways to the hinterland of my imagination. The Audenshaw reservoir was a childhood and teenage site. I would slip through a fence to navigate the short slope to the summit. It was an abrupt prospect—as if once at the top, you might fall off into empty space. Partially true, what greeted the eye was a concrete beach; a bleak spaciousness across which the imagination could unfurl. I love/d this still, stark panorama, its tideless water, and spent a lot of time here, cordoned off from ordinary life. Adulthood brought with it the tower block and motorway, and made them personal totems. There is utility and belonging here. Magic transformation to be found in the alchemical concrete. Grotto-like spaces beneath the motorway house phantasms and passersby. There is a celebratory plaque; a door leading to an unseen enclosure below the flyover. Poetry in engineering language. Deck slab and cantilever. Sections longitudinal. Pre-stressing cables threaded through ducts. Hot-rolled asphalt. Concrete culvert. Sandstone bedrock, tapering rectangular. 4 I am invigorated to be both part of, and apart from, my surroundings. Lifted above superfluous detail to see a wider perspective from the ramparts of my concrete cube bolt-hole. I don’t want a suburban garden or ground floor connection. All tower blocks rise in sober triumph, un-elitist; they never exclude possibilities. Estranged to niceness, the pastoral and the soft, my psyche has been permeated by the bleak and stark; reformed to an aesthetic of severe beauty, because to me this has meaning and magic charge. An identity the totems of towerblock, reservoir and motorway have helped channel and realise. When I see sites of “ militant bareness,” my heart leaps, my imagination stirs and crackles. Brute territories are where I want to be. They offer enigmatic cues and clues to something inner; reflecting my own psyche back at me. They are “vast storehouses awaiting awakening…” 5 Have I been morally deformed...dehumanised? I don’t claim—or want—merely the positive or rational. Yes —perhaps—I have been brutalised.
Severe Beauty: Perspectives and Soundscapes Julie Campbell
References: 1 Bunker Archaeology by Paul Virilio, Princeton Architectural Press, 1994 2 Wikipedia entry, Brutalist Architecture 3 The Architect as Totalitarian by Theodore Dalrymple, City Journal, Autumn 2009 4 A Guide to Civil Engineering in Manchester, Mancunian Way A57(M). http://www.mace.manchester.ac.uk/ undergraduate/whymace/civil/trail/ xml/Features/mancunianway.html 5 The Situationists and the City: A Reader, edited by Tom McDonough, Verso Press
Julie Campbell is currently a Warp Records recording artist under the name LoneLady. She lives and works in Manchester, has published poetry and completed a fine art degree. John Foxx is a London-based artist/ musician working primarily with drum machines and synthesisers, whose practice also incorporates short film, photography and installation.
oy Fisher’s City, published in 1962, is a poem at once expansive and juddery, at once bruised and furiously ruthless. The urban shudders and reconstructions that the piece traverses are introduced so: On one of the steep slopes that rise towards the centre of the city all the buildings have been destroyed within the past year: a whole district of the tall narrow houses that spilled out from what were a hundred years ago outlying factories has gone. The streets remain, among the rough quadrilaterals of brick rubble, veering awkwardly towards one another through nothing; at night their rounded surfaces still shine under the irregularly-set gaslamps, and tonight they dully reflect also the yellowish flare, diffused and baleful, that hangs in the clouds a few hundred feet above the city ’s invisible heart. The ‘half-built towers’ that stud the ‘ bombed city ’ are themselves structures threatened by the ‘perfections of tomorrow; ’ their mouths momentarily gape open as if stunned, but they, too, will soon be ‘ stoppered.’ In a city assembled from ‘ soot, sunlight, brick-dust; and the breath that tastes of them,’ it is easy enough to ‘ lie women in your bed / With glass and mortar in their hair,’ but whether their trashy tiaras are made from the detritus left by wartime shelling, or by machines sent in by developers, or by slums that have begun to blister and shed themselves of their own accord, it is difficult to tell. If the poem ’ s speaker is worried about becoming a ‘cemetery of performance,’ then so too is the city he speaks of. ‘There is,’ the poem spits, ‘no mind in it, no regard. […] Most of it has never been seen.’ The ‘ invisible heart’ of this unseen, unthinking City is in fact the ‘Heart of England:’ the Industrial Revolution’s vital organ and Fisher ’s own place of birth. Birmingham’s industriousness, in other words, is Fisher’s generative material, and Birmingham ’s industry has clearly had massive implications for its urban form as well. In the cityscape that came into being in the early nineteenth century, and which persisted into the 1960s, small manufactories and workshops rasped and sweated in structures indistinguishable from abodes. In the early twentieth century, big industries such as car building generated far larger factories and line after line of tunnel-back terraces. The city ’s embrace of the opportunities for slum clearance and municipal redevelopment facilitated both by successive Town Planning Acts and the devastations of WW2 resulted in a cityscape actively and drastically altered: flats and houses equipped with toilets and running water superseded the spawning clusters of back-to-backs; zooming bypasses and ring roads built for automobiles sent pedestrians underground, and sometimes up and over. The tangle of motorway interchanges that is Spaghetti Junction is the location most deserving of Birmingham ’s popular assignation as a concrete jungle. In combination, these transformations
have earned Fisher ’s unthinking city a reputation that is unthinkingly reeled out repeatedly. Birmingham is ugly. Birmingham is brutal. The city ’s current authorities appear to agree. The general disdain towards Birmingham’s ‘ugliness,’ its concrete brutality, is often implicitly participated in by the city itself. True to its motto of ‘ Forward,’ adopted following incorporation in 1838, Birmingham is once more in the business of demolition and redevelopment. The building that currently best epitomises this process is Birmingham Central Library, an inverted ziggurat designed by the Birmingham-born architect John Madin,1 who died in January 2012. It opened, as the largest library in Europe at the time, in 1974. Initially conceived of as part of an ambitious but ultimately unrealised civic complex, the structure has since accumulated its own detritus. Located in a core area of the city called ‘ Paradise Circus,’ the library ’s once open-air interior atrium—a feature that allowed the reading rooms to be illuminated with natural light—has been boxed in and stoppered with fast-food counters and shops. The view of the ziggurat formation from the adjacent plaza, Centenary Square, has been strangled by a nearby hotel, whilst signs and hoardings infest a pre-stressed concrete façade that was once assuredly unornamented. Despite being the UK’s second most visited library in 2010–2011, the building now is, the authorities claim, unfit for its contemporary purpose; a new facility is in construction nearby. The Central Library itself seems fated to be expelled from paradise. The city ’s resolve to erase a building so unabashedly Brutalist in architectural style is without doubt tangled up with Birmingham ’s industrial legacy and its ongoing negotiation with its designation as ‘ugly.’ In Fisher ’s City, ‘ the straight white blocks and concrete roadways’ already built by the 1960s are ‘ a fairground, a clear dream just before walking ’ and even ‘ a little ingratiating.’ It is, by contrast, the older cityscape of ‘ workhouses and […] hospitals, the thick-walled abattoir, the long-vaulted market halls, the striding canal-bridges and railway viaducts’ that is seen to amount to ‘an arrogant ponderous architecture’ — one that ‘dwarfed and terrified the people by its sheer size’ and ‘ functional brutality.’ Brutality, City teaches us, is to be found in the chasm between a building’s aesthetic attitude and its social corollary and context. Brutalism is something different: a response, an enunciation, a revolution of existing conditions. In terms of its provision of public space, facilities and possibility, Madin’s building was a pioneer. In Fisher ’s 1960s poem, Birmingham’s ‘ towering and stony,’ ‘great station’ —Curzon Street Station, possibly—has become a ‘goods depot with most of its doors barred,’ but its ghost remains: ‘They are too afraid of it to pull it down.’ In 2012, the authorities are all too eager to disassemble Birmingham’s ‘ functional brutality ’—a brutality they mistakenly locate not in ‘ workhouses’ and ‘ thick-walled abattoirs,’ but instead in a Brutalist library.
Reference: 1 Book review of John Madin by Alan Clowley, RIBA Publishing, features in « the modernist » issue 2 Roy Fisher ’s City (1962) is collected in Poems 1955–1980 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980)
Honor Gavin is a writer, musician, and founding member of When We Build Again a collective who take their name from an influential piece of research into housing issues and conditions in Birmingham in the late 1930s. www.whenwebuildagain.com Photograph of Paradise Circus, Phyllis Nicklin, 1969
Concrete Paradise Honor Gavin
ust behind Chorlton Street bus station on Richmond Street, sits an unprepossessing, derelict building with a most significant place in Manchester ’s 20th century architectural history—as possibly the earliest surviving completely concrete building in the city centre dating, thanks to a date stone (cast in concrete obviously) at the apex of the building, from 1911. Concrete is nothing new. The Romans used it to great effect but it fell from grace alongside the collapse of the empire, and only in the 17th or 18th centuries, with examples in France, Finland and Britain all laying claim to being the first post Roman usage, did it revive as a building material. It has one inherent flaw—and watch out, here comes some science!—despite its excellence in compression, supporting great weights in a solid block, it is liable to crack in slender structures. Steel on the other hand is weak in compression but strong in tension. Combine the two, as Frenchman Joseph Monier did in 1849, and you have almost the perfect building material, one that can in theory be moulded into an infinite range of forms and shapes. François Hennibique perfected the technique in 1892 and exported the license to use around the world, picked up in Britain by L G Mouchel, who promptly set about reshaping our buildings, most famously the Royal Liver Building in Liverpool, its structural frame constructed out of reinforced concrete. Meanwhile, in Manchester, the architects of the YMCA building on Peter Street used a similar system developed by the American architect and engineer Albert Kahn, which, like the Royal Liver Building, is merely a concrete frame clad in more traditional materials. At Richmond Street, the building ’s exterior is concrete, making a strong case for declaring it Manchester ’s earliest surviving Brutalist building. Yet for the next fifty years concrete was rarely used as an aesthetic outer treatment, instead relegated to construction material, favoured in utilitarian and industrial buildings. Manchester City Football Club had concrete terraces built by Mouchel, and the huge concrete Grain Elevator 2, built in 1915 at Salford Docks at Dock 9, proved so resilient that when demolition contractors tried to demolish it in 1983, it refused to fall and lay at a precarious angle for months. Wythenshawe Bus Garage, built in 1939, is another excellent example of pioneering concrete construction. Its daring reinforced concrete barrel roof, now recognised by a Grade II listing, creates a huge span of 165ft predating the perhaps more famous Stockwell bus garage in London. The immediate post war period saw what little construction there was maintain a pre war palette of materials—Peter House (1958) is clad in Portland stone, typical of the well mannered almost Classical type of modernism that prevailed in the 1950s—but shortages of timber, steel and brick inevitably helped push concrete from being a rather mundane, if useful, material into becoming an architectural statement in its own right. Manchester ’s City
Liquid Stone: Innovations and Artistry in Concrete Eddy Rhead
Photographs of Highland House by Jan Chlebik
Architect, L C Howitt, began to push the boundaries of both the materials used and the form of some of the city ’s more prominent buildings. Just one year after Peter House, the Toast Rack, designed for the Hollings College, appeared in Fallowfield. Like many of his contemporaries Howitt was beginning to use concrete in a bold and radical new way, with the soaring parabolic arches that give Hollings its unique shape, speaking a whole new architectural language, whilst advertising on a huge scale concrete ’s unique qualities. This golden age boasts numerous examples of innovative concrete technology, with Manchester based architects Leach, Rhodes and Walker at the forefront. Highland House on Victoria Bridge Street (now Premier Inn) used pre cast concrete panels, built off site and attached to a concrete frame. Supposedly the first time a tower crane had been used in the city, its appearance caused quite a stir. Even more radical, at Manchester House on Bridge Street, concrete floor plates were cast on top of each other in situ, and then jacked up into their eventual positions. Ahead of its time and prohibitively costly, it was to be decades until this process re-emerged, facilitating the global construction of very tall skyscrapers. Meanwhile architects and artists were testing its versatility and malleability to create sculptural forms within the architecture itself or as stand alone works, such as the gable end of City Tower at Piccadilly Plaza, said to acknowledge Manchester ’s history in computing and representing electronic circuitry, giving relief and texture to what otherwise would have been a plain, flat wall. Likewise the concrete gable of the Humanities Building at the University of Manchester has a pattern designed by the sculptor William Mitchell (see «the modernist» issue 2). Concrete also makes a strong architectural and artistic statement at the wall running along London Road which delineates the UMIST campus. Designed by the artist Anthony Hollaway, it uses the material’s robustness and subtly to create a functional yet intrinsically sculptural structure. More a passionate fling than a full on affair, this interlude soon waned, and as the spectre of Post Modernism reared its head, concrete returned to its former role —as a ubiquitous but functional and largely hidden material. Recently Manchester boldly attempted to rekindle that old flame when the Japanese architect Tadao Ando was given the job of remodelling Piccadilly Gardens. Renowned for his minimal, beautiful, and invariably raw concrete structures, Ando leaves the impressions of the form work (the ‘moulds’ that the concrete is poured into to create the structure) intact, a ‘signature ’ style designed to showcase the material whilst simultaneously celebrating its construction method. Such has been the controversy and criticism of the resulting pavilion it is clear that the British public is still not ready to embrace concrete, and so it shall again remain hidden away—holding our buildings up whilst quietly and bashfully being beautiful.
Police Brutality — Richard Brook
nder the guidance of Roger Booth, the Lancashire County Architect’s Department had a golden era between his appointment in 1962 and the structural upheaval following the Local Government Act (1972) and its implementation in April 1974. Before this restructuring the county incorporated the cities of Manchester and Liverpool and, whilst the major cities took care of municipal works within their boundaries, all of the outlying boroughs of Greater Manchester and Merseyside were under the jurisdiction of County Hall. Booth was the longest serving of any County Architect and his tenure ran until 1983. He began his career in private practice in Kensington in 1949 and entered local government in 1952. The scale and breadth of the department’s workload was phenomenal. Health centres, schools, colleges, libraries, fire stations, housing and archives all formed part of the portfolio, in places as far apart as Ulverston and Widnes. The department also included a research and development group involved in experimenting in new construction techniques. In the context of the provision of buildings for the same purpose in many different locations, the logic of systemised building was inescapable. The national history of these systems is well recorded, particularly in school and university construction; the Consortium of Local Authorities Special Programme (CLASP) was founded in 1957 at the instigation of the then Ministry of Education for the purpose of improving the construction and delivery of schools. In Lancashire as well as buildings in the education sector, the department examined branch libraries, old person’s accommodation and, most
notably, police stations as having the potential to be standardised and formed from component systems. The Lancashire school building system was known as GRID, this and the other systems developed in brick, timber and concrete were touted as the ‘first and only serious industrialised building systems north of Nottingham.’ Before the advent of explicit systems in Lancashire, it had become common practice to re-use already rationalised details and building systems. The last bespoke police station to be designed was Chorley (1968), accompanied by a magistrate’s court; this station building was almost replicated at Bury (though Bury also had a nuclear bunker and shooting range in the sub-basement!) and the court informed a very similar construction in Leyland. Eventually, police stations in Skelmersdale, Morecambe, St. Helens, Preston, Blackpool and Wigan were all constructed from the same system, developed by the R&D group in collaboration with a local manufacturer. In the initial stages the buildings were conceived as a kit of parts, the assembly of which would be specific to the particular site. The ‘Elemental Design Components’ consisted of operations wing, cell wing, basic ground floor, upper floor plates, service cores and chimneys. In the 1966–67 County Architects Report various configurations of these elements were presented as models to demonstrate the flexibility of the system. As the construction system was developed the idea of complete standardisation from the first floor upward was considered. This would permit the ground floor to behave as the site and programme
Photograph courtesy of Richard Brook
Police Brutality — Richard Brook
conditions dictated. Before any stations were built four of the textured concrete panels that would come to form the fortified monoliths were assembled in the playing fields of a school in Accrington, which was under construction as the R&D group were at work. This prototype remains in place to this day and had a roof and door applied to act as a shed, referred to in the 1971–73 review of the department’s work as ‘surely the most expensive groundsman’s store ever constructed!’ The intent was to develop a load bearing concrete panel that would transfer its own deadload externally through the façade. The ‘windows’ were conceived as slots to provide vistas, not light, in an attempt to free the internal planning. The advantages were discussed in terms of this flexibility, the constancy of the internal environmental conditions, reduced maintenance and the exclusion of noise and dust. Reports indicate that the lack of daylight did not seem to be of concern to the architects at the time. The system was labelled the ‘Heavy Concrete Method’ and was suitable for buildings of three to seven storeys. The first of the stations to be constructed was Morecambe, followed by Preston and St. Helens. Blackpool is perhaps the most dramatic of the group —the high level plazas, now devoid of anything remotely green, have a dystopian atmosphere. In a Buchanan Report meets Logan’s Run landscape of chamfered and diagonal hard surfacing, a series of squares link the police station and magistrate’s court. The court building itself is by respected local firm Tom Mellor & Partners and has a low slung horizontality that contrasts against the keep like
monolith of the station office tower. This is not the first time terminology usually reserved for the description of castles has been levelled at the stations, apparently the question are the police to be ‘issued with bows and arrows?’ was not uncommon. From today’s perspective it is easy to see how these structures can be perceived as authoritarian and following tumultuous events in recent history this is not an image that the modern police force necessarily wishes to project. The intent of the architects at the time, quite contrarily, was to allow the ground floor to seamlessly integrate with well-designed public space and for the solid upper elements to make positive contributions to the townscape within which they were set. The stations are being slowly replaced with new facilities; the buildings in Preston and Wigan no longer house the police. In many respects these schemes would have sat comfortably in the minimal canon of the early 1990s and the term ‘monolithic architecture’ readily applied. Arguably before their time in aesthetic, yet not necessarily ‘progressive’ in their use of system building components, there is a clear sense that these schemes could not have existed outside of the very specific conditions in which they were formed. The post-war period, Booth himself, the experimental and well-funded department and the associations between local government and the emergency services all had their bearing on ‘police brutality.’ Previous page: Police Station, Blackpool Opposite page (top to bottom): Experimental panels, Accrington / Police Station, Wigan / Police Station, Morecambe
Photographs / Illustration courtesy of Richard Brook
Holidays in Utopia
Chaque jour est identique, et chaque jour différent. Quand on regarde dehors, spécialement à la tombée de la nuit, l ’écran total explose en mille fragments—fenêtres éclairées comme autant de vies anonymes. Nos projections sont infinies; elles reflètent les histoires privées de ceux que l ’on ne croisera jamais en bas. Au milieu de sols suspendus aux bruits intenses, le ballon vert brillant monte et descend. La ville doit être regardée, avant tout les tours. Elles sont regardées et positionnées en permanence par la tour métallique et nue de notre imaginaire. J ’étais entre-deux quand la femme du 23ème étage m ’ a dit que l ’hiver arrivait finalement sur sa terre. Bonne soirée, Madame, j ’ai répondu.
Words: Hannah Darabi and Benoit Grimbert Photographs: Adam Murray
hy is Brutalism in England so reviled? Perhaps growing up in Australia helped me to appreciate it. Under the close Australian sunlight the roughly textured béton brut concrete tends to gleam translucent, flattening into stark geometric planes which reveal themselves in harsh light and shadow, even as they seem to grow out of the landscape. One of the most accomplished examples of Australian Brutalism is the University of Technology’s Ku-ring-gai campus on the outskirts of Sydney, designed by David Don Turner and Bruce Mackenzie, a building complex whose primal, futuristic concrete geometries rise up out of the bluegums like spaceships; ancient temples rediscovered in the bush. In Britain however, Brutalist architecture takes on a more sinister tone, as this same concrete looms dark and heavy under grey skies. I am here reminded of the importance of light to architecture and how it can transform a building completely, both inside and out; for under the layered, leaden light of the northern hemisphere, the effects of Brutalism seem so different to those formed under the direct, immediate Australian sun.
The Old-New Brutalism: London and Sydney — Emma Jones
In Australia, Brutalism was the style of choice for many of the important institutional buildings of the 1960s and ’70s, including the university campus where, for five years, I was instructed in architecture. But in Britain, the Brutalist style of building was deployed to satisfy the urgent demand for cost effective post-war housing on a mass scale. It was also, as Banham1 noted, frequently associated with socialist utopian ideals, and dreams of collective living (most notably by the British architects Alison and Peter Smithson), and because of its attachment to utopian thinking, seemed doomed to disappoint from the start. Australian Brutalism never suffered this fate, and seems, like most Australian architectural movements, to have escaped the justification of its own existence by the imposition of a strained and often arbitrary theoretical discourse. Nevertheless, in Australia as well as in England, Brutalism’s aesthetic bad name is largely undeserved. There is no doubt that it is a style out of current favour, and this isn’t helped by the signature use of unrendered concrete, which has an inevitable tendency to weather quickly—giving a characteristic appearance of accelerated dilapidation and an abject visual poverty. In a city and a society where the signs of ageing are equated with declining moral standards, there is no doubt that Brutalist housing estates have been slugged with the blame for London’s social problems, as politicians scramble to point the finger at scapegoats.
The Smithson’s Robin Hood Gardens, a housing estate in east London’s Poplar, is one such grand Brutalist experiment to suffer the full force of said political wrath. Conceived of by the Smithsons as a grand socialist experiment in forging a new community, it is now widely regarded to be a colossal failure in this regard (let us not forget Alison Smithson’s unfortunate comment that Robin Hood Gardens had not been a success only because they hadn’t «got the right people» to live in it). Plagued by social ills since it was first constructed, Robin Hood Gardens is finally to be torn down and replaced with a new mixed use development spearheaded by the local council: the 214 current council flats will be replaced with a staggering 1,700 new flats over the same area of land. And so, in a move repeated throughout the history of city planning, politicians will again assume that it is not the policies they enact or the laws they pass that are to blame for society’s dysfunctions, but simply architecture. Furthermore, in a self-contradictory leap of reasoning, they will also assume that as much as architecture seems to be the cause of the breakdown of communities, it must also be pegged as their salvation. Then, by way of an attempted solution, an old development will be torn down; a shiny new one erected, and the far-reaching roots of the city’s social problems swept perfidiously under the carpet. There are of course many problems with Robin Hood Gardens, though it must be said—and the majority of residents that have spoken to the media seem to agree—that these problems stem more from a lack of maintenance than any intrinsic fault of the design itself. Buildings must be maintained—services must be replaced, concrete must be cleaned, façades must be repaired, windows must be refitted, interiors must be updated. This all costs money, and the longer any building goes without ongoing maintenance, the more expensive that maintenance becomes. The quality of a building can often be determined by how it weathers, and it seems to me that Robin Hood Gardens has, for all its neglect, stood up remarkably well in this regard. The Smithsons may not have been verbally tactful architects, but they certainly knew how to build a building to last, and to endow it with a quiet dignity and a subtle beauty that is far from brutal—despite its sheer bulk and heavy mass. In fact, it is the combination of a heroic overall scale with the deployment of delicate proportions in the detail that strikes me as one of Robin Hood Gardens’ great successes. The façades of the two rectangular ship-like forms that hug the curves of the grassy,
treeless hill at the centre of the site are remarkably complex in their formal articulation, and speak of an organisation of well laid-out apartments behind their concrete skins. The sky is mostly grey the day I visit Robin Hood Gardens, but later in the afternoon the sun does come out briefly. When it hits the concrete, the rays play off the nuances of depth built into the façades, laying down a patterned rhythm of shadow and light on the weathered panels. Strangely I can at this moment almost fancy that I am back in Sydney, a city that is, now that I no longer live there, composed architecturally in my mind almost exclusively of flashes of sun and the tactility of rough hewn, hot concrete. Reference: 1 The New Brutalism: Ethic or Aesthetic, Reyner Banham, Documents of modern architecture series, 1966
Emma Jones grew up in Sydney, Australia. A graduate of Sydney University and the Architectural Association, she now practices, teaches and writes about architecture in London.
he North East has an unexpected relationship with all things brutal. Its landscapes have inspired such distopic images as Ridley Scott ’s apocalyptic Blade Runner and the bleak, grainy photography of Don McCullin. Even James Stirling once referred to the industrial wastelands as the landscape of ‘satanic slag heaps.’ In the industrial boom of the post-war decades, architecture found a language that responded directly to the inhuman, mechanised prospect of the region’s burgeoning steel works and petrochemical enterprises. It was an architecture that responded with integrity to the chastened social wants of the industrial towns and mining villages, to the callousness of the steely grey skies, chimneys and sea. Redcar library was an exemplary building of this kind. Tucked away from the noise of the sea-front arcades and fish and chip shops, the library exemplified the changing attitudes of the time towards learning, culture and education. Redcar led the way for new public buildings of this kind, moving away from the elitism and civic pomp of previous generations, and introducing social aspects like coffee shops, exhibition spaces and children ’s play areas into the library building.
“The library should never be considered as a monument or as a cultural retreat; but a source of pleasure, recreation, information and learning; readily available to all.”
David Roessler, AJ The space was laid out as a large, flexible public space, recognisable as a library only by the shelves of books, the building itself a single storey mass of folded iron roofs, formed by castellated steel beams that spanned the entire width of the interior. The portal frame was an integral feature specified by the council to allow the building to be flexible —it was part of the long term ambition for the library in its changing social and cultural role. The deep industrial-sized steel beams were contrasted against warm, soft materials like the burnt orange carpet that ran throughout. Redcar library extolled the virtues of civic buildings playing a vital cultural role in public life, a reflection of the egalitarian ideals and social ambitions of the town and a symbol of where Redcar wanted to be in the late 1960s. More than that, it was an example of a sort of modernist
Brutal Disregard Redcar Library
Reference: 1 Paul Finch
vernacular—a kind of Brutalist architecture that grew out of its place. The folds and creases of the library roof ripple like the steely North Sea waves. The brazen exposure of its steely construction was a warts-and-all declaration of where this building stood; at the centre of a small seaside town in the shadow of Europe ’s largest steel manufacturing plant; ‘ a hymn to steel.’ 1 In 2011, Redcar and Cleveland council announced the ‘ Redcar Civic and Leisure Quarter.’ It would see the demolition of the 40 year old library and its replacement with a cluster of new quasi-public buildings; a sports centre, new civic centre and a replacement for the library building. The 1960s library at this time was only just reaching maturity and like all buildings of that era, it was beginning to show signs of its age. Its fabric was leaky; the roof, built as it was, entirely from steel and glass, acted as a vast cold bridge. The sea spray had stained the gnarly steel work with rust like all seafront buildings in the town. But the steel roof was the defining character of the building. The trusses enabled its open plan interior, modelled more on the social hub of an agora than the solitariness of the traditional library building. The construction in steel reflected the pride of the town council, eager to exhibit local manufacture. It is an expression, even an extension of the context in which it is bound. And as it approached ‘middle-age,’ its signs of weather and wear became emblematic of the battles fought over the previous decades, the political, social and economic hardships that had beset the town. The announcement to demolish the building came at the end of a year that saw the steelworks slowly and definitively closed down; the largest blast furnace in Europe stood cold on the town’s horizon. The demolition of the library was pitched politically as a regenerative boost to the town’s economy; the creation of jobs and employment prioritised over the retention of Redcar ’s recent architectural heritage. The steel frame would be dismantled, synchronised with the decommissioning of the neighbouring steel works, the town ’s former identity slowly and painfully cleared for rebuilding. Towards the end of last year the steel works were suddenly bought up; their fate re-written. The blast furnaces started up again. The library though was already condemned. Political will had forced through its demolition to make way for Redcar ’s new era and new service oriented identity. For all that it might have looked gnarly, weatherbeaten, brutal even, the library reflected an inimitable sensitivity to place. It symbolised an era of ambition and idealism, and exemplified, even celebrated, the steelworks that were, and continue to be, the lifeblood of the region. In the moment prior to its demolition, it stood as a monument to the bittersweet history of the town and its demonic neighbour. Now demolished, the library’s vacant site sits as a guilty reminder of its brutal disregard.
Book Review #1 — Brutalist Speculations and Flights of Fancy
Six Brutalist buildings: Oaks Water Tower, Moore Street Substation, Holy Cross Church, Castle Market, Psalter Lane Art College and Park Hill — These Sheffield monoliths are at the centre of Julie Westerman’s project, in which 25 artists and writers were invited to speculate on the buildings’ positions both present and future. The result is a collection of images and texts, each laid out on a double-page spread, which propose alternative futures, locations, amalgamations and arrangements of these buildings. The book, from the off, seems to place itself outside of the usual ‘art-publication’ remit; these contributions are not to be ignored. Asserting the power of art, the project is put forward, both in terms of its language and in its design, as a document to be considered carefully. Sheffield-based design team Kiosk have created the feel of a government (or developers) document; the blue-on-blue printing obviously infers the notion of ‘the blueprint,’ the text is laid out in blocky architectural forms, and even the finishing details of loop stitching on the spine suggest that this is something to be placed in an official binder and acted upon. Disappointingly then, not all of the works contained within this proposal reflect this feeling of urgency. I say disappointingly because the publication was accompanied by a symposium held at Site Gallery back in September 2011 which I was unable to attend but I am told by those who were lucky enough to be there that the discussions which took place around the artworks were informative, exciting and, often, intense. — Perhaps this is something which is lost when artworks are committed to this particular type of print—«the modernist» knows all too well that single colour print can be tricky when it comes to representing images, particularly artworks. This is more problematic when works are presented ‘raw,’ one immediately questions if this is in fact how the works were conceived and how they now exist. It is not necessarily that the reader/viewer requires explanation of each and every work but perhaps if access to documentation of the symposium event
Brutalist Speculations and Flights of Fancy, pubished by Site Gallery ( 2011), priced £7.00
was made available then the reader may be able to experience the levels and layers of stimulating dialogue which the book deserves. — Perhaps because I am currently reading Anna Minton’s blood-pressure-raising Ground Control which explores regeneration and urban planning strategies in the UK, I instantly identified with the themes raised in artworks by Jaspar Joseph-Lester and Valentin Hertweck and essays by Owen Hatherley and Jane Rendell. JosephLester’s work is described in the introduction as being representative of a ‘futuristic cityscape’ with its slick collection of regeneration-led icons all competing for attention: inevitably this image conjures up the present reality of many urban centres, with public spaces snatched up for private retail and «experience architecture.» Hatherley and Rendell take up this theme in their essays on the renovation and redevelopment of Park Hill. Bought for £1 by Urban Splash and currently being converted into the usual combination of offices, retail and leisure spaces and apartments, it is ultimately not destined to act as the functioning community of public housing it aspired to be and once was. — I grew up in the ’90s; my love for Brutalist architecture is not based upon a sense of nostalgia for modern ruins but one of anxious optimism—that this kind of architecture was actually built and, as Hatherley explains, at a time when Sheffield’s waiting list for council housing is currently at almost one in ten of the city’s population perhaps its ‘socialist past— rather than being patronised as…a beautiful and doomed mistake—is something we can learn from, something we can build on.’ — Emily Gee Emily Gee is an independent writer and curator based in Liverpool.
Book Review #2 — Brutalism Post-War British Architecture
As a practicing architect, reviewing a book was a daunting task. Offering opinions is something architects are very, very comfortable with, but setting them in type is a very different matter. — The author’s motivation for the book puzzled me; a well constructed text but the breathless speed with which the modern movement was covered in the introduction suggests a lightweight work. This is not an in-depth academic piece, it covers a huge spectrum, but the specific and challenging approach suggests a good understanding of the subject of Brutalist Architecture. Having said that, there are hidden gems that were new to me, for example Richard Sheppard’s Chapel at Churchill College, and this takes the book beyond a mere beginners guide. — The structure of the book is clear, with six building typologies: Civic, Educational, Commercial, Leisure and Entertainment, Housing and Church Buildings. The sections have interesting examples and the author is not afraid to be critical of some aspects of Brutalism, especially when dealing with housing. I thought the highlighted sections on particular architects were very useful and I found myself flitting around, reading the short bio and then re-reading the building descriptions. — At some 150 pages the work is well illustrated with photographs, which are in the main well suited to the subject. There are however occasions where the author is talking about a building at length with no illustrations. One improvement might have been the inclusion of original drawings and construction photographs to help develop the book from becoming nearly a catalogue and giving the reader more depth to the subject. — What is good about the book is the way the description of the buildings allows the reader to see beyond the misconceived notions about brutalist architecture with its limited terms of reference, based mainly on its external appearance, and understand what is beyond the façade. For example the de-coding of
Brutalism Post-War British Architecture by Alexander Clement is published by The Crowood Press, priced £19.95
‘Denys Lasdun’s Charles Wilson Building in Leicester allows the reader to see beyond pictorial prejudices, and arrive at a better understanding of the building. Current architectural debate appears to be fixated with the veneer of envelope and façade, the wrapping of banal floor spaces to appease visually illiterate planning authorities and greedy developers. — What is sad about the book is it clearly describes an era when architects had a vision about buildings and the society they were constructed to serve. Unfortunately we now live in a new era of brutalist economics and enslaved architecture, where value engineering, cost certainty and procurement strategy have replaced the higher aspirations of the work described in this book. — Reading this book makes me wonder what an author in 40 years time will be writing about. Will our current predicament with Cameron and Osborne and their «we are all in it together» approach manage to produce any social enlightened architecture?…I fear not. — David Britch David Britch is a practicing architect living and working in Salford and an associate lecturer at Sheffield University School of Architecture.
Accrington ’s Elephant House — Christopher R Marsden
Prologue Accrington is a Lancashire town noted for its hard building bricks used in the construction of the Empire State Building, famous for its football team, and culturally for the town’s art gallery having a large collection of Tiffany glass. It also, briefly, had the chance to be known for the brilliance of its late twentieth century architecture. In 1968 Accrington Corporation got county council planning consent for a public convenience on the edge of the town’s Broadway car park. It was to be the only building in the area. Borough Architect Raymond T. Duckworth (b.1926) had a hankering for something monumental to rise above the mess of cars. Having seen Sir Hugh Casson’s 1965 Elephant and Rhino Pavilion at London Zoo, (listed grade II* in 1998) he was inspired to take the masonry arc back to Accrington where he executed the design in brick. The plan of the convenience was devised by cutting a disc in half, sliding the cut surfaces together to give two arcs with a short flat edge on either side, leading the Accrington Observer to enthuse «Accrington could well be one of the first places
to attempt this bold solution of an old problem by making a virtue out of a necessity, making use of contemporary architecture.» To allow brick to make a smooth turn, Duckworth selected soldier bricks (bricks on end with the narrow ‘stretcher’ faces showing) letting the mortar between the verticals accommodate the change in angle with each joint. He knew what he was doing; his RIBA thesis was on the history of brickwork in Great Britain. The result, a ‘remarkable public toilet’ as the Civic Trust for the North West described it, opened in 1970, incorporating dark blue soldiers, timber window frames and an aluminium roof with trimmed parapet. It cost £6,000. Epilogue By 2002, the toilet had been demolished to allow the building of a new shopping centre. Today the town is arguing about closing some mundane public toilets and boasts of its repro Victorian market. Hyndburn’s motto is ‘The place to be.’
M A N C H E S TE R MUNICI PA L DESIGN CORP O R ATIO N ] a socially and environmentally focused multi-d ] ciplinary org an ] ation that pursues ong oing collaborations with an ever-expanding network of like minds. The fruits of these involve publications— LIK E TH E O N E YOU HOLD IN YOU R H A N DS —provocations, events, thinkin g , talks, exhibitions and interventions. M M D C aims to create a g enerali S pool of knowledg e throug h the sharing of p ecial ] ms. It currently operates out of the 4 TH F LOO R of HOTSPU R HOUSE in central Manchester. I N F O @ M M DC . O RG . U K W W W . M M DC . O RG . U K T WIT TE R :
So we did it. In four issues, thanks to the ingenuity of our army of contributors and co-conspirators, plus the generosity of our esteemed guest foreworders in bringing a whiff of glamour, passion and critical bite to the entire endeavour, «the modernist» has not merely survived, it’s thrived. We’ve been on a world tour with ARCHIZINES and we’re stocked in shops from Salford to Stockholm. Flushed with success, we conclude our inaugural quartet with the theme we never dared open with. Brutalism, monumental, maligned, misunderstood, never fails to raise hackles yet best epitomises the landscape and legacy of post war and contemporary Britain. We think it’s the best edition yet, bursting with passion, humour and heartbreak, punctuated with an indignant, poetic sensibility; Brutalism, in its egalitarian aspirations and democratic inclinations, reflects the best of what we wanted to be. All the more poignant then, to read Elain Harwood warning that, «was Brutalism ever as truly fashionable as now, in its moment of destruction?» PS—if you enjoyed «the modernist,» issue 5 is just around the corner—subscribe, submit an article, write a review, get in touch. www.the-modernist-mag.co.uk Twitter: @modernistmag