SAVING OUR 20TH CENTURY HERITAGE
We need to open our eyes to the fascinating diversity of 20th century building styles in the UK explains Catherine Croft, Director of the Twentieth Century Society, or we risk losing them forever.
Opinions of 20th architecture are often divided: the century saw a huge range in building styles and construction, and buildings such as neo-Tudor semis, the National Theatre and Milton Keynes Shopping Centre inspire passionate support from some and baffled dislike among others. Last year, when the Twentieth Century (C20) Society – which campaigns nationally to protect buildings from 1914 onwards – wanted to mark the centenary of the period under its remit, members and supporters were invited to nominate a building for each year from 1914 to 2013, to celebrate this very diversity of views and buildings. The final selection, 100 Buildings, 100 Years, was featured as an online gallery, a book and an exhibition at the Royal Academy.
A former C20 chairman nominated Battersea Power Station (1933) by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the architect of Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. Its four massive chimneys and finely-detailed jazz-modern brickwork have survived, thanks to a long-running campaign by the Society, despite current construction work which is sadly surrounding it with dense new development.
The loss of Sir Edwin Cooper’s classical Lloyd’s building in the City of London was one of the Society’s founding cases, yet subsequently the organisation called for the listing of its 1986 replacement by Richard Rogers. This High Tech masterpiece was nominated by C20 member Nicholas Aleksander. He compares the way it stood out on the London skyline to the way that Wren’s spires must have done after the rebuilding of London following the Great Fire.
The whimsical House in the Clouds in Thorpeness, Suffolk, dubbed a ‘monstrous pigeoncote’ by the Sunday Referee when it was built, started life as a water tower and has become a symbol of this seaside holiday village. The war years include D Block at Bletchley, the beautifully decorated Italian Chapel at Lamb Holm in the Orkneys, and Waterloo Bridge, referred to as the Ladies Bridge, as so many women worked on it.
Owen Hatherley, passionate current advocate of socialist architecture, wrote in praise of Wyndham Court in his native Southampton, a ‘monumental, civic housing project on the grandest scale’ by Lyons Israel Ellis, a confident essay in ‘high-density, city-centre living for council tenants’. Other representatives of currently fashionable, if still controversial, concrete brutalism include the South Bank Centre (1967), recently listed Preston Bus Station (1969), and the Barbican (1974).
Nominations for later years show the architectural reaction to this style: architectural journalist Elizabeth Hopkirk praises the humour of No 1 Poultry (1997), James Stirling’s post-modernist ‘Egyptian temple’ (the building Prince Charles described as a 1930s wireless set), while Neil Baxter, Secretary of RIAS (Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland), judges the Scottish parliament (2004) as ‘one of the great works of European architecture of this, or indeed any other, century.’
Fine buildings, even from much-loved eras such as the 1930s, are still being lost: in 1980 the scandalous demolition of the Firestone Factory (1928), an Art Deco landmark on the Great West Road, was the first major case for the then recently-formed Thirties Society (which became the Twentieth Century Society) and as recently as 2003 an important Modern Movement house, ‘Greenside’, was demolished without consent (both were nominated for 100 Buildings). Such cases highlight the importance of the C20 Society continuing to campaign for the listing and protection of the best 20th century architecture and design.
Whatever your taste in buildings, finding out about the innovation, inspiration, idealism and ingenuity of 20th century architecture enriches your everyday life – and who knows, you may find you start to appreciate some of those ‘hard-to-love’ buildings.
The Twentieth Century Society is delighted to have the support of ACE in increasing awareness and understanding of some of the most interesting buildings of our period and hope you will be inspired to join or support the C20 Society, to receive our magazine, journal and updates – as well as helping to save important buildings for future generations.
Find out how you can help the C20 Society safeguard the heritage of architecture and design in Britain from 1914 onwards here.