Conference paper abstract – Juliana Kei

Pylon-Spotting in Architectural Magazines c.1950

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“Encase your legs in nylons,

Bestride your hills with pylons

O age without a soul;

Away with gentle willows

And all the elmy billows

That through your valleys roll…”

In his 1955 poem “Inexpensive Progress,” poet laureate John Betjeman used electric pylons as a representation of the defacements brought by post-war reconstruction and modernisation projects to the British landscape. A similar anti-modern and preservationist stance could be found in the pages of the Architectural Review (AR) magazine in the post-war period when Betjeman was one of its editors. However, a closer examination of the appearance of pylons in the AR revealed a more complex and contradictory attitude towards modernism held by its editors and contributors — underscored by the fact that electrical pylon in Britain was first designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield, who was a member of the first editorial board of the AR (1896). Ironically, despite his best effort to steer away from modernist connotations, Blomfield’s pylon was used as a signposting of modernisation’s adverse effects less than three decades after it was first implemented in Britain. At stake was also that after the rupture of the Second World War, pylons’ meanings multiplied. They were deemed as eye-sores but were also cherished as a part of the English countryside. They functioned as structures of modernisation but also heritages demarcating the British achievements in the earlier part of the century. An examination of the environmental and emotional implications of electrical pylons in architectural publications, this paper argues, offers an alternative framework for examining the attitude towards modernisation in post-war Britain.

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This paper pays particular attention to architectural and planning debates published in the AR in the post-war period, including the series of thematic articles entitled “the Outrage”, “the Encroachment”, and “the Heritage.” This study also examines the works of AR editors that were published elsewhere, such as the aforementioned Betjeman’s poem, as well as Gordon Cullen’s influential 1961 book The Concise Townscape. To better understand the intellectual terrain of post-war British architecture, this paper also takes into consideration the uses of pylon by architects and architectural writers whose attitude towards modernism differed from the AR’s. For example, Alison and Peter Smithson, in collaboration with Theo Crosby and Ron Simpson, designed an enlarged pylon for their entry to the Vertical Feature competition in the Festival of Britain. By spotting pylon in post-war British architectural publications and propositions, this paper reveals previously overlooked connections and seeks to add to the current studies into the complex relationship between modernisation and conservation in post-war Britain.

Conference paper abstract – Linda Ross

Post-war planning in the nuclear north, 1954-63

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As an aside to nuclear development, the built environment of nuclear townships in Britain is overlooked in favour of its technical and scientific elements. Yet the consequences of the atomic programme extend beyond the technological: the social infrastructure behind the science was integral to the success of many nuclear ventures. This had its largest impact following the 1954 decision to site the country’s first fast breeder reactor establishment at Dounreay in Caithness, the most northerly county of the British mainland. The modernism associated with the nuclear age usually sits outside traditional twentieth century discourses of the Scottish Highlands and Islands, which emphasise the trends of depopulation and unemployment within rural areas. The arrival of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), however, brought nuclear science to a rural landscape with an agricultural skills base, situated within a region distant from major population centres. The chosen site was located close to the town of Thurso, the population of which grew by 147 percent as a result of the UKAEA ‘importing’ skilled scientists and engineers into the county to ensure the safe running of the establishment. To accommodate this influx the town underwent an extensive period of planning, with 1007 houses built to house the new citizens who were termed ‘the atomics’. Accommodating this population stands as an example of quick, complex change, triggered by a technical experiment with enduring social consequences.

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In the early 1950s Britain’s civil nuclear energy programme was hailed as a beacon of modernity and renewal. Through Dounreay, the Highlands and Islands, so often treated as a place apart, became an agent of national prosperity. The choice of Caithness, however, necessitated a range of location-specific measures designed to aid social development. The most significant of these was the provision of housing for the incoming employees. This paper will reveal the essential role of this housing in supporting the UKAEA’s early nuclear energy programme. Bound up with this was rural innovation, with the UKAEA and the local authorities co-operating in their pursuit of community-building on an unprecedented scale. What resulted was a product of its time, erected quickly for a specific purpose, fitting in with the post-war building ethos whilst also seeking to deliver the rational community espoused by Modernism.

Writing contemporaneously to the Dounreay development, Sylvia Crowe recognised that ‘the evolving pattern of power in the landscape is unrelated to the old industrial map of Britain…forming a network which covers the whole country and spreads even to the most remote rural areas’.1In bringing scientific development to an agricultural area, Dounreay was at the forefront of this evolution, countering the notion of rural areas as backwaters resistant to change. The site is currently being decommissioned, a process which will see it reach its interim end state in the early 2030s and its final end point by 2333. With it expected to be cleared of its infrastructure, the physical remains of the fast breeder reactor programme will not be scientific: what will endure are the physical markers of community. In assessing these, this paper will show how an area considered rural was able to adapt, absorb and indeed pioneer the socio-cultural effects of nuclear development.

1Crowe, S. The Landscape of Power. (London: The Architectural Press, 1958) pp. 9-10.

Conference paper abstract – Luca Csepely-Knorr

Landscapes of coal as ‘third nature’

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The profession of landscape architecture experienced a major shift in the UK after the second World War, both in complexity and scale of projects. As Sylvia Crowe, president of the Institute of Landscape Architects, claimed: “Before the war landscape design was confined almost entirely to the creation of gardens and parks; even if some industry called in a landscape architect it was with the idea of creating a garden round their buildings. […] Gradually this is changing: the pressure of population, transport and economics is upsetting the balance of great areas of landscape, and it is evident that positive design is needed to restore them to a state of balance. A balance which will include changed land uses, new structures, and usually a higher density of human use.”[1]This shift from garden design to landscape planning and from the idea of creating a ‘garden round the buildings’ to designing large scale landscapes that accommodated complex new structures, typologies and activities created new challenges and opportunities for the relatively young profession.

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The building of a large number of coal-fired power stations after WW2 in perceptibly rural areas of the United Kingdom triggered vast changes in the appearance of the landscape. The large structures and extensive building sites that ‘invaded the countryside’,[2]and altered the conditions of landscapes that were previously perceived as rural, or even natural. The newly nationalised Central Electricity Generating Board recognised this. Within their official communications and through the appointment of influential landscape designers they defined a novel and considered approach towards landscape architecture, associated with the infrastructure of coal fired power production.

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Referring to the ancient Roman writer Cicero, and 16th century Italian writer Bonfadio, John Dixon Hunt defined the landscape of infrastructure as ‘second nature’ and the garden as third nature where ‘nature [is] incorporated with art’.[3]This research will analyse key case studies of the landscape architecture of coal-fired power stations by leading practitioners including Brenda Colvin, Frederick Gibberd, Kenneth and Patricia Booth and Gordon Patterson.  It will argue that designers aimed to change the perception of the landscapes of power stations from ‘second’ to ‘third’ nature by giving them long standing aesthetic as well as social values. Furthermore, it aims to prove that these hitherto barely researched landscapes require the same attention of historiography as the outstanding private gardens or public parks of the centuries before them.

[1]Crowe, S ‘Buckingham Talk’ unpublished. MERL AR CRO SP4/2.

[2]Crowe, S. (1958) Landscapes of Power, London: Architectural Press

[3]Hunt, J. D. (1992) ‘Reading and writing the site’ in Swaffield S (2002) ed Theory in Landscape Architecture. A Reader,Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania Press pp. 131-136.

Conference paper abstract – Laura Coucill

Magnox: the Legacy of the CEGB

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The CEGB (Central Generating Electricity Board) was the most coherent and comprehensive formation of the nationalised electricity industry in the reconstruction of post-war Britain. Created under the 1958 Electricity Act, the regional franchises of the CEGB coordinated and oversaw the delivery of new power stations within their respective areas. Efficiency and effectiveness in the interests of the taxpayer were the driving forces of the CEGBs organisation, underpinned by the legislative framework of the 1957 Electricity Act.

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Demonstrating coordination and unification as a newly nationalised industry required a clear identity. Led by Richard Guyatt, graphic consultant to the CEGB Public Relations department, this was manifest through standardised branding, extending all areas of the organisation; from stationary to vehicles and interiors. This was the design work which conveyed the optimism and control needed in the construction of infrastructure fit for modern lifestyles.

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The CEGBs coordinated approach is perhaps best demonstrated through the delivery of the world’s first civil nuclear programme. Known as MAGNOX, after the magnesium alloy used in the fuel rods, the programme was developed by the UKAEA (UK Atomic Energy Authority) together with earlier incarnations of the UKs electricity authorities and is bookmarked by the opening of Calder Hall 1956 and concluded with the commissioning of Wylfa in 1969. Marketed as the leading edge of energy production, MAGNOX reactor types were also packaged for the international market, but demand fell short of expectations.

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This paper will explore the brand of the CEGB and whether its legacy is manifest through the built forms of the MAGNOX programme.

Conference paper abstract – Megan McHugh

National Identity, Landscape and the Early Motorway in England

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In 1958, the first section of motorway in Britain was opened. While Britain’s motorway infrastructure increasingly attracts scholarly interest, no investigation of its earliest experiment in motorway construction, the Preston Bypass, has so far been conducted. Its design had been a precedent for the M1, the first full-length motorway, a year later. Wartime propaganda and the post-war optimism which accompanied the end of austerity and the coronation of a new queen had witnessed the rise of a heightened interest in an English national identity. The new motorway infrastructure, much anticipated during the wartime building hiatus, became entwined in this 1950s conception of national identity via its position in the architectural debates surrounding reconstruction. This paper investigates the visual manifestation of ‘Englishness’ as it was situated in ideation of a picturesque rural landscape. It demonstrates the ways in which professionals in architecture, planning, art, literature, and the newly formalised discipline of landscape architecture were united in promoting a Modernist vision of ‘Englishness’ based on a revision of the Picturesque. It demonstrates that landscape architects, reimagining their discipline as a force for social improvement in urban planning, became a powerful lobbying force through links with The Architectural Review, the CPRE, the Royal Fine Art Commission, and eventually the Landscape Advisory Committee; and were able to establish a number of strategies for a new picturesque Modernism which were exercised for the first time at the Festival of Britain and in the landscaping of New Towns, before being applied likewise to the nascent motorway plans. This centrality of landscape architecture to highway design was not unique to Britain, and professional engagement with examples from the Autobahnen are highlighted. It concludes that while foreign highway aesthetics were engaged with, the experimental Preston Bypass was uniquely influenced by this English vision in a way that would not be fully expressed in later motorways.

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Conference paper abstract – Peter Merriman

Motorway modern: landscape architecture, movement and the aesthetics of roads in post-war Britain

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In this paper I examine how landscape architects and other professionals focused their attention on the movements, speed and visual perspective of vehicle drivers in early post-war Britain. I trace how the Institute of Landscape Architects pushed for the involvement of their members in the landscaping and planting of future roads in the 1940s, tracing the tensions which emerged between the ILA and horticulturists associated with the Roads Beautifying Association about the appropriateness of ornamental trees and shrubs adorning the nation’s roads. In contrast, landscape architects such as Brenda Colvin, Sylvia Crowe and Geoffrey Jellicoe argued for a focus on simplicity, flow and the visual perspective of drivers, and the involvement of key figures in the government’s Advisory Committee on the Landscape Treatment of Trunk Roads led to similar views being applied in a range of new road projects. In contrast, I examine how Britain’s first major motorway, the Luton to Rugby sections of the M1, was criticised for its poor landscaping and planting, being upheld as an example of how not to approach motorway design.  The paper examines how landscape architects pushed for a functional modernism to be constructed around the movements and speed of motorists, and it concludes by discussing how an admiration for foreign motorways was tempered by calls for a British motorway modernism reworked in regional and local settings.

Conference paper abstract – Richard Brook

Scammonden: Landscape Co-production in the Motorway Age

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The rapid expansion of post-war infrastructure in Britain brought new emphasis to the landscape architectural profession, no more so than in the development of its motorways. In this paper I will examine one short section of the Lancashire-Yorkshire (M62) Motorway at Scammonden near Huddersfield. Scammonden was the world’s first dam-motorway hybrid and the six-lane carriageway travels across the top of a reservoir dam. The adjacent Scammonden Bridge was the longest single-span non-suspension bridge in the world when it was built. ​The site was complex in its topography and environment during the construction phase, but was no less politically complex in its approvals, covenants and multi-agency production. Using archival sources I will show how the entire landscape composition was bound in legislation and co-produced by designers, engineers, civil servants, politicians and contractors. Using Zeller’s (2010) conception of the ‘dual – physical and discursive – construction of landscape’, the net result, 40 years later, will be considered in terms of its consumption – technologically constructed and invisible or culturally designed and objectified. I will explore the idea of infrastructural landscapes as co-produced objects realised through such means as design-engineering-construction and ​policy-legislation-statute.

Conference paper abstract – Michael Dring

Wavy Concrete Panels – Cultural Anchors in the Post-War Urban Landscape

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“The rest of the new building is decent, except for […] a way-out signal box next to New Street Station seen from Navigation Street which is all wavy concrete panels and is likely to look absurd within ten years.”

Ian Nairn, from Nairn’s Towns

This quote from the ever-critical Ian Nairn on the design of New Street Signal Boxof 1966 describes a moment in the reconstruction of Birmingham in a local and national context of change. Whilst the city was the worst bombed in the United Kingdom after London, many of its key built assets remained due to the distributed nature of the conurbation and therefore targets. Nonetheless, the Corporation seized the opportunity to embark on a major renewal programme, that had its origins in the era of civic boosterism and debt financed economy under Joseph Chamberlain in the latter part of nineteenth century. At the same time, the country was seeking ways to renew not only the capital but to rebalance population, productivity and wealth as documented in the Barlow Report of 1940, though not in an entirely even distribution. Updating of existing infrastructures including the electrification and rationalisation of rail, and provision of new national mobility systems centred on the private motorcar were part of this strategy for decentralisation, leading to new urban spaces.

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This paper is concerned with the origin and manifestation of infrastructural projects in the city, and how the plastic and applied arts were used at a variety of scales in an attempt to provide cultural anchors in the new urban landscape, to ease the loss of familiar conditions.

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As Nairn’s quote suggests, novelty as a marker of progress and a rapidly changing popular culture form a key part of this dialogue. It also points to innovations and efficiencies in the construction industry, in the networks of professionals involved in the commissioning of works and in the design of projects where the material opportunities and properties of concrete were explored in creative ways.

The regional focus important here – reconstruction was not always a straightforward task and the decisions that still mark our urban landscape were often made at a distance. The paper will draw comparisons between projects originated and commissioned by Local Government including the Inner Ring Road and arterial routes in particular at Hockley where sculptor William Mitchell was appointed to design large concrete wall reliefs, and those commissioned as part of a national strategy including the New Street Signal Box described as the most modern in the country.

[1] Bicknell & Hamilton, assisted by John Hoile and Diana P Quin in collaboration with RL Moorcroft, regional architect, British Rail, London Midland Region

Conference paper abstract – Janina Gosseye

Multimodal/Multifunctional Megastructures Reimagining Flows and Nodes in Post-war British New Towns

img302_editeIrvine New Town Plan (Irvine: Irvine Development Corporation, January 1971), 244.

New Towns were sites of experiment. Conceived as tools for ‘reconstruction and resource extraction, for population resettlement and territorial dominion’, post-war New Towns, historian Rosemary Wakeman posits, all ‘shared a utopian rhetoric and conception’, and all sought to be at the forefront of urban and architectural development – to present ‘a marvellous glimpse of tomorrow’.1After the British Parliament passed the New Towns Act in 1946, more than thirty New Towns were built across England, Scotland and Wales.In line with their utopian pedigree, these British New Towns pursued fundamentally new approaches to architecture and urban design.

Their innovative attitude was facilitated by the formation of New Town Development Corporations. These independent, administrator-led governmental bodies relied on collaborations between planners, (landscape) architects, sociologists, engineers, etc. to oversee the building and management of British New Towns. Moreover, as their ‘non-municipal’ status freed Development Corporations from local political pressures and from the municipal ethos of all-encompassing council provision, they were able to quite easily embark on partnerships with the private sector. As a result, developers, private investors, industrialists, etc. also contributed significantly to reimagining what constituted a (new) ‘town’.

NTW_155_1_010_editedModel of Runcorn New Town. Cheshire Records Office, Chester, UK, folder NTW 155/1.

This paper focuses on one of the most prominent and experimental novel spaces that emerged in second- wave (or ‘Mark II’) British New Towns: their multimodal and multifunctional ‘heart’ or ‘central area’. These megastructures, which were designed to grow, reimagined the concept of the town centre. They brought together flows of people, infrastructure (e.g. public and private transport networks), services and goods, and functioned as social, cultural and commercial nodes that gathered the New Town community in a bid to foster interaction between New Town residents from different walks of life.

img300_editedModel of early proposal for Irvine New Town Plan (Irvine: Irvine Development Corporation, January 1971), 231.

The paper will analyse three such multimodal/multifunctional megastructures in second-wave British New Towns; those of Cumbernauld, Runcorn and Irvine. It will first offer an insight into the make-up of the collaborative teams that underpinned their experimental designs, and subsequently demonstrate how these (interdisciplinary) teams, which consisted of both public and private actors, conceived of these expandable megastructures as multimodal and multifunctional organisms that would establish novel relationships between landscape, architecture and infrastructure on the one hand, and between people and services and goods on the other.

1 Rosemary Wakeman, Practicing Utopia: An Intellectual History of the New Town Movement (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2016), 2.

2 Anthony Alexander, Britain’s New Towns: Garden Cities to Sustainable Communities (London and New York: Routledge, 2009), 4.

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