The Brits who built the mod­ern world with new ma­te­ri­als

Yorkshire Post - Property - - PROPERTY - Ric Blenkharn

THE Brits Who Built The Mod­ern World Sea­son is a ma­jor pro­gramme of ex­hi­bi­tions and events or­gan­ised by the Royal In­sti­tute of Bri­tish Ar­chi­tects [RIBA].

Through draw­ings, wa­ter­colours, pho­to­graphs and mod­els it tells the fas­ci­nat­ing story of why and how Bri­tish ar­chi­tec­ture de­vel­oped glob­ally from 1750 to the present.

Us­ing the RIBA’s unique col­lec­tions and ma­te­rial from ar­chi­tec­tural prac­tices, this ex­hi­bi­tion tells a global story of Bri­tish ar­chi­tec­ture be­tween 1950 and 2012 in par­tic­u­lar.

It is in­spired by the BBC4 doc­u­men­tary se­ries, which has fo­cused on the five prin­ci­pal ar­chi­tects who were re­spon­si­ble for the High Tech move­ment in the Seven­ties: Nor­man Fos­ter, Richard Rogers, Michael Hop­kins, Ni­cholas Grimshaw and Terry Far­rell.

Each of the three BBC episodes gave an in­sight into how their youth­ful dreams of build­ing a bet­ter world turned ar­chi­tec­ture into one of Bri­tain’s strong­est cul­tural ex­ports. It also fea­tured exclusive in­ter­views with the five men and their col­lab­o­ra­tors.

The se­ries re­vealed the dra­matic sto­ries be­hind some of their most iconic cre­ations, in Bri­tain and across the world. Among them: the Pom­pi­dou Cen­tre, Lloyd’s of Lon­don, “the Gherkin”, Bei­jing Air­port, MI6’s head­quar­ters and the Lon­don Olympic Velo­drome.

This group of ar­chi­tects re­jected neo­clas­si­cism, mod­ernism and Bru­tal­ism, in favour of light­weight, in­dus­trial ma­te­ri­als, adapt­able spa­ces and vis­i­ble struc­tural com­po­nents. The Cen­tre Pom­pi­dou in Paris and the Lloyds Build­ing in Lon­don are the most dra­matic ex­am­ples of their work.

This was a style of ar­chi­tec­ture which di­vided opin­ion and led to Prince Charles, in May 1984, de­scrib­ing a scheme by Peter Ahrends for a tow­er­ing ex­ten­sion to the Na­tional Gallery as a “mon­strous car­bun­cle on the face of a much-loved and el­e­gant friend”.

This was seen as a move­ment of its time. In­formed by left-wing rad­i­cal pol­i­tics mixed with punk at­ti­tude, the High Tech ar­chi­tects set out to shake up the ex­ist­ing or­der of things and sug­gest a new way of build­ing.

Yet this is noth­ing new, since each pe­riod of his­tory has re­sulted in ma­jor changes in styles of ar­chi­tec­ture. In fact, it is an or­ganic re­sponse to ma­te­ri­als and tech­nol­ogy that has in­formed change.

As with each pe­riod of his­tory, there are both good and bad ex­am­ples. This mix of build­ings from dif­fer­ent eras make a rich ta­pes­try, ev­i­dent in cities such as York.

Key to de­sign­ing new build­ings into such set­tings, is un­der­stand­ing con­text and be­ing re­spect­ful in terms of scale and ma­te­rial pal­ette. It is not nec­es­sary for build­ings to be pas­tiche copies of the past. Rad­i­cal build­ings have shocked, but over time they have be­come part of the town­scape, bring­ing life and vi­tal­ity. The Cen­tre Pom­pi­dou, is one of the bold­est and most re­mark­able ex­am­ples of this ap­proach. The build­ing and, most im­por­tantly, the pub­lic space it helped cre­ate, has be­come one of the top five at­trac­tions in Paris.

Ini­tially a cause of con­tro­versy, the new cen­tre was an in­stant suc­cess. This is a graphic ex­am­ple of how bold, in­no­va­tive ar­chi­tec­ture can make a pos­i­tive im­pact.

Bri­tish ar­chi­tec­ture in the 21st Century has an al­most un­ri­valled rep­u­ta­tion around the world for dar­ing in­no­va­tion, cre­ativ­ity and flair. From Bei­jing to New York and Doha to Mum­bai, Bri­tish ar­chi­tects and ex­per­tise are play­ing a ma­jor role in re­defin­ing the world’s cities and cre­at­ing ex­tra­or­di­nary build­ings. It is great to see, that this body of work has now been rec­og­nized in this ex­hi­bi­tion,

Ric Blenkharn is co-founder of Bramhall Blenkharn Ar­chi­tects, Mal­ton,

The Brits Who Built the Mod­ern World: 1950 – 2012 ex­hi­bi­tion runs un­til May 27 at The Ar­chi­tec­ture Gallery, RIBA, 66 Port­land Place Lon­don.

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