Why at­ti­tudes to mod­ernist ar­chi­tec­ture are chang­ing

The Herald - Arts - - OPINION - KEITH BRUCE Lost Fu­tures: The Dis­ap­pear­ing Ar­chi­tec­ture of Post War Bri­tain by Owen Hop­kins is pub­lished by Royal Academy of Arts at £12.95

EARLY in the past week, one of the Lon­don-based news­pa­pers pub­lished a sadly-pre­dictable piece, head­lined Res­i­dents Baf­fled by ‘Ba­nana Flats’ List­ing, ques­tion­ing the de­ci­sion by His­toric En­vi­ron­ment Scot­land to grant cat­e­gory A pro­tec­tion to a land­mark 1960 cres­cent of flats, prop­erly called Ca­bles Wynd House, in Leith.

The white con­crete build­ing, which has more than 200 flats, is men­tioned by Irvine Welsh in Trainspot­ting, and a close read­ing of the ac­tual ar­ti­cle re­veals that some of the res­i­dents are rather more proud than baf­fled that their homes have been deemed an ar­chi­tec­tural as­set.

Rather more in­for­ma­tive on the built her­itage of Post-War Bri­tain is a book, pub­lished to­day by the Royal Academy of Arts, en­ti­tled Lost Fu­tures and writ­ten by Owen Hop­kins, whose thoughts on Charles Ren­nie Mack­in­tosh in his 2016 book, Mav­er­icks, we car­ried a ver­sion of in The Her­ald Arts last year.

As a guide to what 21st cen­tury peo­ple think about mod­ernist ar­chi­tec­ture, Hop­kins is also a more re­li­able guide.

He writes: “The pop­u­lar­ity that Bru­tal­ism in par­tic­u­lar, and post-war ar­chi­tec­ture more broadly, cur­rently en­joys is an ex­tra­or­di­nary re­ver­sal from even a decade ago. In an on­line world where what we share on so­cial me­dia be­comes part of our ide­alised self-im­age, retweet­ing a photo of a post-war housing block is a way of align­ing one­self with a kind of counter-cul­tural trendi­ness that plays on post-war ar­chi­tec­ture’s for­mer pariah sta­tus.”

There is much more of this sort of ex­cel­lent anal­y­sis – both of the post-war build­ing boom (Tory Housing Min­is­ter Harold MacMil­lan’s 1953 record of 300,000 new homes still stands) and the fate of the build­ings since – in Hop­kins’s long in­tro­duc­tory es­say, but the bulk of the book fea­tures 35 build­ings put up in Bri­tain be­tween 1945 and 1979, pho­tographed when new but now de­mol­ished, heav­ily al­tered or fac­ing de­mo­li­tion. His words on each of those are equally fas­ci­nat­ing, and four of them are (or were) in Scot­land.

Of those, the only sur­vivor is St Peter’s Sem­i­nary at Cardross, now be­ing made, as a pre­served ruin, into a new arts com­plex by the NVA or­gan­i­sa­tion.

The oth­ers are Cocken­zie Power Sta­tion, a miss­ing pres­ence on the Forth Es­tu­ary since 2015, and two housing de­vel­op­ments in Glas­gow. The Red Road flats in Spring­burn, the tallest res­i­den­tial build­ings in Europe when they were com­pleted in 1969, are, of course, an ex­am­ple of the change of at­ti­tude of the public to struc­tures that were ac­knowl­edged to be no longer fit for pur­pose: it is still un­ac­cept­able to blow them up as an en­ter­tain­ing open­ing gam­bit at the Com­mon­wealth Games.

Basil Spence’s Queen Elizabeth Square in the Gor­bals came down in 1993, but were built in 1965 as a di­rect con­se­quence of Glas­gow Cor­po­ra­tion’s 1945 Bruce Re­port, writ­ten by city en­gi­neer Robert Bruce.

Glas­gow may have em­braced mod­ernism by driv­ing the M8 through Char­ing Cross, but Bruce’s pro­pos­als were even more rad­i­cal and, says Hop­kins, would have left the city with­out Cen­tral Sta­tion and – in­cred­i­bly – Charles Ren­nie Mack­in­tosh’s Glas­gow School of Art.

As far as I am aware, I am no more re­lated to that Robert Bruce than the more fa­mous Ban­nock­burn one, but I can­not help hav­ing a sneak­ing ad­mi­ra­tion for his bold chutz­pah, even if I would have lain down in front of the bull­doz­ers with every­one else.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.