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Lost Futures: The vanishing architecture of Britain

Photos logoPhotos 17/02/2017

Owen Hopkins’ new book “Lost Futures: The Disappearing Architecture of Post-War Britain” studies the rise and fall of buildings constructed in Britain between 1945 and 1979, the time when there was a deep-rooted belief in architecture’s capacity to build a better world. Published by the Royal Academy of Arts, the book focuses on 35 post-war buildings that have been demolished or heavily altered — or are going to be shortly.

The 112-page book features work by various architects, including Erno Goldfinger, Alison and Peter Smithson, Richard Seifert, James Stirling and Basil Spence and the buildings range from familiar buildings such as the Robin Hood Gardens in London and Birmingham State Library to the lesser-known ones such as David Lister High School in Hull and Brynmawr Rubber factory in Wales. All the buildings are represented by black-and-white photographs taken around their completion.

Trinity Square, Gateshead

© Sam Lambert/RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Designed by Rodney Gordon for Owen Luder Partnership, Trinity Square was considered to be an archetypal ‘concrete monstrosity’ that dominated the Gateshead skyline. Proposed by the local council in 1961 as a bustling town center, it could never endure competition from its retail counterparts nor was it able to find any tenant for the club and cafe. After the mid-1980s, the building fell into terminal decline and was demolished in 2010.

Queen Elizabeth Square, Glasgow

© Henk Snoek/RIBA Collections

While the initial proposal was by the city’s chief engineer Robert Bruce in 1945, Queen Elizabeth Square in the Gorbals was ultimately designed by Basil Spence in 1965. The Gorbals was one of the poorest areas in the city, thus making it an apt choice for redevelopment. 10 towers, connected by adjacent balconies, were created for 400 dwellings. However, they quickly deteriorated and was deemed as a failure. In spite of intense protests, the structure was destroyed in 1993.

Hulme Crescents, Manchester

© RIBA Collections

One of the largest city-regeneration projects of Europe, this estate was designed by Hugh Wilson and J. Lewis Womersley and completed in 1972. The structure, however, was plagued with problems from the beginning due to faulty design and poor construction, and within two years of its completion, it was not considered to be fit for families. Once the estate was abandoned, it emerged as a hotspot for the city’s growing culture scene with graffiti artists, MCs, drug dealers and sex workers flocking the place. It was finally brought down in 1994.

Brynmawr Rubber Factory, Wales

© Reginald Hugo de Burgh Galwey/RIBA Collections

Built to tackle the problem of unemployment that resulted from the downturn of the South Wales coalfields prior to the war, the factory was proposed by Jim Forrester. Though overly ambitious, the building was a massive achievement for its young designers Peter Cocke and Michael Powers of the Architect’s Co-Partnership. Despite its bold structural design and Forrester’s vision, the factory had to be sold to Dunlop Semtex. After 50 years of its completion, the factory was demolished in 2001.

Tricorn Shopping Centre, Portsmouth

© Sam Lambert/RIBA Collections

Designed by Owen Luder and his collaborator Rodney Gordon, this shopping center was a combination of retail units, a car park, pubs, a restaurant and a nightclub. However, the impracticality of the design made it a massive failure. Finally, after almost 40 years of its completion, the center was destroyed in 2004.

Pimlico Secondary School, London

© Architectural Press Archive/RIBA Collections

Designed by John Bancroft to accommodate 1,725 pupils, the four-story building had its first floor built underground and featured interlocking volumes, overhangs and step-backs. Due to its complex layout, the air-conditioning mechanism never worked properly. Despite the school earning a reputation in music and the arts, it was finally demolished in 2010. 

Park Hill, Sheffield

© Architectural Press Archive/RIBA Collections

Architects Jack Lynn and Ivor Smith of the Sheffield Corporation City Architect’s Department worked on this monumental structure in 1961. Using the innovative "streets in the sky" concept, it was aimed to facilitate the social interaction in the tight-knit working-class communities. However, due to poor maintenance, social problems and economic woes of the 1980s, Park Hill lost its popularity. It is currently undergoing a massive renovation; the first phase being completed in 2011.

David Lister High School, Hull

© RIBA Collections

One of the standout schools by Lyons, Israel and Ellis, the school featured the design called "New Brutalism," which came to be known for its manifestations in concrete. In its early days under headmaster Albert Rowe, the school was an upholder of progressive teaching practice. Following the decline in its teaching standards by the late 2000s, the school was shut in 2012 and demolished thereafter.

Red Road Flats, Glasgow

© Architectural Press Archive/RIBA Collections

Upon completion in 1969, the six 31-story towers of Red Road Flats were considered one of the tallest buildings in Europe. Built by Sam Bunton & Associates, it was constructed to alleviate the overcrowding in the city’s slums, but due the building suffered extensive damage due to a fire in 1977. Over the years, its reputation continually went down, leading to its partial demolition in 2005. The structure was completely demolition in 2015.

Cockenzie Power Station, Lothian

© Henk Snoek/RIBA Collections

Situated at Cockenzie and Port Seton in Lothian, the two 489-feet-tall (149 meters) chimneys were a symbol of post-war modernity. Powered by coal mined from nearby collieries, it opened in 1967. The functional structure, designed by Robert Matthew Johnson for Marshall & Partners, closed in 2008 due to its high carbon dioxide emissions. The chimneys were finally destroyed in 2015 through controlled explosions.

© Lost Futures: The Disappearing Architecture of Post-War Britain/Royal Academy of Arts

Click here for details about the book.

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