Publishing about 20th century architecture and design
Some of what's inside Issue 18: Forgotten
The twentieth century was the century of genocide on an unprecedented scale. Circassians, Armenians, Ukrainians, myopes, Tutsis, Gypsies, Biafrans and Jews - of course. All suffered at the hands of theocratic tyrants, tribal bullies, idealists, autocrats, utopians, vicious colonists.
And yet, what attractions they were. There were heated swimming pools and Turkish baths, there was an underground disco and a theatre for children, there was artificial sunshine and around the clock live entertainment, there were even tropical plants and cascading waterfalls because this was “a holiday town where it never rains, the wind never blows and the temperature never gets chilly. Outside it’s raining yet here you are relaxed in your shirt sleeves, gently perspiring in a tropical 80 degrees.” This was Summerland.
But on this day the summer seaside breeze on Douglas promenade tasted far from fresh.
Picture it – Manchester, 1939, a cold, dark (probably rainy) January night. A “tremendous” box is delivered to a group of students from the Manchester School of Art. Inside, the 11’5” by 25’6” rolled-up canvas of Picasso’s Guernica. Or so legend has it…
The New Walk Centre in Leicester had been the City Council’s headquarters since the mid-70s and the twin-towers, being among the city’s tallest buildings, have been a landmark feature on the skyline all of my life. They had been the workplace of up to 900 council staff before a report by Arup in 2009 deemed that they were no longer suitable to operate at full capacity and would need expensive repairs to make them sound.
Yekaterinburg, perhaps best remembered as the city in which Nicholas II, the deposed Tsar of Russia, was executed along with his family at Ipatiev House on July 17 1918, also retains the largest collection of Constructivist buildings in Europe.
In Paris, Corbusier has the majority of attention, and it is already a long way down to reach Mallet-Stevens, then a further plunge to Lurçat, another to Pol Abraham, and yet further to centenarian Pierre Barbé, Gabriel Guévrékian and Jean Ginsberg.
Forces outside the control of the first cultural centre in Western Europe had signed its death warrant. It became the building people loved to hate. In 2009, Margaret Hodge, then architecture minister, decided against listing the library. Birmingham’s former Director of Planning and Regeneration described it as a “concrete monstrosity”.
In the first half of the 20th century hexagonal planning, at least in principle, seemed to offer many practical and ideological advantages to town planners and as such gained many influential advocates. But despite its apparent advantages very little was built using the principle and the approach has all but been forgotten.
The birth and spread of modernist architecture in Britain in the 1930s was greatly aided by the large number of émigrés from Europe who began arriving from 1933 onwards. These designers; from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and other European countries left the continent as Nazism grew in the 1920s and 30s.
Some of these architects didn’t go on to become the revered designers that the likes of Lubetkin and Goldfinger did, but they helped embed modernism into the fabric of British towns and cities.
The first film from writing and directing duo Scott McGehee and David Siegel, 1993’s Suture is very much a forgetten gem in Steven Soderbergh’s post Sex, Lies and Videotape American independent cinema landscape.
WH Brenner Thornton was a British engineer, inventor and designer (born in 1899 and died in 1977) who patented the prototype for the ‘Teasmade’ automatic teamaking machine in 1934. An iconic piece of British design, quirkiness and fun.