Demolishing Modernism

Roxana Antistescu illustrates Britain’s lost post-war gems

by Rossana Vinci
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Both revered and reviled, modernist architecture divides opinion in the UK.

Despite being recognised as an important architectural movement, much 20th-century modernist architecture in the UK has been demolished, either after falling into disrepair or losing out to other periods.

Roxana Antistescu has illustrated some of the best-known examples as a tribute to the modernist buildings we’ve lost. See them all here.

 

Derwent Tower, Dunston 
Building this 29-storey apartment building in Dunston, Tyne and Wear, was very challenging, mainly due to adverse ground conditions. In order to create solid foundations for the structure, Owen Luder Partnership turned to techniques used in harbours. The tower’s foundations were so deep that were later turned into an underground garage area for residents. Flying buttresses reaching up to the fifth floor were also used as an additional support to the foundations.

 

 

Dunlop Rubber Factory, Brynmawr

Designed and completed in 1951, it was funded with government money to replace the jobs lost thanks to the closure of local coal mines. Despite being hailed as a masterpiece, the factory itself was never a commercial success, and was sold to Dunlop just one year after its completion. The factory was run by Dunlop for 30 years before closing in 1982. In 1986, it became the first post-war building in Britain to be listed.

Gilbeys Gin HQ, Harlow

Designed by Peter Falconer & Associates, this building was completed in 1963, when the company moved its operation from London to Harlow, Essex. Traditionally, a factory would have been built in a peripheral industrial zone of the city. However, the local council gave permission for it to be built on a prominent hillside site, provided its design was worthy of such a location. Despite achieving listed status in 1992, the complex was demolished a year later. A supermarket was built on the site.

Greenside, Virginia Water, Surrey

Built in 1937 by Connell, Ward and Lucas – pioneers in modern design in the UK – Greenside in Virginia Water was heavily influenced by Le Corbusier. The building was praised for its “total design” (as opposed to a few modern ideas applied to the architecture of a traditional British home) and was awarded a Grade II listing. Its construction paved the way for a number of modern buildings across Britain. Despite its listed status and without consent, the owner demolished it in 2003 arguing that the Human Rights Act justified his actions.

 

Milton Court, London

Built as part of the City of London’s regeneration plan after the Blitz, Milton Court was the first section of the Barbican to be completed in 1959. A tribute to Le Corbusier’s Shodhan House, it was used to house public services including a fire station and coroner’s court, and was connected to the rest of the complex by two adjacent bridges. There was a wave of support for Milton Court to be awarded listed status alongside the rest of the Barbican complex, however, the decision to demolish it was made based on “stylistic inconsistencies”.

Pimlico Secondary School, London

Described as “an ancient monument of the future”, by Architects’ Journal, this was definitely no ordinary school. Built between 1967-1970, it was constructed of unadorned concrete and glass. The school won awards for its architectural quality in 1966 and 1972. Sadly, the stylistic elements which made it famous (concrete and floor to ceiling glass) made it extremely hot during summer and very cold in winter. This combined with deterioration of the fabric of the building led to plans for its demolition.

 

Royal Mail Mechanised Letter Office, Hemel Hempstead

To help Royal Mail cope with the rising volume of post and the introduction of postcodes in the early 80s, Aldington, Craig and Collinge built this facility between 1984 and 1985. The building was seen as an ode to hi-tech architecture. On the first day of full operation, an employee said that the building looked like a cathedral, which was taken as a major compliment by the architect. The Post Office sold the site to a housing association, which elected to demolish the facility in 2012, despite protests.

 

The Tricorn Centre, Portsmouth

Designed by Owen Luder and Rodney Gordon, the Tricorn Centre was officially opened in 1966. When viewed from the air, the construction site looked like a tricorn hat, hence the building’s name. The Tricorn was built as part of Portsmouth’s revitalisation efforts. It was deliberately designed without embellishment, intending to offer a blank canvas which businesses would fill with colours from their signage and displays. The centre was voted the third ugliest building in the UK in the 80s.

 

Trinity Square Car Park, Gateshead

This multi-storey car park and shopping complex was designed by Rodney Gordon while he was working for the Owen Luder Partnership. By the time of its opening in 1967, interest in the Brutalist movement had started to fade but the building was still seen as an impressive example of the style. Parts of the complex – notably the rooftop restaurant which never managed to find a tenant – were featured in the film Get Carter, starring Michael Caine.

 

 

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Cover:

Birmingham Central Library

Designed by John Madin and finished in 1974, this was Birmingham’s main public library for almost 40 years, and the largest municipal library in Europe when built. It was part of a regeneration scheme for Birmingham’s Inner Ring Road area, with the aim of creating a new civic centre. Originally the library was designed to endure hard wear with minimal maintenance costs, but financial constraints brought about many changes to the initial design, and led to the use of lower-quality materials. Attempts to gain listed status failed twice, and it was demolished in 2016.

 

 

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