Demolishing Modernism: Britain's lost post-war gems
Both revered and reviled, modernist architecture divides opinion in the UK.
Despite being recognised as an important architectural movement, many examples have been demolished. GoCompare have created an illustrated tribute to the modernist buildings that have been recently lost.
 The Tricorn Centre, Portsmouth
(1966 - 2004; Owen Luder and Rodney Gordon; Brutalist)
The Tricorn Centre was designed by Owen Luder and Rodney Gordon and 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 3rd ugliest building in the UK in the 80s, the most hated building by BBC Radio 4 listeners in 2001, and the Prince of Wales described it as "a mildewed lump of elephant droppings". Although numerous attempts were made to get the building listed and protected, it was demolished in 2004.
(1970 - 2010; John Bancroft; Brutalist)
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.
(1974 - 2016; John Madin; Brutalist)
Originally the building was designed to endure hard wear with minimal maintenance costs, however, financial constraints brought about many changes to the initial designs, and also led to the use of lower-quality materials.
Despite having been called a symbol of social progressivism, attempts to gain listed status failed twice, and it was demolished in 2016.
By the time of its opening, 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 that never managed to find a tenant - were featured in the film 'Get Carter' starring Michael Caine.
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.
(1937 - 2003; Connell, Ward and Lucas; Modernist)
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 it was awarded a Grade II listing. Its construction paved the way for a number of modern buildings to be constructed across Britain.
(1959 - 2008; Chamberlin, Powell and Bon; Brutalist)
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 based on ‘stylistic inconsistencies’ was made.
Its listed status and strong opposition from the Welsh Heritage Agency, the Twentieth Century Society and other organisations weren't enough to save it from getting demolished in 2001. Today, only the pump and boiler houses remain.
 Gilbey's Gin HQ, Harlow
(1963 - 1993; Peter Falconer and Associates; Brutalist)
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 that its design would be worthy of such a location.
Despite achieving listed status in 1992, the complex was nevertheless demolished in 1993, just one year after becoming listed. A supermarket was built on the site. The Twentieth Century Society called for a public inquiry, but their request was rejected.
(1985 - 2012; Aldington, Craig and Collinge; High-Tech)
The building was seen as an ode to high-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.
 Why is this happening in the UK?
- The planning system is failing to protect some of the nation's best post-war buildings.
- These buildings have often been maligned due to management and maintenance issues rather than because of faults in the actual design.
- 20th-century architecture is losing out to more easily understood periods such as Victorian or Georgian.
"As a society we tend to under-value the architectural accomplishments of the preceding generation, but in time the most loathed and deeply unfashionable buildings can end up both loved and listed. It’s hard to remember just how reviled Victorian Gothic once was, now that St. Pancras, which was only saved by the efforts of John Betjeman and the Victorian Society, is a treasured masterpiece and a glamorous hotel.
"Good C20th architecture is losing out to more easily understood building periods such as Victorian and Georgian when it comes to the increasing pressures for redevelopment. But these buildings are a valuable legacy which add to the richness of the fabric of our architectural heritage and the best examples should be safeguarded for future generations. Sadly this is just not happening. These buildings formed the background to our everyday lives and their absence will impoverish us all.”
This article was originally published by GoCompare here.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- An art deco cinema on wartime Orkney.
- Bletchley Park restoration.
- Building of the week series.
- Buildings that were never realised.
- High-tech architecture.
- Listed building.
- Milton Keynes.
- New towns heritage.
- Post-war rebuilding.
- Royal Ordnance Factories.
- The Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
- The Dukes of Normandy and the second world war.
- Urban design.
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