This module explores the social, political and economic dimensions behind architectural judgment, or the way buildings have been judged by politicians, architects, and the public, and how such judgements have affected the way the built environment for post-war Great Britain looks.
Module will run
Autumn Term 2021-22
Donald Trump, big builder and sometime president, focused on architecture when he issued one of his last executive orders: namely, that new buildings should be built in a classical style. Moreover, what they should not be, he specified, is Brutalist, which was then defined in vague and ahistorical terms. Trump’s executive order exemplifies an ongoing prejudice against modern architecture’s most vilified moment—Brutalist buildings are being pulled down at a staggering rate. This is fitting to the central discussions of this seminar series which focuses on the social, political and economic dimensions behind architectural judgment, or the way buildings have been judged by politicians, architects, and the public, and how such judgements have affected the way the built environment of post-war Great Britain looks.
Through the examination of case studies that are representative of key contemporary debates, we will explore how modernity was shaped through architecture, urbanism and conservation. We will begin by focusing on the 1950s and 1960s, a period of ‘general consensus’, when modernism triumphed in architectural culture. We will examine diverse approaches to modernism, from those architects who flavoured a soft, Anglo-Scandinavian appearance to buildings, known as the ‘New Empiricists’, to the more ‘muscular’ New Brutalists of the architectural avant-garde. We will also devote detailed attention to the material most closely associated with the post-war period: concrete, by discussing how stories of concrete have been told and the implications that those narratives have had both in the formation of attitudes (professional and public) and also in architectural practice.
Then we will move into the 1970s, which witnessed new economic austerity accompanied by a mood of retrenchment and anxiety, and, a rise in challenges to modernist orthodoxies. The module will end in the late 1980s, characterized by style wars, the formal pluralism associated with postmodernism, and the rise of the ‘Trad Dad’ (as the architectural critic Reyner Banham termed those architects inclined to work in traditional styles). As part of our discussion, we will consider changing approaches to conservation, which became an increasingly dominant force on built environment polices and debates throughout this period.
Embedded into this survey course, we also talk about two constituencies that are under-represented in the architectural discourse. The module will consider women architects and female agency in the post-war period in line with a growing feminist literature, that not only foregrounds the work of women in the past, but also promotes gender parity in present-day architectural practice. LGBTQ+ spaces have hitherto been all but obliterated from canonical and survey histories of the period and we will explore issues of ‘non-tangible’ heritage and consider the extent to which ‘queer’-related spaces are served by the heritage designation system.
The module will include lectures and discussions around specific buildings and campaigns, making frequent use of key primary sources and a wide-ranging critical literature. In short, the course will interrogate the architectural consequences of shifting canons of taste in post-war Britain while introducing students to key methods employed in British architectural history.
Module learning outcomes
Knowledge of a corpus of significant buildings, architects, writers, and campaign groups from the period
An understanding of the social, political and economic dimensions behind architectural judgment, and how it has affected the visual appearance of the built environment
The ability to reflect critically on several different approaches to examining and telling the story of post-war architecture
An understanding of issues concerning the development and ongoing revision of the ‘architectural canon’, its ramifications for conservation, and a readiness to debate this
An understanding of the procedures used for the statutory protection of buildings in the UK (including knowledge of the ‘preservationist’ lobby), especially in relation to post-war listed buildings
Academic and graduate skills
Communication skills: giving a presentation and a ‘live’ tour of a building project
Skills in critical reading
Development of research skills, and of describing and analysing buildings
Development of confidence in the use of architectural terminology
% of module mark
Essay/coursework Essay (4000 words)
Special assessment rules
% of module mark
Essay/coursework Essay (4000 words)
We aim to provide feedback on summative assessment within 20 working days.
Abramson, Daniel M. Obsolescence: An Architectural History (Chicago, 2017)
Arrhenius, Thordis and Jorge Otero-Pailos (eds.). Experimental Preservation (Zurich, 2016)
Burckhardt, Lucius. Why is Landscape Beautiful?: The Science of Strollology (ed. Markus Ritter and Martin Schmitz) (Berlin, 2006)
Darling, E. and Walker, L. (eds.) AA XX Women in Architecture, 1917-2017 (London, 2017)
Forty, Adrian. Concrete and Culture: A Material History (London, 2012)
Glendinning, Miles. The Conservation Movement: A History of Architectural Preservation: A History of Architectural Preservation: Antiquity to Modernity (Abingdon, 2013)
Harwood, Elain. Space, Hope and Brutalism (New Haven, 2014)
Hyde, Timothy. Ugliness and Judgment: On Architecture in the Public Eye (Princeton, 2019)
Pendlebury, John. Conservation in the Age of Consensus (Abingdon, 2008)
Potvin, John. Bachelors of a Different Sort: Queer Aesthetics, Material Culture and the Modern Interior in Britain (Manchester, 2014)
Stamp, Gavin. Anti-Ugly: Excursions in English Architecture and Design (London, 2013)
Allmendinger, Philip and Huw Thomas (eds.) Urban Planning and the British New Right (Abingdon, 1998)
Bullock, Nicholas. Building the Post-War World: Modern Architecture and Reconstruction in Britain (London, 2002)
Cairns, Stephen and Jane M Jacobs. Buildings Must Die: A Perverse View of Architecture (Cambridge MA, 2014)
Calder, Barnabus. Raw Concrete: The Beauty of Brutalism (London, 2016)
Crinson, Mark and Claire Zimmerman (eds.). Neo-avant-garde and Postmodern: Postwar Architecture in Britain and Beyond (London and New Haven, 2010)
Crook, Joseph Mordaunt. The Dilemma of Style: Architectural Ideas from the Picturesque to the Postmodern (Chicago, 1987)
Deamer, Peggy. The Architect as Worker: Immaterial Labor, the Creative Class, and the Politics of Design (London, 2015)
Forty, Adrian. Words and Buildings (London, 2004)
Grindrod, John. Concretopia: A Journey Around the Rebuilding of Postwar Britain (London, 2014)
Harwood, Elain and Alan Powers (eds.). The Heroic Period of Conservation [Twentieth Century Architecture, 7] (London, 2004)
Hopkins, Owen. Postmodern Architecture: Less is a Bore (London and New York, 2020)
Hultzsch, Anne. Architecture, Travellers and Writers: Constructing Histories of Perception 1640-1950 (London and New York, 2014)
Neave, David and Susan Neave, Hull: City Guide, The Buildings of England (Pevsner Architectural Guides) (London 2010)
Powers, Alan (ed.). Robin Hood Gardens: Revisions (London, 2010)
Pugin, Augustus Welby Northmore. True Principles (London, 1836)
Smithson, Alison and Peter Smithson. The Euston Arch and the Growth of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (London, 1968).
Watkin, David. Architecture and Morality (Oxford, 1977)