Over the past few years there has been a surge in post-war buildings, structures and landscapes being granted listed status.
Buildings from this period might not typically jump to mind as treasured landmarks, but the rise in the listing of post-war architecture represents a paradigm shift in attitudes towards this style. In recent times, there has been a rediscovery of, and new appreciation for, post-ward design and the role structures from this era have played in the make-up of the nation’s towns and cities. As Senior Heritage Consultant, Jenna Johnston, explains.
As Britain emerged from the war, architects began to turn their back on traditional vernaculars and establish a new architectural language. The goal was to break away from the past and create a built environment that reflected the both optimism and anxiety felt by the country following its wartime success. Characterised by the use of exposed concrete, the architecture of this time represented renewed civic responsibility, a strong desire for social progression, and a new vision for urban planning. It offers a clear turning point in social attitudes and embodies a society with its eyes set firmly on the future.
Although the aesthetic of post-war architecture has divided opinion over the years, it is important to recognise that these buildings and structures have a great deal to say about the society who built them.
It is also hard to ignore the extent to which post-war design has shaped today’s built environment. From the spaces we inhabit to graphic and interior design trends, its aesthetics and ideology is woven into the fabric of our everyday lives.
As heritage consultants and architects, we have a responsibility to understand and protect post-war structures, ensuring that the stories contained within them can continue to be told.
All Saints and Martyrs, Langley
Among those to have been given designated status in the past year is All Saints and Martyrs, Langley. Consecrated in 1964, the design was intended to present a traditional church form in the manner of the recently completed Coventry Cathedral, arguably the country’s most celebrated post-war building.
Echoing Coventry Cathedral’s post-war optimism and emphasis on showcasing the best quality modern artwork in celebration of God, the church also houses the Langley Cross - the work of internationally renowned post-war artist, Geoffrey Clarke RA. Found on the church’s east wall, the 37-foot-high sculpture provides a modern interpretation of the brutality of Christ’s Roman crucifixion, with the shape of a rifle seen within the design.
Over the past 20 years, we have worked to carry out localised repairs on the church to prevent corrosion and damage to the concrete. The most recently planned phase of work is to re-roof and repair the exposed concrete roof structure and the huge concrete framed baptistry window, however the church has had no access to funding. The listing of the church, which we have advocated for some time, will help enable the church to apply for grant aid, which will help ensure that the building and its artwork are protected for future generations.
Lincoln Cathedral Treasury
Clarke’s work can also be found in the Treasury at Lincoln Cathedral – one of four Cathedrals the practice is responsible for maintaining.
The Treasury was created in 1960 and reflected other similar collections on the continent. This paved the way and set the standard for further Cathedral treasuries across the country.
Clarke’s work in the Treasury comprises a pair of stained-glass windows, titled The Counterchange. Produced in grisaille to reflect contemporary advances in German glass, they remain in situ, in a complete set as they were conceived. Also contained within the Cathedral Treasury are display cabinets designed in the 1960s by renowned goldsmith, Louis Osman.
The Treasury at Lincoln Cathedral is an example of Gesamtkunstwerk, meaning a “total work of art” or one that is larger than the sum of its parts. The room itself exists as a piece of significant architecture with a number of highly important post-war artworks and structures, which are integral to its significance. The presence of something so contemporary within the medieval setting of the Lincoln Cathedral is also significant in itself and offers an insight into the confidence and optimism felt by the Cathedral community at the time of its commission.
As custodians of the Cathedral, our Heritage Consultancy team produced a Statement of Significance to inform and support decision making and the management of change in the space to ensure that it is protected as the Cathedral evolves over time. The report will also sit within the archive alongside other research for the future.
Park Hill, Sheffield, is one of the largest examples of post-war social housing policy in the UK. Following a period of neglect and decline, in recognition of its architectural and social importance Park Hill was Grade II* listed by Historic England in 1998, becoming the largest listed building in Europe. It is now being redeveloped to support a 21st century urban community with living, leisure, and creative spaces.
Our Heritage Consultancy team provided heritage advice to support the planning application for a new culture centre and contemporary art gallery within the estate. This included the production of a Heritage Assessment for the Duke Street block, which assessed the significance of the building in the context of the wider estate. The document also assessed the impact of the proposals on the site’s heritage and provided justification for any alterations that would accommodate the block’s change of use.
These examples illustrate how such spaces still have a role in society, other than just a record of the big ideas of the past. Through understanding, appreciation, and careful management, we can preserve and enhance the post-war built environment for the future. To learn more about our heritage consultancy and our work on the conservation of 20th century buildings, contact Senior Heritage Consultant, Jenna Johnston, here.