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Our Top 10 Buildings at Risk List 2019, announced today (9 July), shows that even outstanding listed buildings face demolition if they happen to be C20 ones.  The list shows how our once highly regarded historic building protection system is failing which is leading to an outrageous waste of money and environmental impact as well as the loss of some exceptional architecture.

Three buildings on the C20 Society list, the Whitehall office block Richmond House, Harlech Theatre in Wales and the former All Saints’ Pastoral Centre and Chapel in Colney, Hertfordshire, are all Grade II* listed, a category of architecturally important buildings which make up only 5.8% of all listed buildings in the country. A fourth building, the former Birds’ Eye HQ in Walton, Surrey, is Grade II listed.

Director Catherine Croft said: “Once England was seen to be leading the way in the conservation of historic buildings, now the system is impotent and disastrously under resourced.  Whilst listing used to protect our best historic buildings for posterity, today gaining consent to demolish them is becoming just a minor inconvenience for determined developers.   We must not allow quick profit, or spurious “public benefit” arguments to outweigh the loss of buildings which future generations should be allowed to cherish and enjoy.  Once demolished these buildings, and the stories they tell, are lost forever.”

Other buildings on our Top 10 Buildings at Risk List, which we publish every two years, include a power station, a cinema, civic centre, library conservation centre, social housing and DIY superstore.

Keeping a list like this helps us demonstrate how severe the threat is to some of the very best examples of the architecture of our period, and ensures that some of its longest and most intractable cases do not fade from view. It also serves to underline the fact that it is constantly campaigning for buildings of many different styles and dates, and provides a context for individual examples.

A positive solution has been found for only two of the 10 building on the Buildings at Risk List 2017, High Cross House in Dartington and the police station threatened by the skyscraper Manchester city centre development. The Manchester synagogue, Dunelm House, in Durham, Central Hill and Holborn Library, both in London, the Elephant Swimming Baths, in Coventry, St. Leonard’s Church, in Hastings, and murals at two former BHS stores in Stockport and Hull are still at risk.  Sadly 60 Hornton Street in West Kensington has been demolished and the Cumberbatch North & South student accommodation buildings in Oxford are currently being demolished.

Catherine added: “Many of these buildings could easily be adapted for new uses, for instance the Homebase store would make an excellent supermarket, and the Birds Eye Headquarters could be converted for residential use. In many instances its purely financial pressures, and the potential to make more money by building higher and more densely on the sites which is driving their destruction. All 10 of these buildings deserve to survive to make our lives richer and more interesting, the positive benefits of keeping them are immeasurable.“

The C20 Top 10 Buildings at Risk List 2019 is as follows:

  • Richmond House, Whitehall, London

The turrets flanking the entrance to Richmond House are its public face, seen in the background of the Remembrance Day ceremony. Much more lies behind this, including the elaborate cathedral-like staircase with a working portcullis. Architects William Whitfield and his partner Andrew Lockwood (1982-6) exercised great skill and sensitivity on this prominent site, adjoining and weaving behind a Regency terrace façade and Norman Shaw’s New Scotland Yard, echoing their style with a substantial presence of their own. The offices are beautifully lit and the extensive leadwork of the complex roofs is rigorously detailed. Richmond House was previously occupied by the Department for Health and Social Security (DHSS). Whitfield, who died in March aged 98, has been described as one of the most distinguished architects of his generation. As announced in April 2019, Whitfield’s work is due to be demolished for a temporary House of Commons chamber and offices while the Palace of Westminster undergoes a multi-billion refurbishment. Only the Whitehall façade would then survive, and that will be obscured by a security pavilion. C20 is working with SAVE Britain’s Heritage on a campaign to reverse this decision.

  • Former Fawley Power Station, Hampshire

Designed by the specialists in industrial structures, Farmer and Dark, and built between 1965 and 1971, it is one of only three remaining oil-fired power stations in the UK (the others being Bankside, now Tate Modern, and Littlebrook, also under threat with a Certificate of Immunity). Its enormous 650ft chimney towers over the flatness of the New Forest and the sheltered waters of the Solent, an aid for shipping in one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.  Fawley’s hall is a long, straight-sided box with its roof in twenty sections, mostly of corrugated aluminium sheeting.  What adjoins alongside is the real star of the show: a central core rising between the boiler house and the switch house, and higher than both.  The walls are a close zig-zag of glass, formed into adjacent triangular columns rising until, just below the flat roof, they taper between inverse columns slotting downwards.  The interior is no less futuristic with its curving walls, stacked up with dials, controls and flickering screens broken up by a strip of windows giving almost 360 degree views of Southampton Water. The ceiling lights radiate from the central pillar, spiral staircases take you down to the lobby, detailed in teak and polished concrete. The potential for re-use as a public facility – Tate Modern offers a precedent – is inspiring if challenging, but following an unsuccessful attempt by C20 to gain protection with Grade II listing, the proposed use for the site is residential redevelopment.

  • The British Library Centre for Conservation

Opening as recently as 2007, this £13 million final phase of the British Library was designed by Long & Kentish with Colin St John Wilson to provide a world class facility for all aspects of book conservation including education and training and to house state-of-the art technical facilities for the National Sound Archive. It brought together for the very first time all of the library’s conservation staff. Part of the architectural challenge was to create a building with its own identity whilst also being an integral part of the British Library site. This was achieved by joining the two buildings by a new public terrace at the first floor level, thereby not only giving the Centre its own ‘front door’ but also creating a new, very attractive public space, as well as covering over the unsightly loading bay. There is another covered corridor joining the two buildings at a lower level by which collection items can be securely transported. The majority of the studio space has been designed on the first floor with top light provided by a glazed saw-tooth roof.  Built with a long life in view, the Centre is under threat of demolition while still a teenager because the unconfirmed Crossrail 2 project wants the site as a temporary construction compound.

  • BFI IMAX Cinema, Lambeth, London

Boasting the widest cinema screen in the country when it opened in 1999, this is an important building in the development of cinema. Designed by Bryan Avery of Avery Associates, the IMAX has won several awards including the Millennium Design Award from the Design Council. With an underground line running just 4.5 metres below the surface of what had previously been the empty centre of a traffic roundabout, it was a sensational feat of engineering, with pile foundations threaded down between the tunnels and a deep concrete slab constructed over them to support the building’s weight. The auditorium sits on springs to counter vibrations caused by the proximity of the tube and the external facades feature a secondary glazed curtain wall and thick insulation to create a sound barrier. The frame for the curved curtain glazing features a bespoke bracket system, and was top-hung to allow public access around the perimeter walkway.  The building, made possible with a £20 million grant from the Arts Council, featured a number of public artworks including a Howard Hodgkin’s mural wrapped around the perimeter of the building that remained in place until 2006, since when it has been replaced with advertising. In scale with other important cultural buildings close by, the IMAX is one of eight sites in Waterloo identified as suitable for tall buildings in the updated Lambeth Local Plan.

  • Sunderland Civic Centre

Designed in 1965 by the architectural practice of Sir Basil Spence, Bonnington and Collins (and attributed to John S. Bonnington), the low informal group is built of brindled brick and red tile. Planned as two linked hexagonal blocks plus a half hexagon administration building, the Civic Centre was designed to fit into the sloping site and into its context of hilly park and C19th crescents. Elizabeth Williamson, in the 1983 revision of Pevsner’s Buildings of England Durham guide commends the “artfully designed” steps and ramps which were designed to cope with the changing levels and create an urban environment rather than a monument. The interiors used a simple palette of materials much inspired by the naturalness of Alvar Aalto’s Saynatsalo Town Hall but using a local engineering brick as better-lasting than concrete. Bonnington designed a chained curtain for the two-storey window outside the council chamber, inspired by that at the Four Seasons restaurant in New York. He also designed all the furniture, some of it repeating the hexagonal motif.  The Civic Centre was extensively reviewed and selected as one of the best of seven regional projects by Building magazine in 1970. The local authority says the Centre is too big and expensive to maintain and is planning to relocate and demolish the building to make way for housing. C20 challenged an application for a Certificate of Immunity without success, removing the likelihood of protection and constructive re-use until 2022.

  • Homebase Superstore, Brentford

Designed by Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners in 1987, the 4,180 sq m superstore provides a large, column-free interior. It followed his Sainsbury’s store in Camden Town, currently the subject of a listing application, which was part of an effort by Homebase’s parent company to create architectural excellence. In the HighTech manner with which Grimshaw made his reputation, the structure is immediately legible, with a central 95.7 m long structural spine overhanging the length of the building, supported by a mast at the front and trestle to the rear. The store declares its presence with a 33-metre-tall tower, supporting the spine through steel tension rods and carrying the Homebase sign. This unmissable tower also recalls the tradition of dramatic signage along London’s Great West Road, such as the listed Gillette factory tower of the 1930s nearby. A barrel-vault roof light runing the entire length of the spine, dramatically enhances the interior. Further natural daylighting is supplied by roof lights integrated within each of the seven pairs of ‘wings’, which span outwards from the spine to V-shaped props. Following an announcement by Homebase that it will be closing the store, Hounslow Council has identified the site for housing.

  • Alton Estate, Roehampton

‘The best low-cost housing in the world’  was how the American critic G E Kidder-Smith described Alton West, the development in Roehampton, SW London, on the edge of Richmond Park, designed by the London County Council Architects Department in 1955-59. Covering a large site with ancient trees and sloping views of Richmond Park, the Alton East and West estates were world famous in their time and have become an enduring exemplar of C20 design, recognised by Conservation Area status and the clutch of Grade II* and Grade II listings within in its bounds. Their beauty lies in the fusion of a variety of modern housing types  with pre-existing landscaping, public sculpture and social facilities. Unfortunately the conservation designation excluded the area at the end of Danebury Avenue where it meets Roehampton Lane, which includes Allbrook House, Roehampton Library and blocks of maisonettes and shops, although C20 has for several years made a case for their significance in the masterplan for the estate. This undesignated area is now at risk following the decision by Wandsworth Council to appoint Redrow to redevelop the estate at higher density. Detailed plans are being considered by the London Borough of Wandsworth. C20 is objecting to these.

  • Ardudwy Theatre & Residential Tower, Coleg Harlech, Merionnydd, Wales

These two Brutalist buildings make dramatic use of a steeply sloping site facing the sea, just down the coast from Harlech Castle.  Coleg Harlech was founded in 1927, based at the Edwardian villa Plas Wernfawr by architect George Walton, in order to provide higher education for working men and women. The theatre at the north and the tower at the south book-end the site, with a variety of college buildings in between.  Both were designed by the local architect Ralph Colwyn Foulkes. The thin 12-storey tower with pre-cast concrete panels was completed in 1968 to provide accommodation for 100 students, while the theatre, with a raked 256- seat auditorium was completed five years later in 1973.  The latter, based on a classical Greek amphitheatre, is renowned for its excellent sight-lines and unique acoustic. It was constructed of concrete with a steel-frame and a variety of high quality materials including hardwood, glass, marble, plaster and handmade Italian tiles. The building is wholly intact, and resplendent with high quality interior detailing. Following an application from C20, the theatre was listed in 2016 at Grade II*, but listing was denied for the residential block.  After years of lack of maintenance and neglect, the buildings have closed and are up for sale.

  • Former All Saints’ Pastoral Centre and Chapel, London Colney, Herts

Built as an Anglican convent in an exceptional Arts and Crafts neo-Tudor style in 1899 by Leonard Stokes. The Gothic convent chapel was added in 1927, designed by Sir Ninian Comper, one of the greatest church architects of the C20th. Tall, long and narrow in the manner of Oxford and Cambridge college chapels, it was only finally completed between 1960 and 1964 by Comper’s son, Sebastian. Comper designed relatively few new churches, and his speciality was the fitting-out and decoration of interiors. The London Colney chapel has especially fine carved woodwork and stained glass, a very light and spacious interior and a majestic baldacchino over the altar, supported on classical columns. Comper also added a southern annexe and Voluntary Mission. The building was acquired by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Westminster in 1973 and converted to a conference centre and retreat. After falling into disrepair, the centre closed in 2011 and was sold to the property developer Cromer Homes.  Cromer plans to redevelop the site for residential housing, using an Enabling Development scheme to subsidise the vast costs now needed to restore the buildings which are Grade II* listed. While Comer Homes have taken responsible precautions, the C20 Society is concerned at how long the consent process is taking and the continuing risk to the fabric of the chapel, particularly the effects of water ingress and the deterioration in the window mullions.

        10) Walton Court, former Birds Eye HQ in Walton, Surrey

Designed in the 1960s by Sir John Burnet, Tait and Partners, the successors to a practice that produced consistently fine and original buildings from the 1880s onwards. Birds Eye was one of the first corporate HQs to be built outside London in the American manner.  Listed at Grade II in 1995, this three storey building is arranged around two internal courtyards. Most striking are the facades, made up of plate glass curtain walling, blue vitreous enamelled panels and repeating half-hexagonal aluminium sections attached to thin aluminium mullions. Landscaping was designed by artist Philip Hicks who set back the main building to be viewed across a lawn and behind a long rectangular pool which runs its length.  Hicks also oversaw the landscaping of the two internal courtyards, one of which contains concrete menhirs by the artist Alan Collins which are arranged around rectangular pools. A standalone of sculpture depicting rising birds by the artist John McCarthy stands next to the pool at the site’s entrance and is listed independently at Grade II (this will be relocated). The building has been empty for 11 years and is due to be demolished to make way for 375 homes and commercial units, although it would lend itself to many possible uses including residential conversion. C20 has been unsuccessful in challenging this decision and in calling for a public inquiry.

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Leading heritage figures brought discussions of Richmond House to the heart of Westminster this week in a special event in Pugin’s Houses of Parliament.

Talks by distinguished writers, architects and architectural historians highlighted the importance of the architecture and significance of the grade II* listed building – opened just 30 years ago – and now threatened with demolition.

The event ‘Saving time, Money and a Great Listed Building‘ on Wednesday evening, organised by SAVE Britain’s Heritage and Twentieth Century Society, also demonstrated that there are greener, cheaper and less destructive alternatives to demolishing this beautiful modern building for a temporary House of Commons chamber.

Andrew Saint, writer and former professor of architecture at the University of Cambridge and General Editor of the Survey of London, said: “Parliament and Whitehall form an outstanding ensemble, a mix of grand monumental architecture and more modest buildings which could only be found in Britain. It is picturesque townscape of the highest order. The plans for the Northern Parliamentary Estate are entering a new pompous phase entirely alien to the British tradition. It was tried before in the 1960s with the grandiose plans to demolish a large part of Whitehall including the Foreign Office – thankfully rejected.”

Saint added: “The present plans are based on keeping the hoi polloi out and the intrusive security measures represent a new cowardice creeping into public life. The proposed new three metre high railings running half the length of Whitehall will be a horror. It manifests a lack of imagination and poor design at every stage.”

Hugh Pearman MBE, editor of RIBA Journal and former architecture and design critic of The Sunday Times who chaired the event, said: “Richmond House is designed and built to last. It is in good condition inside and out, and well used. The architectural language and detail of the exterior carries through to the interiors – rather like the castles and cathedrals that its architect Sir William Whitfield so admired. Its strength, durability and clarity make this an enlightened public work. Parliament has rightly declared a climate emergency: will MPs respect that? This is not the time to needlessly demolish all but a fragment of this excellent listed building to build a temporary House of Commons with all the waste, CO2 emissions and public expense involved.”

Architect Mark Hines, who was the project director responsible for the restoration and conversion of the BBC’s grade II* listed Broadcasting House, said: “A new building will put huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere – perhaps more than the equivalent CO2 of 15,450 flights from London to New York. By contrast, Richmond House could meet over 75% of the criteria for good, contemporary office space and be upgraded to meet a very high level of energy efficiency.”

Hines added: “A refurbished building with high levels of insulation will nearly always be cheaper to run and emit fewer total CO2 emissions over its lifetime than a new building. The government could set the agenda for future generations and ensure that the grade II* listed Richmond House becomes a benchmark, beautiful, low energy building.”

Alan Powers, writer and lecturer at the Universities of Westminster and Kent and former chairman of the Twentieth Century society, said: “In age, William Whitfield came between Denys Lasdun and James Stirling, both of whom were more interested than him in promoting themselves. His work has much in common with Louis Kahn’s rediscovery of mass and monumentality as an aspect of Modernism in the late 1950s. Nobody would think of demolishing a pristine building by any of these three architects, but Whitfield’s modesty during his long life has resulted in his work to be seen as less important than theirs, an attitude that needs to be challenged.”

Powers added: “Richmond House is not a compromise between Modernism and history, but a very clever hybrid that encompasses both and gives visual pleasure at every point, while demonstrating integrity of materials and construction. It represents the best aspects of the 1980s awareness of historic context, as reflected in its high grade of listing.”

Sir Edward Leigh MP, expressed his support for the campaign and addressed the audience referring to the high cost of the Richmond House redevelopment, saying: “If MPs were spending their own money, they wouldn’t do it this way.”

Under the current £1.6bn plans for the Northern Estate Programme, Richmond House would be largely demolished (apart from the entrance façade – which will also be partially demolished) and rebuilt as a temporary chamber for MPs while the neighbouring Palace of Westminster is refurbished. MPs are set to return to the current House of Commons after the refurbishment works are completed, and there is no clear plan for the use of the new building after the MPs return.

Working in collaboration with Hopkins Architects and Ian Chalk Architects, SAVE has published alternative plans showing how the chambers of both the Commons and Lords can be accommodated within existing buildings on the Parliamentary Estate – the courtyards of the HMRC/Treasury building and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, connected by King Charles Street. The plans are published as part of a new SAVE report entitled “The temporary home for MPs must not be a folly”.

There are several more alternative sites in the vicinity of Richmond House and Whitehall that do not involve the level of waste, expense and destruction as currently proposed. For example, architects Foster and Partners have published a detailed proposal for Horseguards Parade. The ample dimensions of Horseguards Parade could be used to provide temporary chambers for both Lords and Commons with offices for MPs, Peers and staff immediately adjacent. Another is the Sir Michael Hopkins proposal for a temporary MPs chamber inside half of the atrium of Portcullis House.

The award winning former Department of Health HQ was constructed of high quality materials and its proposed destruction would be a colossal waste of money and resources. Richmond House could be upgraded to provide exemplar low energy office space – a class leader in sustainability and design.

Richmond House was built to the designs of Sir William Whitfield in 1988 and was listed at grade II* by Historic England, the government’s advisors on historic buildings. It was awarded a Royal Institute of British Architecture award in 1989, a Europa Nostra Heritage award and Civic Trust award.

***

For more information and images contact Henrietta Billings, director of SAVE Britain’s Heritage henrietta.billings@savebritainsheritage.org or Catherine Croft, director of Twentieth Century Society catherine@c20society.org.uk

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In our Conservation Areas Research Project in 2017-18 we highlighted the need for many more conservation areas focused on post-war heritage. One of our top recommendations was Plymouth City Centre. We are delighted that Plymouth City Council now look as though they agree with us. The final hurdle is a Cabinet meeting next week – we’ve got our fingers crossed for a positive outcome.

Plymouth’s City Centre was reconfigured in the aftermath of extensive bombing during WWII, and the city’s Post-War plan, designed by Sir Patrick Abercrombie, took a revolutionary approach to designing a modern urban environment. The Society has long been championing Plymouth as a city full of innovative and ambitious post-war buildings that line Abercrombie’s formal boulevards and pedestrianised precincts. Plymouth doesn’t have a local list, meaning CA status offers formal protection for many high-quality post-war buildings for the first time. Unfortunately for a handful of buildings such as the former NAAFI building, designation will come too late, however we are encouraged to see that perceptions towards post-war heritage are changing.

The vast majority of post-war shops, offices, civic buildings, and leisure facilities located in the city centre are still standing but many are in need of some sensitive attention. We’re hopeful that this designation will also lead to heritage funding opportunities to help bring Plymouth back to looking its best. The decision is also a big step towards instilling a greater awareness of and sensitivity towards post-war architecture and landscaping across the whole city. Historic England have been instrumental in making this designation happen, advocating the importance and benefits of a CA designation to Plymouth City Council’s planners and councillors. We are very pleased that Plymouth have taken the plunge, and we hope this will be the first of many similar designations that improve the reality that a measly 4% of conservation areas in England are designated primarily for their twentieth century heritage.

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On 21 August come and enjoy a day out in London Croydon Airport – once Britain’s major and only international airport with a significant role in early 20th century history. Home to the first world’s first air traffic control tower, the phrase ‘Mayday’ was coined here.

We are fortunate to have two volunteers to give us a tour of the airport, including the control tower, followed by an Imperial Airways ‘Silver Wings’ luncheon at the Hallmark Aerodrome Hotel, once a viewing area. Afterwards there’s a walk around the airfield and if participants wish, they can separately visit Croydon Lido Diving Board.

The day runs from 10.30am-4.30pm and the cost is £48.50 including lunch at £37.50 and the tower and grounds tour at £11. Please note: special diets can be arranged, and the day involves walking and steep stairs. Numbers are strictly limited to 14 so early booking essential. In the first instance, please email Clare Dales at claredales@hotmail.co.uk.

Croydon Airport is on Purley Way. Parking available. If not driving, Waddon is the nearest station and a 10 minute walk or take the 289 bus. Purley is also 10 mins by the 289 bus. East Croydon is 15 mins by the 119 bus. Buses stop outside the airport.

Download flyer here C20th Croydon Flyer

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The C20 Society is pleased that the planning application to significantly alter Dolphin Square was turned down at Westminster’s Planning Committee this week. But we remain vigilant to proposals to change a large part of the fabric of this landmark block of private flats near the River Thames at Pimlico in London – including plans to reconfigure apartments, demolish historic areas and create a new nine-storey building – and we believe these changes would cause harm to the significance of the Dolphin Square Conservation Area.

Dolphin Square is of substantial historic and architectural significance as an impressive large-scale self-contained urban living typology which was pioneering for its day in the UK. Indeed, it remains unusual. The brainchild of New York property developer Fred French, who aimed to import the concept of serviced apartments from the US to the UK, Dolphin Square’s remit was to provide high standard to middle and lower income groups. French couldn’t fund the project, and it went forward with designs by Gordon Jeeves for Richard Rylands Costain and was built between 1935 and 1937, with the consulting engineer being reinforced concrete expert Oscar Faber. With 1,236 flats it was the largest self-contained block of flats in Europe and occupied 7.5 prime acres facing the Thames.

Planned in 13 wings or ‘houses’, all named after famous admirals and navigators, at ten storeys (apart from Dolphin House, previously known as Rodney, at six storeys) its massive scale gave it an unquestionably imposing urban character. Inside is five miles of corridors. Its external design includes gardens and a recreational centre and underground garage. The ground floor of Roland House still contains an intact internal parade of shops and the swimming pool, designed by Edward Irvine Halliday (1902-84), featured a 90-foot mural in map form depicting historical events on the Thames (since covered) and was embellished with a brass dolphin. The gardens were designed by Richard Suddell, then President of the Institute of Landscape Architects, to include two main lawns flanking an avenue of chestnut trees, a rose garden, fountain and pool.

The Square was instantly renowned and early advertisements for the Square boasted of “London’s Largest and Best Equipped flats”. The Promotional Booklet told of “a city of 1,250 flats, each enjoying… most of the advantages of the separate house and the big communal dwelling place.” The provision of amenities such as the restaurant prompted the contemporary concern that “fortunate wives will not have enough to do. The Dolphin lady may be spoiled!”

Over the years Dolphin Square acquired a colourful social history. Being close to government buildings it has housed over 70 politicians including Harold Wilson, David Steel and William Hague, royals such as Anne, Princess Royal, and a more notorious cast of residents including Christine Keeler, Mandy Rice-Davies, Oswald Mosley and his wife Diana Mitford. John Vassall, the Soviet spy, was arrested here. It was the base for de Gaulle’s Free French in the Second World War and MI5 based a section in the building.

Dolphin Square was architecturally influential and Patrick Hodgkinson acknowledged its influence on his designs for the Brunswick Centre. To date it is little changed, appearing much as it did in the 1930s, and is externally intact.

Although our attempts to achieve national listing were not successful, Dolphin Square is nevertheless recognised as a heritage asset as it forms the majority of the built area of the Dolphin Square Conservation Area designated in 1990. The Gardens are registered on the Parks and Gardens Register at Grade II. In the proposals for alteration, the demolition of Rodney House would represent the loss of a substantial amount of the conservation area – as would the demolition of the top storey and replacement with two unmatching new storeys, the loss of the historic shopping parade and original recreational centre and some garden areas.

The Society is pleased that the council has pushed back on the proposals. We maintain that these plans cause harm to the conservation area and this non-designated heritage asset and we will continue to argue the case to retain Dolphin Square in its current form.

By Clare Price, head of casework, the C20 Society

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The C20 Society was delighted to find that Peter Behrens’ groundbreaking house, New Ways, Northampton is for sale. Although sometimes billed as Art Deco, it could more properly be defined as Modern Movement or Expressionist and show the influence of the Vienna Secession – plus it was constructed in 1925-26, prior to the popularisation of Deco. Whatever its bracket, it is a remarkable piece of residential architecture – called by some the ‘first modern house in Britain’ – and a formidable asset for its home town.
The house was designed by renowned industrial engineer Peter Behrens, best known for his AEG turbine hall, Berlin (1909). The patron was Mr Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke, who found success as a toy manufacturer, most notably of model railways – and fortunately for Northampton, an architecture buff. Prior to building New Ways Bassett-Lowke asked Charles Rennie Mackintosh to remodel 78 Derngate (1916). Now open to the public, it remains the Scottish architect-designer’s only residential commission in England.
The interior of New Ways has not been accessible in the recent past so it is fascinating to see the estate agent’s details, which show the central hallway and staircase rising in geometric harmony, and the retention of many internal features, some by Mackintosh. The main room, specified by Bassett-Lowke to be large enough for dancing, has lighting and a fireplace both in keeping with its modern style, although New Ways was also one of the first UK homes to have central heating. On the exterior, the stark front facade is bifurcated by a dramatic triangular window that rises up to show its origin date of 1926. At the rear is a large garden and swimming pool.
With a Grade II* listing, New Ways is a major architectural asset for Northampton and indeed, the country. Unfortunately, it has not been open for visits or participated in Open House events. Mackintosh’s 78 Derngate, meanwhile, was opened to visitors in 2003 and under the management of the 78 Derngate Northampton Trust, has won several tourism awards and accolades, attracting many people each year to Northampton. If New Ways were to follow its example it would enhance Northampton’s tourism offering as an architectural centre; but even under sympathetic new ownership, with access during Open House events, it would offer much pleasure to visitors with benefits to the town as a whole.. The Society hopes for an outcome that will enable more people to see this well-preserved and pioneering house.

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Saturday 13 July

Meet: Frimley, 10.30am (get details by email, below)
End: approx 4pm, Farnborough Business Park

In Frimley we will visit at least one of the so-called ‘Elephant Houses’ designed by renowned architect Lawrence Abbott – once director at Richard Rogers Partnership – and built by the Apex Society in the 1960s. Described by some as ‘Brutalist’, these upside-down house are fun to visit and we shall hear from the owners if they are also fun to inhabit.

After lunch (at guests own cost) we visit Farnborough Business Park, the site of the former Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) for a guided tour of two Grade I and II listed wind tunnels, considered world-class monuments to 20th century technology. Our expert guides are volunteers from the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust (FAST) and we will go inside the larger of the two wind tunnels where we can stand in the 30ft diameter fan blades. The wind tunnels are only open to the public via group bookings.

Price: £20, including a £15 entrance fee to FAST.

For more details and to book please email c20southerngroup@gmail.com

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Are you passionate about 20th century architecture and would you like to help out at exciting and enriching events? The C20 Society regularly needs hands-on assistance for its busy programme of events, both in and out of house, and we’re currently looking for dynamic and friendly people who can man stalls, help guests, sell books, hand out drinks and leaflets, and drive membership sign-ups.

We’re delighted for non-members and members alike to volunteer. The kinds of events will include our own well-attended lectures and film showings as well as external events such as the upcoming conference exploring connections between design and architectural history next month at Birkbeck, Torrington Square, Bloomsbury, on Friday and Saturday 7-8 June.

Please get in touch with any offers of help, great or small. We truly appreciate your help in supporting the Society’s work preserving and celebrating 20th Century architecture. Interested? Please email coordinator@c20society.org.uk

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The Society was delighted to hear the news last week that the Blackheath Friends Meeting House (Trevor Dannatt, 1971-72) is included in the group of newly listed Quaker meeting houses, following Historic England’s thematic listing review. We initially applied for the building to be listed in 2016, and this request was acknowledged by Historic England’s listing team and absorbed into the wider research project. It now has been approved for a Grade II listing by Historic England. Recently celebrated by Neil Bingham as our Building of the Month, the building is a calm essay in reinforced concrete, brick and quarry tile, with its key internal feature the square lantern, lined with red wood and complemented by white plaster walls. The listing also offers us a chance to celebrate Trevor Dannatt, now 99 years old and the former C20 Society president. As part of the research into the building our director Catherine and former senior casework adviser Tess Pinto met Trevor Dannatt to learn about the building’s design and history. A recording of this discussion is available to listen to below: https://c20society.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Trevor-Dannatt.m4a

In its review, Historic England has included two other 20th century buildings: the Croydon Meeting House (Hubert Lidbetter, 1956), expressing a synthesis of Arts and Crafts, New England and Scandinavian influences; and the Meeting House at Malvern, Worcestershire (John Ramsay Armstrong, 1938), a rare purpose-built interwar meeting house, designed by an architect who worked for the Bournville Village Trust. Both of these buildings have also achieved Grade II status, ensuring their survival.

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Update, 10 May 2019: Catherine Croft’s letter to the Editor of the Times has been printed today

Sir, Your leading article on the need to renovate the Palace of Westminster (May 9) asserts that demolition of Sir William Whitfield’s Richmond House is a necessary sacrifice because it “has no great aesthetic merit, symbolic value or public standing”. Many strongly disagree. C20 Society, SAVE Britain’s Heritage, and government’s own advisers, Historic England, all think it is a really important  public building. Richmond House can and should be kept, and the Commons should be provided with a temporary home elsewhere (there are several possible options). Most importantly, the architectural and historic interest of Richmond House was  assessed just three and a half years ago, and it was listed at Grade II* . This means that the government knows it is of “outstanding” significance.

Richmond House was condemned “on the grounds that it would cause the least disruption and was likely to be the most cost effective”. The purpose of identifying buildings by listing is to make sure that owners think laterally and come up with imaginative alternative solutions to demolishing them. Government makes all other owners do this, but is giving Parliament an easy ride, and squandering an irreplaceable part of our recent heritage.

Catherine Croft, Director, Twentieth Century Society

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News story, 8 May 2019

The publication of the plans today confirm our worst fears as they clearly show the almost total destruction of Richmond House, a Grade II* listed building. Richmond House is by Sir William Whitfield who died on 16 March this year at the age of 98. The listing confirms that it is an outstanding historic building and was one of the first Post-Modern buildings to be listed in the country. The proposals retain nothing of substance of one of the most significant Twentieth Century buildings.

Clare Price, Head of Casework at the Twentieth Century Society said ‘Parliament should be setting a good example and not demolishing its own listed buildings whilst requiring others to preserve theirs. The reason demolition is proposed is to allow construction of a temporary Commons Chamber while the Palace of Westminster is renovated. Parliament has known for a very long time that they were going to have to plan carefully to keep costs to a minimum and ensure that the essential work of parliament was not disrupted.’

Catherine Croft, Director of the Twentieth Century Society said: ‘It was blatantly obvious from even a cursory assessment that there was no hope of fitting the temporary chamber on this site without demolishing almost all of Richmond House. Both the Twentieth Century Society and SAVE Britain’s Heritage have pointed this out. Parliament needed to take a much more radical and imaginative approach to this problem. Had they relocated to an out of London site or relocated in a park or other open space this wanton destruction could have been avoided and the overall costs of the project could have been reduced.’

What’s good about the William Whitfield Building?

The strength of Whitfield’s Richmond House is the way he designed it to respond to its context and made sense of the Northern Estate as a whole. It is particularly strong in the way it blends both the styles of the Norman Shaw buildings and the Georgian Richmond Terrace façade. The front façade is merely a glimpse of the quality behind. The interiors are carefully crafted using high quality materials referencing both Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Lutyens, the designer of the Cenotaph opposite.

Grade II* listed buildings form only 5.5% of all listed buildings in the country and 1980s buildings of this grade are astoundingly rare, making this one of the most significant of its date in the UK. It deserves better treatments by the government both as the guardian of heritage.

For more information please contact Clare Price or Catherine Croft on 020 7250 3857.

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