Architecture, Citizenship, Space: British Architecture from the 1920s to the 1970s

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Architecture, Citizenship, Space

Who this event is for

  • Everyone

Location

John Henry Brookes Building, Headington Campus, Gipsy Lane site

Details

How did individuals and groups concerned with architecture and the built environment respond to, and seek to shape, the challenges and opportunities of twentieth-century life? Engaging with themes such as democracy, citizenship, leisure, culture and new subjectivities, and showcasing scholars at the forefront of emerging methodological approaches to architectural history, this conference considers how key aspects of British modernity informed architectural form and space between the 1920s and the 1970s.

The conference theme takes as its starting point the words of Jennie Lee, the newly appointed Minister for the Arts, who, in 1965, spoke of her wish for a Britain that was ‘gayer and more cultivated.’ Lee’s comment accompanied a substantial increase in state funding for the Arts, distributed via quangos such as the Arts Council and the Council for Industrial Design, and addressed a wider context in which certain forms of cultural and recreational activities – and the architectural settings for them – were deemed to have particular value. The idea was especially marked among the political left but represented a consensus: Labour’s 1959 manifesto was entitled Leisure for Living, while the Conservatives that same year published The Challenge of Leisure. Such questions seemed particularly significant given the widespread belief that technological developments would soon result in a shorter working week and an increase in leisure time. In these circumstances, communal high-cultural, educational and sporting activities were possible counterweights to individualism, materialism, and (a perceived) malign American influence. 

The mid-century concern with culture, leisure and new forms of space had its roots in nineteenth-century ideas of ‘improvement’, particularly as re-worked and refined in the inter-war decades, and took place within a wider context in which certain approaches to design and cultural production were favoured. We can thus distinguish a clear attempt to ‘re-form’ Britain in a new, modern (‘cultured’) image which drew in part on apparently sophisticated European practice but which, as the Architectural Review’s ‘Townscape’ campaigns shows, also drew on consciously ‘British,’ or at least ‘English’ precedents. There was, in effect, an expert-led, ‘technocratic’ approach to modernity, in which the British would be steered in a particular direction through design, architecture and urbanism, and by a range of individuals and groups including not only national and local authorities, but also voluntary organisations and societies. The city emerged as a particular site of debate, with architect-planners creating lively images of a new communal urbanity in terms which paralleled the wider stress on community and leisure. Not only would the result be a transformed citizenry, but also a new image of Britain. Furthermore, as exhibitions such as ‘Britain Can Make It’ (1946) demonstrated, the agenda was also to ensure Britain’s prominence on the world stage. 

This conference explores how these themes were manifested in architectural discourse, form and space. Its concern is architectural production in the widest sense, encompassing not only completed buildings and unbuilt projects but also texts and the media. The conference addresses an emerging ‘historical turn’ in twentieth-century British architectural history away from primarily formalist accounts of style to something akin to the deeper-rooted, more sophisticated histories of modern art and literature. This new architectural history is rooted in the archive and asks how cultural production functioned as a vehicle through which to explore such ideas as modernity, identity and community. In essence, architecture is conceived as a commentary on these ideas, whether by embracing or resisting them. 

The conference, which is supported by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, and convened by Elizabeth Darling and Alistair Fair takes place across 2 days in the John Henry Brookes Building on the Headington Campus of Oxford Brookes University. The conference fee is £30, and includes lunch and refreshments. Any queries should be addressed to Elizabeth Darling ( edarling@brookes.ac.uk)

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Conference programme

Day One: 15 June 2017
10.30 Arrival and coffee
11.00 Welcome – conference chair, Dr Elizabeth Darling
11.15 Session 1: The Pivotal Decades: Re-thinking Architecture and Nationhood 1918-1939.
Theme: This session explores the re-evaluation of the purpose and nature of architecture as Britain entered full democracy. It will consider the development of new idioms of space and form to accommodate this shift.
Chair: Professor Elizabeth McKellar (Open University)
Dr Elizabeth Darling (Oxford Brookes University): Spaces of Citizenship in inter-war Britain
Dr Jessica Kelly (University for the Creative Arts): Debating Architecture in the Pages of the Architectural Press
Dr Neal Shasore (University of Westminster): 66 Portland Place: Refashioning the Profession for a Democratic Age
1.00 Lunch
2.00 Session 2: Educating the Nation after 1945.
Theme: A modern nation required an educated citizenry. Kickstarted by the Education Act of 1944, and a baby boom, the post-war years saw a dramatic expansion in educational building.
Chair: Professor Mark Swenarton (University of Liverpool)
Dr Roy Kozlovsky (Azrieli School of Architecture, Tel Aviv University): School architecture and the emotional economy of postwar citizenship
Dr Catherine Burke (Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge): 'A place which permits the joy in the small things of life and democratic living'. School design for young children in the post - war decades. 
Professor Louise Campbell (University of Warwick): 'A background sympathetic to young and energetic minds’: forming modern citizens at the University of Sussex  
4.00 Tea and coffee
4.30 Roundtable & Discussion: Architecture, Citizenship, Space – beyond the Academy: Municipal Dreams, Manchester Modernist Society, Mobile Museum, Verity-Jane Keefe (The Mobile Museum) 
5.45 Close – Reception
7.00 Dinner for speakers
Day Two
9.15 Session 3:Where and How to Live
Theme: By 1939 a consensus had emerged that British cities were inadequate to the task of accommodating modern life. Architects and architectural students increasingly sought to promote new models of urban form and dwelling.
Chair: Professor John Gold (Oxford Brookes University)
Dr Otto Saumarez Smith (University of Oxford): Building for Community in Post-War Britain
Dr Christine Hui-Lan Manley (Leicester School of Architecture, De Montfort University/Woods Hardwick): Frederick Gibberd and Town Design in Practice: Hackney and Harlow
Ms Ruth Lang (School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, Newcastle University): The London County Council:  A Plan for the Model Community
10.45 Coffee
11.15 Session 4: Culture and Democracy
Theme: The proper use of leisure was a key theme in post-war Britain, with both Labour and Conservative administrations turning their attention to the subject.
Chair: Dr Robert Proctor (University of Bath)
Dr Alistair Fair (University of Edinburgh): Culture, Leisure and the Modern Citizen
Rosamund West (Kingston University): Replanning Communities through Architecture and Art: the post-war London County Council.
Dr Lesley Whitworth (University of Brighton Design Archives): The Council of Industrial Design: Good Design for a Better World
12.45

Concluding Discussion & Goodbyes

Supported by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art

Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art

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