Coventry – Precinct

Coventry city centre is a city centre, comprised of several interlocking post- war facets, realised over a thirty year period. This later addition the Bull Yard, the work of Arthur Ling and Terence Gregory, city architects and planning officers.

It incorporates pedestrian walkways, retail, civic and car parking facilities with a crowded unease and grace. Much of the original detail survives, though not unusually, some more recent additions detract from the integrity of the scheme.

The site is graced by two major works by William Mitchell – the concrete facade and interior of the former Three Tuns public house.

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And the sculpted panels on Hertford street.

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So we are left with a series of spaces that now seem slightly adrift, particularly the City Arcade, as both the earlier and more recent developments in the city compete for clients and customers.

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To explore is to discover a work continually in progress, or regression, as the forces of heritage, commercial development, and civic planning pull each other this way and that.

There is an initiative for redevelopment for the area yet to find a satisfactory resolution.

Take a look.

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Coventry – Indoor Market

A market hall built in 1957 to designs by Douglas Beaton, Ralph Iredale and Ian Crawford of Coventry City Architect’s Department.

 Various designs were considered, but eventually a circular design was chosen to encourage circulation and to offer a number of entrances. It was given a flat roof in order to create a car park (with a heated ramp to prevent icing, now no longer there), and was to become the central focus for a complex scheme of linked roof car parks in Coventry.

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 The market consists of a series of concrete arches joined by a ring beam, all left exposed, with brick infilling and a concrete roof, laid out as a car park, with a central circular roof light. It has a circular plan, just over 84m in diameter and 4 ½ m high, is laid out with 160 island stalls, arranged in groups of two or four units in concentric rings, with 40 `shop stalls’ set into the perimeter wall.

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Inside, the circular space is characterised by the tall V-shaped concrete `columns’ that hold the roof. Some of the original shop and stall signs have survived. Natural light enters via the clerestory windows along the top perimeter of the building and through the clerestory lighting and oculi in the central dome. The space under this dome, designed as an area for shoppers to rest, is lined with seats and has a terrazzo mosaic floor designed by David Embling, with a central sun motif, a gift from the Coventry Branch of the Association of Building Technicians.

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Above the current market office is an impressive painted mural by art students from Dresden commissioned especially for the market in the 1950s in a Socialist Realist manner, depicting farming and industrial scenes. 

Thanks to Historic England

I visited the market on a busy bustling day and was made to feel more than welcome, a wide range of heavily laden stalls was trading briskly. The Market Office kindly gave me a copy of the book Coventry Market in a Roundabout Way.

It’s a splendid structure, now listed, that functions six days a week.

Get down take a look around.

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Coventry – Central Co-op

 

Built between 1955-56 and opened November 1956 the central Co-operative Society store in Coventry is a clean, clear example of post-war design and redevelopment, epitomised by the city’s plan and realisation.

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Picture – Natalie Bradbury

Sadly it finally closed its doors in 2015, along with many other of the Society’s larger stores, as they moved their focus to smaller food outlets.

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Happily it has been listed, saved from the indignity of the wrecking ball and the building of further student flats. Coventry, along with other UK cities, has begun to rely on the expansion of higher education, in the face of industrial and retail decline. The future use of the site, is as yet uncertain. Sadly I am now informed that the listing did not go through, make of that what you will.

While such measures are not an ultimate protection from bulldozers or drastic renovation, it is considered the building helps tell the tale of the city centre’s contemporaneously vaunted but since controversial rebuilding after the Coventry Blitz.

One of the city’s largest and oldest stores was closed last year as a victim of flagging city centre trade in an internet era, and EDG Property bought the site.

No planning applications have been received, although the council says ‘prospective buyers’ have stated an intention to demolish the building to erect two 12-storey towers of student accommodation.

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So it stands empty, the late summer foliage obscuring its splendid signage.

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Still in clear view the stone relief work of John Skelton November 1956. Three of the eight column have incised Hornston stone works, depicting the activities of the CWS.

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Coventry – The Precinct

Prior to the 1930s Coventry was a shining example of a well-preserved medieval city, but the damage it sustained during the war meant it had to be extensively rebuilt. Donald Gibson was appointed Coventry’s first City Architect and Planning Officer in 1938 at the tender age of 29. His plan involved completely rethinking the city centre in a radical design.

Local people took some convincing, but Gibson’s ideas were greatly admired by the architectural community. His plan wasn’t entirely realised, however, partly due to a lack of funding. This avoided the complete extinction of Coventry’s remaining medieval features, but it also meant some of his best designs were compromised. By the 1960s, Coventry was a model of modern, brutalist architecture – quite removed from its pre-war image.

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Central to those plans was a pedestrianised shopping precinct, new, expansive carefree and mercifully car-free.

Split levels deck access, the pride of Modern Britain.

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The future must be built, so it was.

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Whilst researching the visual history of the precinct, it became clear that it was one of the most celebrated modern architectural subjects for the post-war postcard market.

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They are a pure delight, the celebration of all that was new and good.

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The Locarno at the centre of the image was to later become the Central Library.

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Central to the new development was a rotunda café, pie in the sky.

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So a precinct well used, and loved, designed and realised with an integrity, a clean modern aesthetic and lively functionality – Coventry Precincts and the gentle folk of Godiva’s fair city – I salute you!

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BHS Murals – Stockport

At the side of the BHS store in Merseyway are five concrete panels depicting local people, events and symbols. Commissioned by BHS in 1978 – To fill space on the blank wall at the side of the shop.

They are the work of Joyce Pallot 1912-2004 and Henry Collins, 1910-1994 – two artist/designers, who along with John Nash, established the Colchester Art Society, during the 1930s.

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Their work was featured in the Festival of Britain, GPO Tower and Expo 70, along with other retail outlets in Southampton, Newcastle, Gloucester, Bexhill and Colchester.

Festival of Britain – their mural is to the left of the pavilion

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Colchester

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Newcastle upon Tyne

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Gloucester

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Southampton

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Bexhill on Sea

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The Murals, BHS Stockport and Merseyway have an uncertain future, SHMBC applied for listing, this was refused. On the other sites illustrated, restoration and preservation has been undertaken.

I do hope that these works of national and international importance are not placed under threat. We have already lost too much post-war public art – we all deserve better.

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Liverpool – Campus Art Caper

Several months ago I and many others, were more than fortunate to be taken around the campus of Liverpool University, by our erstwhile colleagues the Liverpool Modernist Society.

The brightest of days in so many, many ways.

I returned recently, with the time and space of a quiet Sunday morning, taking the opportunity to take some snaps, having been much enamoured of the cornucopia of campus art.

Here are those very snaps.

The Quickening – Mitzi Solomon Cunliffe 1951

Civic Design Building Abercromby Square.

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Mitzi was also commissioned to create the bronze reef knot door handles, to be found at the main entrance of the building – easy on the Brasso there Estates!

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Hubert Dalwood – Three Uprights 1960

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Originally twixt the Oliver Lodge and the Chadwick Building.

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David Le Marchant Brock – Designer 

Frederick Bushe – Sculptor 

Abstract Reliefs 1965-1967

University Lecture Rooms Building

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Barbara Hepworth Squares with Two Circles 1964-1969

Originally located to the side of Senate House on a purpose built concrete setting, which was eventually agreed and constructed, following some concern regarding the additional cost incurred.

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The sculpture has recently been relocated to the front of Senate House and the former site left somewhat bereft, and not a little forlorn.

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It now resides amongst the grassy new build of the modern university, placed on a base which owes more to B&Q than Babs, and considered architectural context.

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Penrhyn Bay – Ranch House Style

There is some far-flung corner for Wales, that is forever California.

As the clippers and steamers left the Mersey Estuary for the New World, cram packed with emigres some centuries ago, would they expect on their return, some centuries later, to find this architectural cultural exchange, located sedately on Penrhyn Bay?

This is a typology with a limited vocabulary, but spoken in a lilt, with an ever so slight, polite Mid-Atlantic drawl.

Lightly clad, stone-faced, light and almost expansive the seaside bungalow.

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