I’ve been to the Barbican before, wandering the walkways without purpose.
This is a whole new box of tiles, the search for a re-sited mural, a first time meeting with what would seem at once like an old and well-loved friend.
Dorothy Annan20 January 1900 – 28 June 1983
Was an English painter, potter and muralist, married to the painter and sculptor Trevor Tennant. She was born in Brazil to British parents and was educated in France and Germany.
Annan’s paintings are in many national collections, she is also known for her tile murals, many of which have been destroyed in recent decades. Only three of her major public murals are believed to survive, the largest single example, the Expanding Universe at the Bank of England, was destroyed in 1997.
I was looking for her mural which illustrates the telecommunications industry – formerly of the Fleet Building Telephone Exchange Farringdon Road.
The murals were commissioned at a cost of £300 per panel in 1960. Annan visited the Hathernware Pottery in Loughborough and hand-scored her designs onto each wet clay tile, her brush marks can also be seen in the fired panels.
The building was owned by Goldman Sachs, who wished to redevelop the site and opposed the listing of the murals.
In January 2013, the City of London Corporation agreed to take ownership of the murals, and in September 2013 these were moved to a permanent location in publicly accessible part of the Barbican Estate. They are displayed in their original sequence within an enclosed section of the Barbican High Walk between Speed House and the Barbican Centre.
So following a discursive and somewhat undirected circumnavigation of the Center we were finally united – it only seemed polite to linger a while and take some snaps – here they are.
A short circuitous tour around the town’s post war architecture.
Stockport along with every other town in the country was asked by central government to draw up a plan for reconstruction, to be implemented at the end of WW2. The result was invariably a wholesale rebuilding of bomb damaged and aged industrial, civic and domestic architecture.
Post 1945 such plans were seldom realised, Coventry and Plymouth being the exceptions. Changes in government, shortages of materials, labour and finance all played their part. We are left with a piecemeal implementation taking place over a much longer time scale than was originally envisaged.
The proposed Market Hall remains a fantasy in line and wash.
The Town Hall was spared and the planned civic sector took shape over some sixty years, the station approach area is now in its second phase of rebirth and rebuilding – the original 80s development of Grand Central now largely rubble – a new new plan is now in play.
A whole new transport interchange is to be built, replacing the existing 80s Bus Station.
Some 60s structures have been and gone, others are to be demolished or transformed into apartments, as towns strive to repopulate the centres following decades of abandonment to the moribund absence of a thriving night time economy.
So as of January 2019 we find ourselves at the centre of a town with change at its very centre, some of that which we see will be transformed, some will disappear.
All That Is Solid Melts into Air.
A compact 70s block, that combines the roughest of precast panels, with the smoothest of *V* shaped supports, housing the car park below. The north face is a solid block of rough mid-toned aggregated recessed concrete, the remaining elevations pierced with windows and to the east a brick service tower.
I miss the Water Board offices, formerly adjoining the site.
Sixties built Hilton House is the former home of local furniture manufacturers New Day. It continues to impress, more or less unaltered, with its dramatic interlocking volumes confidently occupying the topography of the site. A commanding block of some ten storeys, with well proportioned bands of windows and mixed stone and concrete cladding. Linked to two further horizontal blocks, which are finished in contrasting styles.
The building is currently in occupation as office space but there are imminent plans to convert the development into apartments following a Studio KMA concept design.
There had been proposals to extend the Town Hall provision since 1945, which were finally realised in 1975. Designed by JS Rank OBE and built at a cost of £1,500,000 – to provide additional office provision for the Local Authority. A further two blocks were planned but never built.
The main block is clad in 1400 exposed aggregate precast panels and the link blocks have ribbed walls constructed with in situ concrete, bush hammered to expose the limestone aggregate. The precast panels were carefully matched in order to harmonise with the existing Town Hall, the mix contained coarse aggregate from the Scottish Granite Company of Creetown, a fine Leemoor sand from the Fordamin Company, together with white cement.
There are tow levels of underground parking beneath the whole of the development. The piazza between the blocks was to have had a water cascade falling into a pond running the whole length of the area.
Though exciting and expansive in the modern manner the piazza area, sadly, seems little used.
Missing in action Covent Garden Flats once a little inter-war Berlin style low rise development now a Barratt Home urban paradise.
The story of Merseyway begins in 1936 with the quarter mile bridging of the river. It continues with a series of post-war integrateddevelopment proposals, finally completed in 1965. It has accommodated much earlier buildings, notably the Co-operative Store, now Primark, and the properties on the adjoining Prince’s Street. The multi storey car park with its pierced cast concrete screen and tower dominates the site. Many original features are missing, sympathetic paving, sculpture, exterior travelators, signage and kiosks. The use of the upper tier is negligible and piecemeal additions have left a rather cluttered feel, replacing a former well structured integrity. Just recently a small portion of the river has been exposed, following the repairs to the bridge of 1891. There have been discussions regarding the opening up of the whole extent of the river, revealing it through reinforced glazing.
Opened in 1965, and extensively refurbished in the 1990s, it is a large pedestrianised area built on stilts over the River Mersey with two levels of walkways giving access to the retail units.
The scheme was developed by a consortium of interested parties who formed as Stockport Improvements Limited. In partnership with the Stockport Co-operative Society. The architects were Bernard Engle and Partners in conjunction with officers of Stockport Corporation. The separation of pedestrians and cars, the service areas, the multi level street, the city block that negotiates difficult topography to its advantage, are all planning moves that are of the new, ordered and systemised, second wave modernism in the UK.
Notable is the pierced concrete car park screen by Alan Boyson.
Constructed from three basic modules, each one being rotated to form six options in a seemingly random order.
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, establishedthe Colchester Arts Group, during the 1930s. Their work was featured in the Festival of Britain, GPO Tower and Expo 70, along with other retail outlets in Bexhill, Cwmbran, Southhampton, Newcastle and Colchester.
The Hatton Street footbridge has two spans of in-situ u-section deck, is at ground level on the north side, but is reached by steps or ramp from Great Egerton Street on the south.
By 1974, the motorway had reached the outskirts of Stockport , running onto the congested A560. The 2.5-mileStockport East-West bypass opened to traffic in July 1982 as far as the Portwood Roundabout, then junction 13 of the M63, now junction 27 of the M60. A significant feature of the bypass is where the motorway passes through two of the arches of the large railway viaduct in the centre of Stockport – one of the largest brick-built structures in Europe. In much of the cutting on the eastern side of the viaduct, red sandstone, on which much of the town is built, can be seen very close to the motorway. The section of motorway was widened from two to three lane carriageways in 1999 and 2000, around the time when the M63 was renumbered to M60.
This in so many senses is where it all began – my first encounter with the visual arts was through my Aunty Alice’s postcard album. Predating visits to Manchester City Art Gallery in my mid-teens, I was lost in a world of post WW1 printed ephemera, rendered less ephemeral by careful collection and collation. Sitting entranced for hours and hours absorbing the photography, text and illustration of hundreds of unseen hands.
This is North Shore Blackpool – behind the Metropole in the early 60s.
The colour is muted by the then state of the art colour reproduction, the holiday dress is constrained by the codes of the day. Light cotton frocks and wide brimmed sun hats, shirts tucked in belted slacks, sandals and shorts – purely for the pre-teens.
The focus and locus of fun is located on the prom and what better way to squander a moment or eighteen, than with a pleasurable round of crazy golf. Municipal Modernist frivolity rendered corporeal in corporation concrete, repainted annually ahead of the coming vacationers.
Domesticated Brutalism to soften the soul.
And there can be no better away to inform the awaiting world of your capricious coastal antics than a picture postcard, so playfully displayed on the corner shop carousel – 10p a pop.
Stopping to chuckle at the Bamforth’s mild mannered filth, yet finally purer of heart, opting for the purely pictorial.
Man and boy and beyond I have visited Blackpool – a day, week or fortnight here and there, the worker’s working week temporarily suspended with a week away.
Times have now changed and the new nexus is cash, all too incautiously squandered – Pleasure Beach and pub replacing the beach as the giddy stags and hens collide in an intoxicating miasma of flaming Sambuca, Carling, Carlsberg and cheap cocktails – for those too cash strapped for Ibiza.
The numbers are up – 18 times nothing is nothing – each year as I revisit, the primarily primary colour paint wears a little thinner in the thin salt air and the whining westerly wind, of the all too adjacent Irish Sea.
Overgrown and underused awaiting the kids and grown ups that forever fail to show. On one visit the sunken course had become the home of the daytime hard drinkers, they suggested we refurbish and run the course as a going concern. I declined lacking the time, will and capital for such a crazy enterprise.
The open rectilinear concrete structure and integrated services and surrounding space – replacing a grid-iron of back to backs considered unfit for purpose.
Architects Jack Lynn and Ivor Smith under the supervision of John Lewis Womersley, Sheffield Council’s City Architect, began work in 1953 designing the Park Hill Flats. Construction began in 1957. Park Hill Part One was officially opened by Hugh Gaitskell, MP and then Leader of the Opposition, on 16 June 1961.
The initial success of the development was followed by a period of slow decline, mirroring the fate of post-industrial Britain. Unemployment, lack of investment and the public and central government perception of social housing all contributing to Park Hill’s eventual closure.
Despite the problems, the complex remained structurally sound, and was Grade II* listed in 1998. A part-privatisation scheme by the developer Urban Splash in partnership with English Heritage to turn the flats into apartments, business units and social housing is now underway.The renovation was due to start in around 2007 but was put on hold due to the recession with work starting in 2009 with the first phase open to residents in 2010/11.
So today we see a site in transition, partially resuscitated, half tinned up and stripped out.
How then do we photograph present-day Park Hill?
My answer it to walk and look, take time to explore the site and consider your response.
You can approach the project as an entirely formal process, considering:
Viewpoint – where you physically stand and look.
Light – naturally occurring, from the ever changing sun or artificially from flash, its source and your relative position to it and the subject, are of primary importance.
Composition – framing the subject carefully on screen or through the viewfinder, taking care to include only the elements you feel are of consequence.
Are those elements organised in a grid, symmetrical or diagonal?
By changing the camera angle the composition can be radically modified.
All the visual arts rely on a common vocabulary:
Shape – the physical form both geometric and organic.
Line – the implied or actual path between points that lead and direct the eye.
Tone – the range from dark to light.
Colour – the chromatic value from bright primary to dull non-colour.
Texture – taking the rough with the smooth.
Pattern – the repetition of shape
These elements can be composed to form contrast and/or harmony, as straight meets bent, whilst red and grey collide.
Historically record photography has taken such a dispassionate view of a site or subject, and this objective approach was taken up by the New Topographers.
Many of the photographers associated with new topographics including Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Nicholas Nixon and Bernd and Hiller Becher, were inspired by the man-made, selecting subject matter that was matter-of-fact. Parking lots, suburban housing and warehouses were all depicted with a beautiful stark austerity, almost in the way early photographers documented the natural landscape.
Alternate to this formal approach is a more subjective narrative style of photography.
What do you think and feel?
Fashioning a personal response, through that which you choose to include or exclude, in the pictures that you produce.
Roger Mayne in 1961 framing the optimism of the newly opened estate.
Bill Stephenson in 1988 capturing the later days Park Hill set against a backdrop of decline.
Both photographers have chosen to consider the relationship of the residents to the estate, rather than simply make a formal record, theirs is generally considered to be a Humanist documentary position.
This does not preclude the consideration of the formal elements listed above – it is a question of emphasis.
Working with people can be a longer term project – where access and privacy are negotiable – to be handled with care.
We can however record the evidence of where people have been – it just requires a patient and curious eye.
In building up a personal response consider the use of a wide or establishing shot to set the scene, giving context for that which is to come.
He brought a breath of fresh air to British industry.
The fifth horseman of the industrial apocalypse – bringing pit-closure, redundancy the deindustrialisation of a whole area.
Offices and citizens are tinned-up, brassed-off and abandoned.
This is now the architecture of civic optimism eagerly awaiting repurposing.
There is talk of conversion to housing, talk is cheap.
A planning application has been drawn up requesting permission to change the use of Chantry House from offices to one and two bedroom residential units. The application has been submitted by The Freshwater Group, the development arm of Watermark Retirement Communities.