Coventry – Upper Precinct

Here we are again wandering the pedestrianised precincts of Coventry  – having previously travelled by picture postcard and archival image.

https://modernmooch.com/2016/10/10/coventry-the-precinct/

Back to the future.

Today much of the original footprint and well-built brick, stone, glass and concrete structure prevails, with more recent retro fitted additions.

The Cullen mural has been renovated and re-sited.

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Sadly only one of the neon sculptures, remains illuminated – they may have been listed by Historic England, they have certainly given them a coat of looking at. I myself was approached whilst working away by a crack squad of precinct management, questioning my methods and motives. I reassured them I was a serious student of post-war architecture and they allowed happily to go about my business – assuring me that I was following in the footsteps of HE.

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The elevated café, pierced screenwork, mosaics on the former Locarno, now Library and town clock are still every much in situ, Lady Godiva dutifully appearing on the hour, every hour with an ever attendant Peeping Tom for company.

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The area is well-used bustling busy, with a smattering of empty units which are sadly typical of most provincial town competing for custom and prosperity on the high street.

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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 – 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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Coventry – Railway Station

Steven Parissien, director of Compton Verney Museum in Warwickshire, says:

“Coventry is a great station. Its predecessor was pummelled to bits but it really wasn’t particularly marvellous anyway.

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“The new station really came into its own. Built in the same month as the cathedral, in a way it was just as emblematic as the cathedral, though not quite so famous.

“It’s a light and airy place with a nice design. You do come out and have the ring road right in front of you which pedestrians have to guess where to go but that’s not really the fault of the station developers.”

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The original station was built in 1838 as part of the London and Birmingham Railway and could be entered from Warwick Road, where two flights of stairs took the passengers down to the platform. Within two years it had been replaced, with a new larger station, a few hundred feet nearer to Rugby, this time, accessed via Eaton road. In the late 19th century the Coventry tram network extended to the station at Eaton Road. The original station remained in service as the station masters offices, until the station was redeveloped in the early 1960s by the London Midland Region of British Railways.

Sent to Coventry, under an imperative to explore the post-war redevelopment of a great city, I arrived by train, more than somewhat unsurprisingly at the station.

A fine building of 1962 light and airy, warm wooden ceilings, gently interlocking aluminium, glass and steel volumes, original signage and a lively feeling of calm controlled hustle and bustle.

The ideal way to start the day – take a look.

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