John Lewis Mosaics – Milton Keynes

I was lured here, siren like, by an un-purchased eBay postcard – which precipitated a virtual four colour process printed journey around the shopping precincts of the UK.

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It only seemed appropriate to finally arrive at MK Central in real life, by train from Stockport – walking at last wide-eyed and expectant, along the whole length and width of Midsummer Boulevard to centre:mk

The Milton Keynes Development Corporation began work on the Shopping Building in 1973. It was to be the largest building of Central Milton Keynes. It had a total length of over one kilometre and a maximum width of one hundred and sixteen metres . It was built at the highest point in the New City. The architects were Derek Walker, Stuart Mosscrop, and Christopher Woodward, who had been significant architects at the MK Development Corporation; and the engineers were Felix Samuely and Partners. The shopping area was opened on 25th September 1979 by Margaret Thatcher. The building’s sleek envelope accommodated one hundred and thirty shops and six department stores, arranged along two parallel day-lit arcades, each eight hundred meters long and planted with sub-tropical and temperate trees.

A big bad Miesian box of glass and steel that goes on forever and forever.

At the very far end of forever is the John Lewis store, to the right of the entrance there are a series of tiled panels – these are possibly the work of Lucienne and Robin Day

Way back when, when brown was the new brown, brown still is the new brown.

Fresh and crisp and even.

Bobbing up and down precipitously on low marble walls, from amongst the sub-tropical and temperate trees, I bring you these thirteen tiled panels.

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Working so close up and personal at altitude, photographing such large pieces in confined spaces, it’s not until you arrive home that you discover that together they spell:

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What a delightful surprise!

The Happy Prospect – Reading

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The Happy Prospect, 50 Coronation Square, Reading RG30 3QN

I came here by chance researching Manchester’s Estate Pubs for my blog when up pops The Happy Prospect – what a pleasant surprise!

Having never really visited Reading, this is very much a virtual cut and paste journey through time and space – so apologies in advance for any unforeseen errors.

So let’s see how we got here:

The area was sparsely populated until after the Second World War, though excavations have revealed evidence of Paleolithic and Iron Age activity in Southcote, as well as Roman and Saxon habitation. By the time William the Conqueror undertook the Domesday Survey in 1086, Southcote was sufficiently established to warrant a Lord of the Manor, who at that time was William de Braose. From the 16th century onwards, Southcote Manor was owned by the Blagrave family, who sold the manor house in the 1920s. The area was subsequently developed into housing: much of the land changed from agricultural to residential.

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Bucolic scenes of small intimate streets and agrarian activity.

By the advent of World War II, Southcote had begun to experience urban sprawl from Reading and the land bordering the Great Western Railway had begun to be used for housing. Following the war, Denton’s Field on the Bath Road in Southcote was used for celebratory events; Battle of Britain commemorative fêtes were held in September 1949 and 1950, and featured a performance by three Alsatians – Rocky, Lindy and Irma to recognise their work in the war.

Dragged into the ferment of Mid-Century Modernism with the development of new housing, churches and schools.

In the 1950s, a huge building project centred around Coronation Square, named for the 1953 Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II – with hundreds of council houses built to satisfy post-war demand. The residents of many of these had moved from houses in central and East Reading that fell short of sanitation requirements of the Public Health Act 1875, these were compulsorily purchased and later demolished.

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All that was missing was a pub – and so happily the local brewery Simonds built The Happy Prospect.

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Architecturally very much in the à la mode manner of the Modernist estate pub, plain well-lit brick, tile and concrete volumes, replete with a low perimeter wall and ample car parking space.

Thanks to Boak&Bailey for the background info.

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Opening in October 1958 – this photograph was taken for the Berkshire Chronicle but was not published.

Archival material from Reading Museums.

And so for many years the pub prospered – sadly along with so many others of its ilk, the pressures and constraints of social change and economic decline forced closure and demolition despite the protestations of the local community, who fought for its life.

Beverley Doyle, who lives in Southcote, said: “We don’t see the old people anymore because there’s nowhere for them to meet up.They used to be able to come here and play cribbage and cards.There was also Christmas parties and kids’ parties so people could get together and we need something like that again. It was a good pub and we want it back to how it was.”

Campaigner Bobbie Richardson said: “Once you get this place boarded up you wonder what’s going to be next in the community. It starts to look run down and we want to let the owners know Southcote is not a ghetto.”

Inevitably a once fine social asset is no more, even the somewhat ill-advised reinvention as the Happy Pea failed to save this once Happy Prospect.

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Shopping Precincts – UK

I was brought up with Sixties’ shopping precincts and centres, they are so very dear to my heart, I spent my teenage years here in AshtonStalybridge, and latterly in Stockport’s Merseyway.

I’ve visited Hanley, Preston, Salford, and Coventry in search of a certain something – that exciting sweeping swoop of concrete, brick, glass and steel. Underpasses with overarching designs and luxurious layouts of leisurely interlocking levels. Each one different in a different way yet essentially similar – embodying a sense of civic pride, a sense of the future realised.

1571 – The Royal Exchange, a trading market in the City of London, is officially opened by Elizabeth I. Above the open-air piazza where dealers buy and sell commodities, there is a two-storey shopping mall, with 100 different kiosks – making it Britain’s first shopping centre.

1964 – It was a monument to provincial pride in reinforced concrete and glass. When the Duke of Edinburgh opened the Birmingham Bull Ring in May 1964, it was the largest indoor shopping centre in Europe, with a total floor area of 23 acres. Inspired by American suburban malls, the Bull Ring promised coatless shopping in an air-conditioned, temperature-controlled hall maintained at late-spring level.

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2017 – Many are now no more, or redeveloped beyond recognition. The integrity of the architecture, street furniture, public art, space and usage a thing of folk memory.

So come with me now on a whirlwind picture postcard tour of this Nation’s saving grace – it’s modernist shopping spaces.

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Aberdeen

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Barlaston

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Bedford

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Bracknell

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Brentwood

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Brighton

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Burton on Trent

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Butts – Reading

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Chelmsford

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Corby

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Coventry

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Cowplain

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Crawley

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Crewe

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Croydon

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Cwmbran

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Dudley

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Elephant and Castle

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Great Yarmouth

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Hanley

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Harlow

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Hartlepool

Hebburn

Hebburn

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Immingham

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Irvine

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Leamore

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Letchworth

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Leyland

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Liverpool

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Mexborough

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Milton Keynes

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Nantwich

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Norris Green

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Plymouth

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Runcorn

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Sleaford

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Southampton

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Stockport

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Swanley

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Telford

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Wakefield

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Walton on Thames

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Westway – Frome

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Wolverhampton

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Worksop

 

St George’s Shopping Centre – Preston

Once upon a time the future was shop-shaped and utopian, the Modernist reliefs a welcome relief from post-war doom and gloom, public decorative art was off the ration for good, or so it seemed. Small retail units, housed small local operators, their shiny well-washed fascias, glowing with graphic pride and diversity, slab serif and decorative script the order of the day.

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Architects J Seymour Harris and Partners envisaged a brave new water-coloured open-aired world for the grey austerity-tinted folk of Preston.

And lo it came to pass and underpass – the future was here yesterday.

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Get off the bus on Fishergate and walk right on in.

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The shopping centre opened on 22 March 1966 as St George’s Shopping Centre.

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It was originally an open air centre, and was roofed over during refurbishment in 1981. It was further refurbished in 1999.

In May 2004, when The Mall Company took over the centre, they were greeted with an ageing shopping centre. The shopping centre was rebranded as The Mall, and a massive development scheme was planned. Small stalls, main shops, cafes, restaurants, toilets, and escalators were overhauled.

In March 2010, the shopping centre was acquired by Aviva Investors for £87 million. In September 2010, The Mall was rebranded under its original name St George’s Shopping Centre.

Wikipedia

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So welcome back to today – stripped of distinctive decoration, covered in and given the international sheen of absolutely nowhere at all.

In intemperate template for the future.

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Archival images from the Preston Digital Archive and Peter Reed.

 

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 – 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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Huddersfield – The Piazza

Huddersfield West Yorkshire shares a legacy with many other towns, a legacy of successive shopping developments of varying styles and quality. Shaped by fashion, topography and finance each makes a more or less bold statement on the fabric of the area.

In order to survive each geo-retail layer of architecture, must reinvent itself or die – adding new branding, covering period detail with newer, ever more impermanent fascias, flagging flagging and flags of all stripes.

I encircled the Piazza – its monumental nether regions, enlivened with almost temple like scale and applied brick, stone and concrete surfaces, the dark and forbidding, cinematic subterranean service tunnels, and the open walkways of the main shopping areas.

I came away impressed, hope you do too.

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