Civic Centre – Plymouth

Council House former Civic CentreArmada Way Plymouth PL1 2AA

Former Civic Centre 1958-62 by Jellicoe, Ballantyne and Coleridge with city architect HJW Stirling. In-situ concrete structure with pre-cast aggregate panels. It comprises a fourteen storey slab block on a raised raft foundation which straddles a two storey block to the north and a bridge link to the two storey Council House to the south. The bridge link is elevated on pilotis to create an open courtyard with a reflecting pond, part of the designed landscape of the civic square. 

Current listing June 10th 2007 Historic England

I rode into town on my bicycle en route from Weston super Mare to Hastings one sunny afternoon in 2015. The pictures I took that day were largely left untouched, until today. I was prompted by an online postcard search to finally put them to some good use.

On the day of my visit the building was well and truly closed, and its future uncertain.

I took my time and explored the site, here is what I saw:

I subsequently found archival image of the interior – including examples of applied decorative arts.

The building has suffered of late, from poor maintenance and general neglect.

Love it or hate it, it’s one of Plymouth’s most iconic post-war buildings – and it towers over the city centre. But the Civic Centre has been empty since 2015, with sad images revealing parts of the outside literally crumbling.

Today is the day Plymouth will finally discover what developer Urban Splash plans to do with the landmark 14-storey tower block it bought for £1.

Plymouth Herald

Urban Splash are in the house – plans are to go ahead.

The proposal, by Gillespie Yunnie Architects, will see the 14-storey former council headquarters converted into 144 one and two-bedroom flats with the ground floors of the lower blocks providing about 4,600m² of office, retail and leisure space.

Unanimously approved last week, the scheme will open up the ground floor, making it ‘an active public space filled with outside seating for cafés, bars and restaurants’ and reuse the existing landscaped pools, while creating new pedestrian connections through the scheme from the Theatre Royal and Civic Square.

Architects Journal

Sandown Court – Southport

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,

To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,

And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

Where better to lay your weary head than Southport’s Sandown Court?

Longing for languorous days, gazing out at the distant sea, from the window of your fourteenth floor flat.

What’s Good for the Goose – is worth a gander.

My extensive research shows the flats were a location for the Norman Wisdom film, a saucy serving of seaside slap and tickle.

Conveniently situated twixt shore and traffic island – offering extensive accommodation for the discerning tenant.

Balconies clad with cast concrete abstracted panels, attractive dolphin-based water feature.

What more could you ask for?

Woodward Court Woodward Street – Ancoats Manchester

“What’s going on?”

As Marvin Gaye so succinctly asked.

Why is there just one remaining tower block dancing unclad around Ancoats?

Let’s go back in time and see if we can find out – it seems that back in 1807 there wasn’t a Woodward Street to be found, the ever expanding industrial might of Manchester had not yet reached these particular green fields of Ancoats.

By 1824 it shows a fresh face to the world christened Woodworth Street, sparsely dotted with new development.

Almost fully formed in 1836 and renamed as Woodward Street, the area begins to accumulate the familiar domestic and industrial clutter of a burgeoning Victorian City.

By 1860 the street is fully formed and open for business.

Workers finding homes in austere and functional brick back to backs, typical of the period’s housing.

Fast forward to the early Sixties and the street is showing signs of age – the century old industries are already in decline, steady jobs, mills and factories gone west and east, well-worn housing looking terminally tired and in need of a little care and attention.

But wait what’s this coming around the bend?

The first wave of urban regeneration, post war optimism incarnate, a bright new shiny future – out with the old and in with the new, as Municipal Modernism stamps its big broad architectural feet all over Woodward Street.

Archival photographs from Manchester Local Image Collection

Our story is far from over, this optimism is short-lived the homes, houses and industry are swept away yet again, replaced with two story modern terraced housing and an all too obvious absence of regular employment – yet the tower blocks prevailed.

Former streets were over written and remain as poignant vestigial marks in the landscape.

Grand plans are made for their revival.

Paul Daly

Though their future was built on more than somewhat shifting and uncertain sands.

A tower block has been left lying empty for a whopping 18 years. The 13-storey building at Saltford Court in Ancoats has been unoccupied since Manchester council closed it in the 1990s. It was bought by top developers Urban Splash six years ago but residents have now hit out about it still being empty. Neighbours of Saltford Court say it has become an ‘eyesore’ and magnet for vermin since the firm bought it.

Manchester Evening News 2012

A large group of blocks stood tinned up and unloved, yet owned, for a number of years, victims one supposes of land-bankers, developers speculating on an even better return, as the warm waves of gentrification washed slowly over them, from nearby New Islington.

All but one was refurbished, clad and re-let.

Woodward Court was spared – set aside for the homeless.

A period piece surrounded by Post Modern and Revivalist pretenders.

Why not go take a look.

William Mitchell – Newton Heath

On meeting an old friend in Manchester – following previous encounters in Coventry, Salford and Liverpool

Following a lead from Neil Simpson I cycled along Clayton Vale and emerged on Amos Avenue where the flats came into view.

I was in search of an an averaged sized totemic concrete municipal public art pillar – similar to the example to be found in Eastford Square.

It belongs to a time when Municipal Modernism was very much in vogue – the provision of social housing along with the commissioning of murals, sculptures, mosaics and tiled reliefs.

There has been some discussion regarding its authorship – it may or may not be the work of William Mitchell – both Skyliner and The Shrieking Violets have tried to find an answer.

Inevitably my only concern is art over authenticity – does it move you?

Let’s just take a little look.



The Barbican Estate – London

Bouncing betwixt and between Bonnard and Bill Viola from Tate Modern to the Royal Academy I took a detour to The Barbican – in search of the Dorothy Annan tiled mural.

Having failed conspicuously to find it, following an extensive and discursive wander, I did the wise thing and asked.

My thanks to the helpful resident and his young son.

Redirected and on course for our deferred engagement, Dorothy and I met at last on an underpass.

I also recently discovered a Barbican Manchester mash up – Gerrards of Swinton fulfilled their largest ever single order for the site – my thanks to David Roughley for the information and illustration.

Here are the snaps that I took along the way.

ICL Tower – Gorton Manchester

Designed by architects Cruikshank and Seward in the Sixties, to house the cutting-edge computing power of the time, the ICT later ICL Tower, towered over Wenlock Way, Gorton in East Manchester.

A landmark for many from bus, train, car, Shanks’s pony or low flying VC10.

A place of work for thousands.

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At a time when modern technology looked a little like this:

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Sadly ending like this:

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Two weeks into the demolition process the east elevation is no more, revealing a concrete honeycomb of torn steel and fresh air.

A few weeks time and it will be little more than so much dust and memories.

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Mottram Street Flats – Stockport

A post-war northern town, facing the problems of bomb damage, poor quality housing, and the pressing need for new homes.

In 1963 there seemed to be space and the will to build, the site at the centre of the image flanked by ageing Victorian terraces and industry.

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Soon to become the Mottram Street Development.

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Back in 1965 these were the highest housing tower blocks in Greater Manchester.

The work of borough architects John Rank and Clifford Fernley.

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1960’s Photographs from the Stockport Image Archive

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1980’s photographs from The Tower Block

Typically they incorporated concrete street furniture, sculptural and decorative detail, in keeping with the age.

Like many other developments of the period they have subsequently been clad, fenced, painted and secured beyond recognition.

There was a raised concrete play area, of which nothing has survived.

A little of their original character however has prevailed – a William Mitchellesque fallen obelisk, along with some panelling and planters.

Curious to see public art behind bars

– would that they were removed.

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