20 September 2013

Brutal and Beautiful - Post-War Buildings Listed

Four modern buildings added to the National Heritage List for England, one upgraded and a new exhibition to celebrate our recent architectural past.

Capel Manor House

Capel Manor House
© James O. Davies/English Heritage

A Cold War bunker in Gravesend, a 'High Tech' warehouse in Swindon, a concrete electricity sub station in Sheffield and a steel-framed private house in Horsmonden, Kent were listed today (20 September) by Heritage Minister Ed Vaizey on the advice of English Heritage. A Roman Catholic Church in Birkenhead has also been upgraded to Grade II*. These are the most recent post-war buildings joining the National Heritage List for England, supplementing the nearly 700 which have been added since post-war listing started 25 years ago.

The new listings coincide with the opening of Brutal and Beautiful, a new English Heritage exhibition looking at the nation's love/hate relationship with our recent architectural past, and contributing to the passionate debate over what is worth saving? Taking place at Wellington Arch from 25 September to 24 November, it will show what makes the post-war era special and why the best of its buildings are worth saving.

Fine Examples of Post-War Buildings

Gravesend Civil Defence Bunker has been listed at Grade II as a rare surviving example of a purpose-built civil defence control centre. It was a command post in the event of a Soviet air attack during the Cold War and is evocative of a time when the threat of nuclear destruction overshadowed all spheres of national life. In this building, staffed by around 35 people, information from air raid wardens of an attack would have been received and orders issued to civil defence and emergency services. It was operational from 1954 until 1968, has now been restored and is open to the public on occasion.

Designed by Lord Foster, one of the most prominent contemporary architects in Britain, the Spectrum Building (formerly the Renault Distribution Centre) in Swindon has been listed at Grade II*. It was built in 1980 to designs by Foster Associates for the French vehicle manufacturing company who wanted a modern warehouse and office to reflect their prestigious brand. Lord Foster was highly influential in the early development of High Tech architecture and the bold and distinctive building features yellow steel 'umbrella masts' and a yellow roof around the single-storey glass-walled warehouse. It provided a futuristic backdrop to scenes in the 1984 James Bond film, 'A View to a Kill'.

The scrupulously-finished concrete of the Brutalist electricity substation on Moore Street in Sheffield, gives this bold building a dramatic, sculptural feel. It was an important component of the radical post-war regeneration of Sheffield, helping to revitalise the city after it was badly bombed. Designed by Bryan Jefferson, it has been listed at Grade II.

Michael Manser was one of the small number of architects in the 1960s and 1970s who explored the possibilities of steel-frame construction for domestic architecture, a type of house that the famous architect, Mies van der Rohe pioneered. Capel Manor House is the house he designed in Horsmonden, Kent. The steel frame is exposed and the glass walls are bronze-tinted with a flat timber roof; its high position in the landscape makes it even more striking. The house is of more than special architectural interest and is therefore listed at Grade II*, joining just 5.5% of listed buildings.

The Roman Catholic Church of English Martyrs in Wallasey, Birkenhead was built in 1952. Originally listed at Grade II in 2003 it has been reviewed and is today upgraded to Grade II*. It was designed by the notable 20th century ecclesiastical architect, Francis Xavier Velarde who had a highly distinctive style and this building is a fine example of his carefully detailed and boldly modelled churches combining Modernist and Romanesque influences. Further boosting its reasons for a high listing grade, the church has artistic interest for an unusual font designed by sculptor Herbert Tyson Smith.

Roof of the Spectrum Building

Roof of the Spectrum Building
© James O. Davies/English Heritage

Ed Vaizey, Heritage Minister said: "Everyone knows that England has a fine and wonderful built heritage.  But it's sometimes forgotten that we have many outstanding modern buildings too.  Our architects are among the best in the world and it's absolutely right that their finest work is afforded the same protection as their historic forebears.  The buildings and structures I am listing today demonstrate this well.  Innovative, exciting and eye-catching, they each in different ways show that architecture in this country is very much alive and well in the modern world."

Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage said: "Few areas of English Heritage's work are as disputed or as intriguing as the listing of modern heritage and these striking buildings listed today exemplify our rigorous and highly selective approach. Some still view the buildings of the era as concrete monstrosities others as fine landmarks in the history of building design. I would urge people to come and explore their own reactions at our exhibition at Wellington Arch, Brutal and Beautiful."

Facts on post-war listing

  • The first post-war building to be listed was Bracken House, former home of the Financial Times in the City of London in 1987.
  • A building has to be to 30 years old to be considered for listing unless it is under threat and of exceptional interest - in which case it has to be over 10 years old.
  • There are around half a million listed buildings in England, included within more than 375,000 entries on the National Heritage List for England. The total number of post-war listed buildings is calculated to be 0.18% of the total at 690.

also of interest

Exhibition Information

25 September - 24 November 2013
Open Wednesday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm, Wellington Arch, London, W1J 7JZ

£4 for adults, £2.40 for children, £3.60 for concessions, free for English Heritage members