C20 Issue 2022/2

C20 Issue 2022/2

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C20 is the magazine of the Twentieth Century Society and features in-depth articles on architecture, design and conservation from the period.

In this issue:

This issue features major recent work to two extremely different c20 buildings that are both close to our heart: the magnificent India Buildings in Liverpool (page 12) and Balfron Tower in east London (page 22). Both are big, confident, dramatic bits of architecture - India Buildings by Herbert ] Rowse epitomizes commercial ambition and pride, Balfron the inspirational public housing ideals of the post-war period. In some respects the two buildings couldn't be more different: the first is classical in style and the latter is one of the best-known examples of brutalist architecture in the UK, if not the world. Both buildings were in need of restoration and the massive investment in their re-use ought surely to be a cause for celebration, though both were cases where c20 raised objections to developers' proposals. Going back to these projects on completion, we must ask some rigorous questions. Did c20's involvement have a positive impact? Are the results successful and worth celebrating? Could they have been better? And were our initial criticisms valid and helpful? In both instances we were concerned about the actual amount of the physical substance of the building that was being retained (not a lot, in the case of Balfron), as well as the implications of changes to the ways the buildings would be used. Both were cases where we had successfully asked for upgrading fromGrade II to II* because we were concerned about the extent of the alterations under discussion. Grade I* status definitely increased our leverage, and at India Buildings our major regret is that the shopping arcade is no longer publicly accessible, but there are wider benefits. HMRC's decision to locate here is bringing prosperity to the area. The nearby former Martins Bank (1927-32), also by Rowse, has sat empty since the late 2000s, and perhaps now the hotel conversion first granted consent in 2011 may go ahead. Balfron has been far more controversial. It is tragic that the sale of the most distinguished part of the estate (the tower itself) was felt necessary in order to fund the restoration of the lower blocks. Practically all the distinctive Grade II* listed joinery was ripped out and replaced (undermining the environmental credentials of the project), effectively re-branding the building. Developers Londonewcastle claim on their website that this is 'careful restoration' but their headline announces "'the redevelopment of an Ernö Goldfinger masterpiece in East London'. There is a big gap between restoration and redevelopment. c20 is definitely not in favour of preserving in aspic, but we predict that posterity will see Balfron as a missed opportunity to achieve the authenticity that future generations will crave and see as fundamental to heritage projects.