Ten masterpieces of twentieth century architecture at risk from the wrecking ball

The Twentieth Century Society's annual list of at-risk buildings has been released, and — as ever — will stimulate lively debate.

Britain’s ‘high levels of architectural ingenuity and ambition’ are at stake, says the Twentieth Century (C20) Society, whose biennial Buildings at Risk List has been released. Of most current concern is Coventry’s ‘Festival of Britain-style’ Bull Yard, with a finger of rebuke firmly pointed at the council’s ‘appalling failure to protect its important post-war’ architecture.

Bull Yard shopping area, Coventry, West Midlands, 30th May 1973. (Photo by Staff/Mirrorpix/Getty Images).

‘Much of Coventry’s most distinctive heritage and culture dates from when the city was replanned and rebuilt after its devastation in the Second World War,’ explains Catherine Croft, C20 Society director.

‘The proposed 15-acre City Centre South redevelopment plan [which would see half the town centre demolished] would obliterate much that is special about the heart of the city.’

Relief mural by William Mitchell, Bull Yard, Coventry, created in 1966. (Photo by English Heritage/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Of course, Brutalist architecture has always been divisive, and some less charitable commentators might suggest that a wrecking ball might do wonders for the look of Coventry’s city centre. But it’s all too easy to jump to conclusions which later seem flawed: St Pancras Station in London, for example, was much maligned, and might once have been pulled down. And as Country Life’s architecture editor, John Goodall, points out, the core buildings of an area are only ever a part of the story.

‘Regeneration and social improvement don’t come from new architecture, but from the way we live around it,’ says John.

‘These 20th-century structures were reared on the ruins of a great city, but its brave new world never came to pass. Destroying them will throw open the whole problem of how the city can develop again and runs the risk of repeating mistakes made 70 years ago. Who’s to say what’s new now will be better in 30 years’ time?’

Tower Bridge and London City Hall at Dawn. Credit: Getty

London Mayor Sadiq Kahn’s decision to relocate east has brought Foster + Partners’ ovoid City Hall to number two on the list; the society’s request to award the building Grade II*-listed status has been rejected by Historic England. The latter are, apparently, at present only assessing buildings for listing if demolition is imminent — a policy described as ‘a nonsense’ by C20.

 

Swindon’s Oasis Leisure Centre, without which the band Oasis would be named The Rain, is also under threat. It has a distinctive 148ft-high dome that inspired RIBA to call it a ‘fantasy structure… resembling a flying-saucer’. Visit www.c20society.org.uk for the full list.

The Oasis leisure centre in Swindon, Wiltshire. Credit: Alamy

Also on the list are:

  • The Lawns Halls of Residence, Hull University
  • Former London Electricity Board HQ
  • Swansea Civic Centre
  • Cressingham Gardens, Lambeth
  • Derby Assembly Rooms
  • Halifax swimming pool and murals
  • Shirehall, Shropshire

You can see pictures and more about each building at the c20society.co.uk website.