Hexenhaus, near Lauenfordé, Germany, 1984—2001; (inset) House of the Future, 1956
5- g. .:
ALISON AND PETER SMITHSON championed the modernist desire for
concrete and purity. Tim Abrahams explores how a latent 50$ fetishism has turned contentious avant gardists into subjects fit for a 21 st century show.
he baby-boomers can‘t stand the 50s. To them it
was a time when their sweeties were still being
rationed but the excitement of World War II was over. The teenage freedom of the 608 was a long way off and they were stuck with itchy jumpers and black and white telly. They were told what to do by their parents. they went on holiday to wet places near their homes and ate outside only if there was a coronation on. While their parents were creating the welfare state. they were bored. [I is no wonder that they should have grown tip to form governments that attack the NHS. lt‘s revenge for all those dreary holidays in Largs.
But the children of this generation are fascinated by the 50s. To them it was a time when their grandparents. however modestly. were building something. There were big ideas still to believe in with big stories that told you what you had to do. It all went tits tip. of course. but that‘s part of the fascination to a generation who don‘t even have a third way to follow any more. They read about how their grandparents came out of the ideological disaster of the 30s and 40s with optimism and a new faith. And they wonder what the hell it must have been like.
concrete an image of this post-war optimism than its architecture. Not only did the bomb sites of the hlit/ need to be filled in but the infrastructure of the new welfare state needed to be built. Hospitals. schools. universities. public housing: the building programme
of the 1950s was staggering. With it came a kind of
architect that was imbued with the same modernising zeal as the legislators and the leaders. They had grand. bold visions of the future. which swept away the concerns of the traditionalists with as much sureness as the hulldo/et's that totalled the slums. But the buildings that were formed from this conviction have been derided almost without exception for 40 odd years.
It‘s not just students of architecture but the house- buying public who are currently reassessing the
86 THE LIST f1, 2;) .Ju: Writ
‘POST ERITY IGNORES YOUR BLATHER AND There is no more (ahem) WHAT YOU BUILD’
buildings of that generation. The Trellick Tower in London has become an extremely desirable address. A strange affection for Denys Lasdun’s National Theatre has been expressed. Cumbernauld Town centre. designed by George (‘opcutt. is not a joke but a stunning example of the megastructure concept. It is against this backdrop of reappraisal that the Smithsons come to Scotland.
On one level husband and wife duo. Alison and Peter Smithson revelled in their status as enfants terrible and to many they represent the worst of the 50s avant garde. Their reputation as architects rests on a
school. an office block and a contentious scheme of
public housing at Robin Hood Lane in London. The critic Hugh Pearman said of them: ‘The Smithsons always promised far more than they could ever deliver. They are a warning to all the architectural hypemeisters at large today: in the end. posterity ignores your blather and judges you only on what you build.’ Which doesn't really explain why the Design Museum has gone to the trouble of creating an exhibition on them.
The Smithsons were part of the New Brutalist school which promised an almost fundamentalist honesty to the texture and form of concrete. They were invited to join the (‘ongres lnternationaux d'Architecture Moderne — a Europe—wide think tank on architecture. and it is as interpreters and disseminators of liuropean theory to the UK and later as teachers that their influence is most felt. They actually attacked the idea of public housing as monoliths placed at intervals and promoted a rediscovery of the primitive in modernity in the same way that their friend Eduardo Paolozzi was doing in sculpture. They shaped modern architecture in this country with their ideas more than their buildings. but the legacy and controversy remains.
The Smithsons, the Lighthouse, Glasgow, 221 6362, Sat 17 Jul-Tue 31 Aug.
Cumbernauld Town Centre
One of the ‘essays in civilisation' promised by the the New Towns Committee set up by the Labour government in 1945. Cumbernauld gave Britain its first indOOr shopping mall and an advanced road system. Walkways became wind tunnels. The penthouses in the centre remained resolutely empty and they ran out of cash. Nice try though.
St Peter’s Seminary, Cardross
Designed by architects Isi Metzstein and Andy McMillan. who ran GiIIeSpie, Kidd and Coia. St Peters has been vandalised to the point of being a skeleton. This is a great pity, of c0urse. but there is compensation in its dilapidated state. Not only is it possible to see the bare bones of Metzstein's brilliance but it is now a spooky place to explore.
Anderston Centre, Glasgow
If anyone wants to complain about Cumbernauld then have a look at this megastructure. Too close to the centre of Glasgow for its shops to ever demand the exclusivity of its residence. Anderston is still an awesome site. Some of its flats are beautiful (and relatively cheap). Flats in London's Centre Point — another building by Anderston's architect Richard Seifert — are being snapped up. Get one now before they become retro chic. (Tim Abrahams)