Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The Sound of the Sixties - Brutalist Architecture

Film: The Sound of the Sixties

During the major planning drive by the University of Leeds that took place after World War II, architects were employed to draw up plans to expand and develop the campus. Many architectural plans were made, alongside two large bound proposals prepared by the architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, who are most famous for their concrete brutalist architecture in places like the Barbican - the grade II listed complex of housing, education, office and exhibition space located in the City of London, completed in 1976. Much of the text of the reports that Chamberlin, Powell and Bon submitted to the university is oriented towards a section of the campus referred to as “the precinct”. The precinct area includes plans for a number of very large buildings and vast car parking zones. Part of the conclusion of the 1963 report by the architects says the following:

No effort has been spared in Leeds on the part of the City Authorities, the Hospital Board and the Council of the University to make the planned expansion possible despite the extreme difficulties inherent in the comprehensive re-planning and redevelopment of the old City sites which have hitherto rested in many ownerships and were laid out between a network of streets obsolete for any present purposes.

The innovative architectural designs of Chamberlin, Powell and Bon were not only aspirational for the University of Leeds, but also British universities in general. The university led the way in rethinking the nature of university architecture, and in employing a younger generation of designers to build it. While the University of Leeds was not the first to embark on a rebuilding effort during this period, they were the first to deal with the campus in a holistic way.

This 3 minute film is an acoustic psychogeographical response to the area called the precinct and features two of the most impressive of the buildings designed by the architects: the Worsley Building and the Roger Stevens Lecture Theatre (now a Grade II listed building).

The film alludes to a moment-in-time architecturally, with the popular cultural reference of the title - The Sound of the Sixties, a radio and TV series playing pop music form that era - and the 1964 track by the R&B British pop band Manfred Mann. The song title 5-4-3-2-1 provides a countdown to the walk, which was actually 8 individual edited films, appearing in the sequence they were recorded.

So as to avoid being distracted by the campus scenery only the feet were shot, they being the instrument used to tap out the sound on the surface of the topography of the precinct. I considered just supplying the sound without the visuals of the walking feet, but I decided that the trace left by the feet becomes a form of cartography which has a number of functions that to me, as a psychogeographer, are important, and which also support the tenets of schizocartography (my own particular form of psychogeography):

1. they make a claim to that space, even thought it is a momentary one
2. they attach an identity, however nebulous, to the walker
3. by revealing the feet and the surface of the terrain, focus is directed towards part of the production process behind the sound-making, the mise en scene of the film

Chamberlin, Powell and Bon were considered not to be very vocal architects, and there is little information on them and even less by them, other than their architectural work. So, in a way I consider this film to be in part a homage and in part a challenge to the space of the precinct in the sense that it might be perceived as a spectacle. I shall conclude by quoting Penelope Curtis from the Henry Moore Institute's publication The New Monumentality.

How should we interpret the work of such silent architects? In the words they chose to use in the meticulously prepared reports for the Court of the City of London or for the Court of the University of Leeds? In the words of others? There were reviews enough in the 50s and 60s on their newly published projects and realised schemes, even if there has been almost nothing published since. Or should we interpret their work through the language of the forms themselves?

I hope, however unconventional it might be, that perhaps I have given sound, if not voice, to the work of Chamberlin Powell and Bon at the University of Leeds, while simultaneously staying faithful to my own project of challenging anti-production through the process of schizocartography.

Relevant links:
Chamberlin, Powell and Bon on e-architect
The Barbican
University of Leeds listed buildings

1 comment:

  1. Nice Architecture!!Keep Sharing...
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