Context 160 - July 2019

26 C O N T E X T 1 6 0 : J U L Y 2 0 1 9 but it was in the reconstruction period that they were introduced into common usage. Despite these and other innovations in town planning in this era, the overall appearance and silhouette of the re-planned town was little different from its predecessor – especially when compared to the transformations brought about during the next era of large-scale redevelopment, after the hiatus of the 1970s economic crisis. The future of the reconstruction era Despite the relatively small impact of the reconstruction on cities overall, the redeveloped areas themselves often contained large-scale developments, sometimes megastructures such as shopping centres (Portsmouth’s Tricorn Centre, Birmingham’s Bull Ring), and often used new architectural styles, forms and materi- als. Some were labelled ‘brutalist’. Because of this novelty few were popular with the public, at least initially. Decades later their redevelopment rarely generated widespread public criticism, notwithstanding often vociferous campaigns by architecturally educated and aware individuals and groups. Jonathan Meades, for example, said of the Tricorn Centre that ‘You don’t go knock- ing down Stonehenge or Lincoln Cathedral. I think buildings like the Tricorn were as good as that. They were great monuments of an age.’⁸ Birmingham has lost the 1960s Bull Ring Centre and 1970s Central Library, and even its inner ring road has been ‘downgraded’, being seen as a ‘concrete collar’ stifling expansion of the city core. Over half of Birmingham’s more than 460 tower blocks have also gone. Nevertheless there are moves to reassess the products of this period. There have been some successes in terms of listing, although some resistance to designating as conservation areas the iconic reconstruction landscapes such as central Coventry and Plymouth. Coventry’s new cathedral and the bombed shell of its predecessor are part of one conservation area, and part of the Precinct shopping centre is listed, but the ‘landscape of reconstruction’ as a whole is not protected. Although originally disliked, Birmingham’s Rotunda was listed when threatened with redevelopment; it has survived a radical refurbishment that stripped the building to its concrete skeleton, but its podium has been skewered by a support for the replacement (2003) Bullring shopping centre. Other recon- struction buildings in Birmingham and else- where are being stripped and re-clad. Although this often changes their external appearance, the original form and massing, the essential contributions to the reconstruction landscape, are usually retained. Many people find change threatening, and Peter Smith suggested that ‘familiarity breeds contentment’.⁹ The once-unfamiliar reconstruc- tion landscape is now familiar, ordinary and everyday. The majority of our urban population has grown up with it and remembers nothing else. The threat is of redevelopment to meet current economic, functional and sustainability needs, although this is part of a natural cycle of urban change. It is time to look afresh at the post-war urban landscape, to review its signifi- cance in parts and as a whole, and to consider how that can be effectively communicated to future generations. New technologies will surely play a part in this. Old concepts of ‘designating’ and ‘protecting’ may be of less relevance. Peter Larkham is professor of planning at Birmingham City University. The demolition of a reconstruction- era building, Birmingham, 2015 (Photo: Peter Larkham) A bomb-damaged building with emergency repair, Bath: recently rebuilt but retaining the shrapnel scarring (Photo: Peter Larkham) 8 Quoted in Kidd, J (2014) The Independent, 22 February 9 Smith, PF (1974) ‘Familiarity breeds contentment’, The Planner 60(9) Stripped-modern rebuilding: Exeter High Street (Photo: Peter Larkham)

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