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News: November 2018
Published July 2012

Late 20th Century Architecture in the Time of Queen Elizabeth II


The Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II is being internationally celebrated throughout 2012.  English architecture has witnessed great changes over the 60 years since her appointment to the throne. As with fashion or artistic styles, building designs and architectural practices change to reflect the desires, trends and times of the period in which they were designed.

Late 20th Century Architecture

In 1952 Queen Elizabeth II became sovereign of a country that was still very much in recovery from the devastating effects of the Second World War (1939-1945). The large scale and prolonged bombing of England saw many cities and urban areas with their communities obliterated and hundreds and thousands of civilians lost their lives and their homes.

The major urban reconstruction that followed the end of the war period had a major impact upon English architecture of the late 20th century and generated some highly significant architectural styles such as Brutalism and Post-Modernism.

The 1950s

The need for recovery following the war is evident in the design and purpose of many of the buildings designed in the 1950s. In 1951 the Royal Festival Hall was built on London’s Southbank as a result of the Festival of Britain that took place that year which was arranged to promote a sense of the recovery of the country after the war. After the near total destruction of its city centre from incendiary bombs, the Plymouth Civic Centre, which started construction in 1958, was built as a key part of the rebuilding programme and as a focus on community.

Detail of Bousfield School, London © Elain Harwood

The period also marked a dramatic change in the way that housing requirements were met. Redevelopment schemes became larger and more radical than before and saw the advent of high rise blocks of flats and prefabrications. The Golden Lane Estate started construction in 1952 and was designed to replace the pre-war road pattern with an inward facing development around courtyards. Bousfield School which was designed by the same architectural practice, Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, in 1954-1956 again shows the changing style of buildings. Bold use of colour is made and its steel frame and incorporation of unconcealed building materials into its design is characteristic of the Brutalist architectural movement (1950s – 1970s).

The 1960s

The 1960s saw changes in the way that we travel. In 1961 the motorway network first opened and also saw the construction of Forton Service Station on the M6 in Lancashire. The hexagonal concrete tower is an unusual design of the period and has made the structure a local landmark. Other transport buildings such as the Birmingham New Street Signal Box and the Preston Bus Station have come to signify the changing architectural styles of the 1960s.

Forton Services
Forton Services, Lancashire © Crown copyright. NMR

Places of worship have also undergone a dramatic change in style and design. The Roman Catholic Churches of Clifton Cathedral in Bristol which was designed in 1965 and the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King in Liverpool which was built in 1962 greatly differ from the more traditional church buildings of the past. Spires have been replaced with abstract shapes and the reinforced concrete and granite exteriors give the churches a very modern look.

Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King
Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool © English Heritage. NMR

The 1970s

The 1970s saw the advance of urban, multi-purpose development signifying changes in how we require and use our living spaces. An iconic example of this is The Brunswick Centre (1972) in central London which combines a low-rise residential scheme that lies on top of commercial units that include shops, a cinema and offices. Tom Collins House (1976-1978) in Newcastle upon Tyne, which is part of the Byker Estate and forms part of the Byker Wall, has a highly unique and modern look and was purposely designed to envelope and incorporate other low-rise public housing. The estate demonstrates the significance of council house complexes in England and how community housing has been developed.
Many of the later building additions to the University of Leeds demonstrate the need to accommodate more space as well as to revamp institutions. The Edward Boyle Library that was constructed in 1975 features a heavily concrete and glass façade and utilises interior space to provide modern and accessible facilities.

The 1980s and 1990s

In the 1980s, the modern Brutalist and Expressionist architectural movements which had largely dictated the design and style of building up until this point declined. More high-tech styles started to appear in building design which is demonstrated by the iconic Lloyds Building which opened in 1986 in central London. The building design is influenced by modern engineering methods and emphasizes construction details.

Lloyd's Building
Lloyd's Building, Cental London © English Heritage. NMR

Travel in England was again revolutionised in 1993 by the opening of the Eurostar service at Waterloo Station. The European Continent now became even more accessible and the addition of the International Terminus at Waterloo with its arched stainless steel and glass roof symbolize modern trends.
The late 1990s also saw the preparation of the country for the forthcoming millennium and new building projects were introduced to create civic hubs and landmarks to celebrate this event. The most iconic of these was the Millenium Dome in Greenwich, London. The building’s innovative hemispherical shape is covered in Teflon coated fibre-glass panels giving the structure a truly post-modern feel.

The Millenium Dome 
The Millenium Dome, Greenwich, London © English Heritage. NMR

Into the Present

Since the millennium building design and architectural practice have continued to be taken to newer and move innovative levels. 30 St Mary Axe (constructed in 2001-2003), more commonly known as the ‘Gherkin’ skyscraper, in central London represents the often bold designs of post-modernist architecture. In 2006-2010 the renowned architect Zaha Hadid designed the Evelyn Grace Academy (constructed in 2006-2010) in Brixton, London. The fully accessible designed non-selective secondary school embodies contemporary education and the building has been designed to reflect its modern and fresh approaches.

Finally, an important part of the legacy of the upcoming 2012 Olympics will see the site of the games become the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, one of the largest new urban parks created in Europe in the last 150 years.

Other important examples of late 20th century architecture also feature in some of our other What’s New stories on PastScape: Architects Chamberlin, Powell and BonPost War Architecture and Festival of Britain 60th Anniversary.