Undergraduate Course: Modernity and Continuity in British Architecture, c.1919-56 (ARHI10046)
|School||Edinburgh College of Art
||College||College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
|Credit level (Normal year taken)||SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate)
||Availability||Available to all students
|Summary||This course explores architectural production in Britain between the end of the First World War and 1956, the year which was identified in 1959 by the historian and critic John Summerson as marking the end of one epoch in British Modernism and the start of a new phase. The course asks what the architecture and urban planning of this period can tell us about wider themes in social and political history. From this point of view, the course examines not only buildings, but also texts, mass media, exhibitions, discussion groups, and drawings, to understand the ideas which shaped architectural practice and design. It considers how architecture was understood by those designing buildings, by those commissioning buildings, and by others writing about architecture. It is thus very much a course about architecture in historical context, rather than the 'forms' of architecture or its technical aspects.
For many years, historians argued that the conditions for Modernism were created in Britain at the end of the nineteenth century, but that after this promising start, British architects turned away from innovation during the 1920s, with a more avant-garde approach becoming evident once more only after the arrival of émigrés from continental Europe during the 1930s. However, in recent years this interpretation has been increasingly challenged. Consideration of an 'expanded' field of architectural production and discourse allows us to see how an interest in and engagement with 'modernity' found multiple expressions. In what other ways could architects, patrons and critics (including women) engage with the modern world? How do we set aside the sense that the avant-garde should be privileged and instead begin to understand the full range of architectural Modernisms, traditionalisms (and, perhaps, Otherisms) in an appropriate historical context? To what extent should we see this period as a continuum, or one divided by the Second World War? How were architecture and planning bound up with visions for a 'new' Britain, especially during and after WW2, and the rise of the Welfare State? These are questions which currently exercise historians, and so this course will engage with some of the latest debates. In doing so, we will pay full attention to examples in Scotland and particularly Edinburgh, and will make use of the archival collections available to us locally, including those of Historic Environment Scotland.
This course contributes to the ongoing discovery and evaluation of British architectural production and culture between the end of the First World War and the mid-1950s. Its end date - 1956 - has been selected for several reasons. John Summerson in 1959 highlighted 1956 as the end of the inaugural phase in British Modernism. In addition, 1956 was the year in which the MARS Group, which had shaped architectural discourse during the late 1930s and 1940s, folded. It also marks the point at which questions of post-war reconstruction began to give way, in an increasingly affluent society, to discussions of modernization. Finally, the Suez crisis challenged notions of Britain's place in the modern world. Furthermore, by looking at architecture either side of the Second World War, rather than taking 1939 or 1945 as our end date, we will be able to explore the extent to which the War disrupted architectural thinking; to what extent was post-war architectural culture indebted to the 1930s and to wartime discourse? How did architecture and planning embody visions of a 'new' Britain, especially after 1945?
The course will consider a wide range of architectural production, from constructed buildings to unexecuted designs, and will also explore the ways in which architectural discourse was constructed by means of text, image, film and exhibitions. It will further consider the ways in which questions of architectural modernity were explored by a range of figures who were not professional architects, and in so doing challenges the idea of an architectural history dominated by male designers. It considers architecture in context: what can architecture and planning tell us about broader concerns in social and political history, and how did architecture embody wider social, political and cultural concerns?
The fundamental premise of the course is that the traditional narrative of Modernism in Britain is problematic. Whereas for Pevsner, Britain had created the conditions for Modernism before 1914 but then fell into a backwater until the arrival of émigrés during the 1930s, more recent accounts have stressed the vitality of British architectural culture in this period and the value of looking beyond the few buildings which conform to a stereotypical definition of Modernism (i.e. with strip windows, white render, flat roofs, and so on). The course will therefore discuss how an engagement with modernity found various forms, including not only multiple Modernisms but also more obviously historically inflected approaches.
The course will draw on Scottish and Edinburgh examples wherever possible, and students will make use of the collections of Historic Environment Scotland, as well as the University of Edinburgh Special Collections.
Sessions might be themed around topics including: modernity and the ways it was organised, disseminated and exhibited; domestic architecture in the 1920s and 1930s; public buildings; buildings for work, transport and leisure; the role and education of the architect; 'otherisms' and non-Modernisms; planning the post-war city; rethinking the post-war dwelling; prefabrication and new ways of building; the Festival of Britain; the extent to which 'Scottishness' and 'Britishness' are useful concepts in thinking about this period.
The course is also intended to develop students' skills as historians, through the close analysis of original source material.
Information for Visiting Students
|Pre-requisites||Visiting students should have at least 3 History of Art/Architectural History courses at grade B or above (or be predicted to obtain this). We will only consider University/College level courses.
** as numbers are limited, visiting students should contact the Visiting Student Office directly for admission to this course **
|High Demand Course?
Course Delivery Information
|Not being delivered|
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
- Demonstrate a thorough knowledge and understanding of architectural production in Britain, and by British architects in a selection of overseas contexts, between c. 1919 and 1956
- Demonstrate an appreciation of the value to the historian not only of 'actual monuments' but also a wider form of architectural production including text, designs, and mass media
- Demonstrate an understanding of the cultural, political and historical context of British architecture during the first half of the twentieth century, and the relationships between architecture and that context
- Demonstrate an ability to locate, reflect on, and use a range of different forms of evidence, and to consider how and why historians have done so in the past.
- Demonstrate the ability to marshal material from a range of primary and secondary sources in support of arguments that challenge and extend our understanding of the architectural history of this period.
|Elizabeth Darling, Re-forming Britain (London, 2007)|
John R. Gold, The Experience of Modernism (London, 1996)
John R. Gold, The Practice of Modernism (London, 2007)
Alan Powers, Britain: Modern Architectures in History (London, 2007)
Nicholas Bullock, Building the Post-War World (London, 2002)
Miles Glendinning, Ranald Macinnes, and Aonghus MacKechnie, A History of Scottish Architecture, from the Renaissance to the Present Day (Edinburgh, 1996)
T. Benton, Form and function: a source book for the History of architecture and design 1890-1939 (London, 1975)
P. Johnson (ed.), Twentieth-Century Britain: Economic, Social and Cultural Change (1994)
M. Daunton (ed.), The Cambridge Urban History of Britain, vol. III, 1840-1950 (2000)
R. McKibbin, Classes and Cultures: England 1918-1951 (1998)
L. Abrams and C. Brown, A History of Everyday Life in Twentieth-Century Scotland (2010)
|Graduate Attributes and Skills
|Keywords||architectural history,modernism,british architecture
|Course organiser||Dr Alistair Fair
Tel: (0131 6)51 3913
|Course secretary||Miss Fanny To
Tel: (0131 6)51 5773