Mar 19 2012: Three Monochrome Photographs Featuring Minor Architectural Structures (Dates and Locations Unknown)

The thing that unites these three otherwise random photographs is that each, in its way, shows an architectural structure that would generally pass unnoticed as architecture: an architecture without architects, perhaps even a species of ‘outsider architecture’. The cinema here, for example, is not the kind of Deco construction that was as common for its kind of building as the Neo-Classical facade was for Banks and Civic offices. Instead, a straightforward brick box is slightly adapted to show films inside, and this was no doubt readapted to some other use during the decline of that sector through the 70s and 80s, most likely a Bingo Hall that has itself vanished, to be replaced in turn by an evangelical church or a Tesco Express. That these two things appear to be virtually synonymous, where the adaptation of building stock created with other uses in mind is concerned, perhaps tells its own story about the general direction of the society we’ve lived in since the early 1980s.

The bungalow, too, now synonymous with genteel retirement, is a kind of neglected architectural form, though one that (like cinemas) often involved architects. I’m not sure the one seen here was ‘architect designed’ in the sense of being tailored specifically to a site, more likely it was built from a template by either a housing corporation or
company: it’s not unlike the one that my own grandparents lived in, as built and owned by the National Coal Board, after my grandfather’s retirement from the pits due to injuries sustained in an accident at some time during the 1950s. Substantially built, situated in (by current standards) very generous gardens and grounds, and generally both modern in conveniences and traditional in form, the provincial bungalow has become a kind of ubiquitous shape on the edges of most British towns, where modernist ideals of function, space and light meet aspirations towards the cottage and manor house.

The roses in the front garden and the small pond with its goldfish and fishing painted cement gnome seems to have been the arboretum and artificial lake of a newly suburban provincial working class in the post-war era, rehoused after 1945, with leisure time and spare income to visit the many aristocratic properties taken into the public realm via The National Trust and Local Authorities. Perhaps there’s something contradictory about the greenhouse, in that it’s an almost perfect modernist industrial design (system built, minimal, geometric, steel and glass) and the symbol of suburban pastoral aspirations: the orangery of the pocket-handkerchief back garden and the industrial worker’s allotment. Those who opposed modernist design in increasing numbers through the 1980s and 1990s might have reconsidered had the movement’s smaller scale buildings been brought into the debate. For what could be more acceptable to a traditionalist than a greenhouse at the end of the garden, even as the greenhouse itself is a near-perfect articulation of Bauhaus principles.

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