Coventry Cathedral: Art and Architecture in Post-War Britain

By Louise Campbell | Go to book overview

3
'Towards a New Cathedral'?

Architectural Polemics and the Cathedral Scheme

THE debate over the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral, which until 1944 was largely the preserve of politicians, city planners, and clergy, with the publication of Scott's design became an architectural debate as well. Intensifying with the Harlech Report in 1947 and climaxing with the announcement of the competition result in August 1951, it touched on issues of great contemporary concern: the treatment of bombed buildings and the role of the monument in the modern city. The restrictions under which architects worked immedi- ately after the war had cramped creativity but also encouraged a sharpening of critical skills. Fresh perspectives now emerged, which revealed the crudity of pre-war distinctions between modernist and traditionalist. Meanwhile, significant divisions soon became apparent between the generation trained and practising before the war and a post-war generation, hungry for experience and dismissive of their elders' ideas.

To this generation, the Scott design, despite its innovatory placing of the altar, contained an unpalatable disparity between the interior and the Gothic detail of the exterior. In contrast to Harlech, for whom the use of Gothic suggested the comforting continuity of tradition, the critic J. M. Richards felt that its use in a modern building denoted regression and sham. The House of Commons, destroyed by bombing in 1941, and rebuilt to Scott's designs between 1946 and 1950, provides an interesting parallel with the Coventry scheme. There, Scott was instructed by a Select Committee in 1944 to adhere to the Gothic idiom, and to follow the original plan in order to preserve the intimate character of parliamentary debates. But with the help of modern technology, he improved the sight-lines, increased the size of the galleries, installed new acoustic and ventilation systems, and provided three additional floors for lobbies and offices. Richards, reviewing the Commons scheme in The Times on its completion in 1950, pointed to the 'incongruity of a highly mechanised building in medieval guise'(Plate 17).1

____________________
1
"'Conflict between Ancient Forms and Modern Functions'", The Times ( 18 Oct. 1950).

-37-

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Coventry Cathedral: Art and Architecture in Post-War Britain
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS v
  • Contents vii
  • List of Color Plates ix
  • LIST OF BLACK AND WHITE PLATES xi
  • Abbreviations xix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I. Architecture and Politics 5
  • 1 The Cathedral and the City: The Blitz, Civic Ideology And Reconstruction 7
  • 2 The Cathedral Project 1940-1947 22
  • 3 'towards a New Cathedral'? 37
  • Part II. The Creative Process 69
  • 4 Modernism and Tradition: The Genesis of Spence's Competition Design 71
  • 5 The Competition Design Refined, 1951-1954 81
  • 6 The Architect and the Artist 102
  • Part III. Design into Building 131
  • 7 The Licence to Build, 1954 133
  • 8 The Turning-Point, 1954-1956 141
  • 9 The Design Recast, 1956-1958 148
  • Pa IV. For and Function 193
  • 10 The Modern Church 195
  • 11 Provost and Architect 206
  • 12 The Cathedral Completed, 1960-1962 216
  • 13 The Cathedral and the Post-War World: Austerity and Triumphalism 243
  • Conclusion 254
  • APPENDIX: DONATIONS 276
  • Bibliography 278
  • Index 283
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