Coventry Cathedral: Art and Architecture in Post-War Britain

By Louise Campbell | Go to book overview

5
The Competition Design Refined, 1951-1954

Critical Reception

THE publication of Spence's winning design propelled him into an arena of architectural theory which he had so far avoided. The year of the Festival of Britain, 1951, saw the gathering of CIAM members at Hoddesdon to discuss 'The Core of the City' The theme of the conference was highly relevant both to the creation of a new urban environment on the South Bank, viewed against the backdrop of Westminster (Plate 55), and to the project for a new cathedral as a focus for memories of the recent war and of aspirations for the future.1 Delegates listening to papers (including one by Ernesto Rogers which compared the layout of the Festival with Le Corbusier's proposals for the bombed town of St Dié) may have speculated on how the new buildings planned for Coventry might be reconciled with 'a sacred site of infinite associations'.2

The importance of creating effective public spaces and buildings which would foster a sense of civic pride among the citizens of post-war Europe preoccupied many critics during the 1940s. Opinion about how best to approach the task of rebuilding the bombed city varied enormously. In Britain, battle-lines were drawn between architects like Hugh Casson, who felt that a picturesque approach to planning and composition offered a specifically English--and comfortingly home-grown--solution to the needs of the post-war city and its dwellers (and also those like Spence who did not publicly support the picturesque, but applied it to the Coventry project as the best way of coping with the conditions, written and unwritten, of the brief), and a younger generation who believed in a less romantic, more technically and theoretically based approach to architecture. Such architects regarded Pevsner's articles on the historical origins of the picturesque as an attempt to subvert the course of the modern movement. Following the publication in 1949 of Wittkower Architectural Principles in theAge of Humanism

____________________
1
Recalled by Reyner Banham, in M. Banham and B. Hillier (eds), A Tonic to the Nation: The Festival of Britain 1951 ( London, 1976).
2
Bishop Gorton, letter to The Times ( 14 Sept. 1951).

-81-

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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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