Coventry Cathedral: Art and Architecture in Post-War Britain

By Louise Campbell | Go to book overview

10
The Modern Church

IN November 1958, Spence was installed as President of the RIBA. As he indicated in his inaugural address, the profession was in some disarray.1 It had barely recovered from the lifting of restraints on private building four years before, and was divided--in terms of experience, outlook, and stylistic allegiance--between those who had worked as architects before the war, and a younger generation (described by Banham as 'a generation of battle- hardened and unusually mature students') forced by the outbreak of war to defer entering practice.2 The speech is also revealing about Spence's own position. Spence identified himself with the 'missing generation' of architects decimated by the First World War--a comment which hints at his own difficulty in adapting to a world whose requirements were quite different from those for which he had been trained in the 1920s. Interestingly, Alison Smithson acknowledged the 1950s as a time of conflict between generations, and recalled her own impatience and sense of frustration as she and her contemporaries attempted to break into a profession dominated by their elders.3 Spence's address appears to have been designed to reconcile those two generations, and an even younger one of architects born in the 1930s, with a vision of the future: an architecture which would combine the fine workmanship and respect for tradition which he believed characterized British architecture with an element of daring and self-confidence.

The sterling crisis and devaluation of 1949 had severely limited foreign travel during the early 1950s. As these restrictions eased, it became possible to spend time in Europe and see what had been built since the war. The Coventry commission and Spence's presidency brought numerous foreign invitations; inevitably, these provided him with different perspectives on

____________________
1
RIBA Journal ( Dec. 1958), 46.
2
R. Banham, "'The Revenge of the Picturesque: English Architectural Polemics, 1945-65'", in J. Summerson (ed.), Concerning Architecture ( London, 1968).
3
'We were all the lost generation together . . . the generation immediately ahead of us were coming back from the war, back to their lives before the war. There was just no room, there was too great a backlog in all walks of life for any of us to be let in and we were all just the people queuing up; and while we were queuing we talked together . . . we were all queuing to get into life . . .' Alison Smithson in conversation with Reyner Banham in the 1970s, quoted in D. Robbins (ed.), The Independent Group: Postwar Britain and the Aesthetics of Plenty ( Cambridge, Mass., 1990), 17.

-195-

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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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