Architectural Enthusiasm: Visiting Buildings with the Twentieth Century Society

By Craggs, Ruth; Geoghegan, Hilary et al. | Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, September-October 2013 | Go to article overview

Architectural Enthusiasm: Visiting Buildings with the Twentieth Century Society


Craggs, Ruth, Geoghegan, Hilary, Neate, Hannah, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space


Introduction

In this paper we consider an important way in which people experience the built environment, namely through a collective passion for architecture. This predilection incorporates an appreciation of the materialities of buildings and the joy of visiting, exploring, understanding, and caring for buildings and their architectural histories. We conceptualise this way of being and doing as 'architectural enthusiasm'. Central to an enthusiasm for any cause or interest is an intense 'emotional affiliation' (Geoghegan, 2013). As with many interests that involve the active cultivation of knowledge of, in, and about particular subjects, groups and societies have formed around architectural enthusiasm. These enable the communication and circulation of collective passions for the built environment as well as shared concerns for buildings at risk and the associated policy dimensions of conservation.

We seek to understand here the shared ways in which enthusiasts as 'architectural practitioners' experience buildings and do building work (Jacobs and Merriman, 2011).

Framing our argument around the multiple emotions experienced by participants during architectural tours, we introduce the category of enthusiasm as a particular mode by which people on architectural tours (guides and their followers) engage with architecture. Through our conceptualisation of architectural enthusiasm we attempt to grasp not only the shared ways in which people experience architecture, but also the ways in which enthusiasm circulates within and between groups of architectural practitioners. By making space for emotion in our geographies of architecture, we also draw out what might be dismissed as "the small, the minor and the exceptional in the making of our 'big' geographies" (Jacobs, 2006, page 22), highlighting how the action, practice, and performance of the architectural tour has a larger political purpose beyond the small interpretive community of the group. The tour and its participants are therefore understood as architectural agents connected to other official networks of care and conservation.

We use the architectural tour, a 'nonacademic' but nonetheless highly engaging and often very knowledge-rich form of architectural experience, to highlight connections between a diverse range of ways of exploring, knowing, and valuing the built environment, from urban exploration (urbex), to local history and architectural tourism. Thus the paper makes the case that there is a continuum between these practices which are often understood, from both an academic and a popular perspective, as disparate and unrelated. In contradistinction, we argue that it is important to highlight the commonalities between practices. These include an emphasis on visiting sites, emotional engagements that occur within shared interest groups and on an individual basis, and an acknowledgement that often people take part in several of these activities, with each, in different ways, influencing how architecture is understood, valued, and physically or politically remade.

We focus specifically on the volunteer-led tours (on foot, by coach, or public transport) of The Twentieth Century Society, a UK-based architectural conservation group which caters for those with an interest in the architecture, arts, crafts, and design of the period after 1914. This focus on enthusiasm for 20th-century architecture has the added dimension of being a period which includes certain architectural styles (for example, Brutalism) which are still contested, making them particularly vulnerable. Saint argued in 1992 that "If the best of these buildings are to be safeguarded for posterity, the reassessment of post-war architectural heritage cannot wait" (page 3; see also Penrose, 2007). Since then, there has been a growing interest in this period, for example the UNESCO Programme on Modern Heritage, DOCOMOMO International, and English Heritage's Twentieth Century Listing programme. …

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