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The Tragic Disappearance Of Britain’s Modernist Architecture

A lovely tribute to lost mid-century gems.

If you care about historic preservation, the saddest thing about knowing an old building has been demolished is the abrupt finality of it all. Once a great piece of architecture is gone, it’s gone for good. In New York, for example, no amount of wishing will bring back the original Penn Station, much as we all universally despise the cavernous dungeon that took its place.

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So it is with the United Kingdom’s diverse collection of post-war modernist architecture. These mid-century gems have been disappearing at a rapid pace since the beginning of the 2000s, as developers bulldoze their way through British cities and towns to make way for the proverbial wheels of progress.

With a new slideshow of sketches, the financial-comparison website GoCompare has created a lovely tribute to 10 of these structures, spanning the country from Portsmouth to London to Gateshead. The company sourced data from Wikipedia and the Twentieth Century Society, a British preservation group that focuses on architecture built after 1914. According to GoCompare, many structures from this era have fallen into disrepair, and the task of saving them from the wrecking ball has not been met with the same urgency that British urban planners give to preserving buildings from the Victorian or Georgian eras.

GoCompare’s sketches are a delight to look through, even if it is a little depressing to know that I’ll never get to see any of these buildings in person. My personal favorite of the collection is the Gilbey’s Gin headquarters, which was located in Harlow, Essex. The L-shaped office block is topped off by a boxy tower—finished with simple vertical panels and emblazoned with the name “Gilbey’s” in a slab-serif typeface. It has the inviting charm of a 1960s department store, in a cartoony, Hanna-Barbera kind of way. Despite being listed on a U.K. heritage register in the early 1990s, the building was demolished in 1993.

I’ll be dedicating my after-work G&T to you, Gilbey’s HQ.

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About the author

Christopher Zara is a news editor for Fast Company and obsessed with media, technology, business, culture, and theater. Before coming to FastCo News, he was a deputy editor at International Business Times, a theater critic for Newsweek, and managing editor of Show Business magazine

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