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Listed Buildings
of Ipswich Custom House (Grade II*)

Newsletter, January 2011 (Issue 182)

Modernism at Isaacs!

A lovely bright photo of the De la Warr Pavilion in Bexhill greeted us. This archetypal 193 Os Modernist building was an ideal introduction to a talk at Isaacs on 13 October by Ken Powell, former Director of the Twentieth Century Society. And we did indeed go on to look at and be told about similar monuments of the Modernist Movement - amongst others, Lawn Road flats in Camden, the Hoover building (its preserved fašade now shelters a big Tesco!), Bankside power station (now Tate Modem), the Daily Express building in Fleet Street and Battersea power station (Listed by Michael Heseltine but partly demolished and still awaiting conversion for new uses). But Ken Powell didn't forget that he was in Ipswich and drew our attention to the value of preserving Broomhill Pool, the Listed 1930s lido, and the unique Modernist private house, 108 Westerfield Road, built by Birkin Haward for himself.

However the lecture made a case for respecting buildings of different styles and periods if they are good of their kind and a credit to their context. He instanced the Willis Building with its stimulating juxtaposition with the Unitarian Meeting House - two Grade I Listed buildings which create a doubly interesting context. And even more immediately for us, the presence in our town of both Willis and Isaacs (we were inside the 16th century Sale Room at Isaacs) makes for an enriched experience. Much more contentious, as he explained, is the continuing existence of a famous building like the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras, often hated in the middle of the last century but now seen as 'stupendous' in its way and currently converted into flats, with the rest of it due to re-open as a hotel after 50-60 years of disuse.

This provided Mr Powell with a cue to speak about changes of taste and the increasing effect of familiarity, so that it's not always wise to demolish buildings which seem unpopular for a time. Pevsner thought the Hoover Building was atrocious. Summerson only over time came to appreciate the St Pancras hotel. Bankside was very unpopular. The National Theatre has had few admirers, but is it right to re-model it?

Less celebrated buildings which have lost much of their appeal are being appreciated just before they are lost. Ken Powell cited some of the big inter-war pubs which are becoming rarer and, if not demolished already, are being ripped apart internally. As he said, these are usually below the level of High Art but are often examples of well designed vernacular styles. So he is pleased that English Heritage is Listing some of these.

If there was a portable moral in Mr Powell's talk it was that one shouldn't be for or against the old or the new. Each case should be considered on its merits, its context and over a period of time. The Twentieth Century Society itself is helping to save what is good from that century but not always valued .... yet!


    Front cover of issue 182 Cover, issue 182

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