Keeping one step ahead of that blasted flame (oh worship the flame cone – its on fire…) finds me in Margate where there are three incongruities. The first is the train, once, this part of Kent was served by the worst rolling stock that British Rail could muster added to which it took an entire lifetime to get here. Now a sleek high speed Javelin train sits purring by the Victorian platforms like a bad bank advert whisking you from modern Britain to here…Margate, which I hope is like the past not our future as this is the place the early 80′s didn’t leave. Except for the second incongruity which is the the new Turner gallery. This building doesn’t photograph well (Adolf Loos thought this the mark of good architecture) but it is in fact a fine new building, beautiful even, limpid I think is the word. It’s a pale blue rather than the grey in photos and clad in glass. It’s finely made although the project manager tells me not good enough for the architects. It’s incongruity may say more about the state of British building than of Margate because this well made building is a pebbles throw away from the very worst urban deprivation I have seen in a while (since the 80′s in fact) if you started a little chart of Alice Colemanesque signs of deprivation (an app would be useful) it would be filled up in a pace or two. This is the dogshit capital of wherever. The only thing I didn’t see was a burnt out car but maybe because I stayed near the seafront (in Margates best hotel : thanks tripadvisor for the bites, I’m sure chipperfield or Mary portas didn’t put up here)

finally the third incongruity: this one from 1963

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This tower dominates Margate, it is quite vast, back in 63 someone had some vision no doubt backed by a Telly Savalas style soundtrack about taking Margate into the future.

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It has (had) its own shopping centre and a vast car parking platform

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It recently mad an appearance in the BBCs tales of lost love which were all set in Margate and featured as the most stylish taxi drivers flat of all time. I know I have never been in a taxi drivers flat but I do spend a lot of time in taxis. If I was in a flat with a taxi driver I would assume I was about to be murdered.

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The tower is next to Dreamland which for anyone who visited margate since 1935 WAS margate. Dreamland is now derelict having suffered an unfortunate electrical fire. The site is/was owned by the same chap who owned Folkestones Rotunda amusements which was my heaven in the 1970′s. The rotunda suffered an unfortunate electrical fire.

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Ok everyone knows the story about Coventry ( no not lady Godiva ) that the Germans bombed the finest medieval town in the uk and so the brutal architects replaced it a with soulless modern shopping centre. Well it’s only partly true as a glance at the website http://www.historiccoventry.co.uk will show, plans for sweeping away the historic core were well advanced in the 1930′s and in some cases went even further than the Nazi bombers.

I only had 60 minutes in Coventry to jog round in the rain and capture a few images, the cathedral was closed but the centre was a revelation from my last visit 20 years or so ago.

Up first was a corner of the original shopping centre beautifully detailed fins of copper and some super graphics (not sure if these are original) but they work great.

And just nudging above something looking rather special on the skyline

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This linked set of towers was designed by John Madin (of Birmingham city library fame) and has a quite incredible cantilever at first floor unfortunately hidden by a scrappy looking canopy added by some idiots. This is a powerful piece of work.

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So….heading quickly for the cathedral and getting rather excited and stopped in my tracks by…this…elephant?

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It’s hard not to think of the fire watchers on the roof of the old cathedral on the night of the blitz desperately hacking at the lead to get at the incendiaries which had dropped in to the double timber roof and finally having to give up as the flames took hold and rush down and empty the building of anything worth saving.

When I was an architecture student in the 80′s Coventry cathedral had rather a bad press, it was seen as not quite modern enough, a little “decoratif” certainly passé. Oh we fools! This is architecture of the highest order, Basil we salute you. It’s as good as anything around today and seems to have become more contemporary as it ages, see the finely cut stone, the frameless glazing, the punched holes. My 60 minutes was nearly over, the cathedral was shut. I will definitely be back soon.

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Facing the cathedral is what we once knew as Coventry poly is of course now the university, it has for an old poly some rather excellent brutalist buildings which certainly good have graced one of what were the new now old uni’s. The road between the two has been pedestrianised and very well landscaped and the creates a modern version of the old fashioned cathedral precinct. The formal flight of stairs between spences cathedral and the old forming a lovely route for students to the town meaning the cathedrals become a link between town and gown.

Some pictures here of the university

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Finally forming a square at the end of the cathedral is the Brittania hotel, rather scruffy I don’t imagine it will be around for long however i could see it transformed, who wouldn’t want a fantastic apartment overlooking the cathedral?

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And finally…. Who new that this chap invented the bicycle…

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It might be surprising to northern folks that the south west can offer much to those with a brutalist bent but it would be a good holiday destination for Mancs modernistas. Truro is a small town (for a county capital) but obviously benefits from its cathedral and as a centre for local government. A lot of development clearly happened in the 1970′s and much of it is of an unusually high quality – in many cases stitching the towns fabric together with low key mixed developments using a palette of muted materials which lets other features of the town sing a little. It also has some examples of Brutalism which would put it at the top of any modernist league: the previously blogged police station, the cathedral extension and the outstanding County Hall.

this addition to the cathedral has an under croft that Valerio Olgiati could park his white 911 in.

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Not all the modern buildings a low key: this car park says what it is on the side of tin – in concrete

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I just love this gate

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Looking up above our high streets which as everyone knows as looking all the same at shop level there are a lot of things going on and often some good modernist examples. In Truro I spotted this completely blank facade with a very early example of structural glazing with a glass to glass corner. In a swiss canton this would be a la mode

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Cornwall has some great gems of modern architecture but sadly nothing much in the last 30 years of distinction. The police station standing guard by one of the main roundabouts in Truro has been a feature of our family holidays for many years. Its mini “carpenter centre” curved access ramp is no longer in use and we can only imagine that it’s unprepossessing site is the only reason it hasn’t been replaced by some timber and render “cabe (design council cabe!) ” architects panel friendly flats. There are all the usual Brutalist tropes: patent glazing, defined programme spaces, structural definition and a thought through approach to movement and traffic ( inevitably this last one with its strict split between pedestrians and cars proved to be wrong headed)

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The Modernist mag from Manchester recently featured police stations in the north. Here is The south wests contribution. I particularly like the cells with the glass blocks set in the roof of little oriels. It’s neighbour the art college was equally brutal but has had a recent makeover. There is quite a bit of good modernism around the fringes of Plymouth away from Abercrombies dreary city centre. The Abercrombie plan has started to get a lot of good press for its humane planning but I am afraid it’s lost on me. More Plymouth stuff to come.

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