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Designing Britain 1945 - 1975 > Art for Social Spaces > Case Studies > Housing/Harlow
 
HOUSING/HARLOW

Introduction

This section will consider sculpture commissioned and/or sited in the housing environment in the early post-war decades. It will ask you to consider some general issues relating to artworks and urban habitation by focusing on a selection of examples, including the collection of sculpture at Harlow.

Independently, you will need to consult texts and weblinks for further information and discussion. The study aims to raise questions about the contribution made by this kind of ‘public sculpture’ to social welfare/housing and to the conditions of communal living spaces. The issues and images discussed in the Precincts/Parks and the Schools case studies will have a direct relevance to material here.
 
Overview

Housing

The choice of photograph and caption selected by Sir Gwilym Gibbon for his book, Reconstruction and Town and Country Planning, published in 1943, suggests that town-planners were in a state of transition. Entitled ‘A Disaster – and an Opportunity’, it shows the bombsite in front of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Gibbon, a senior civil servant in local government, assessed various reports on town-planning and looked forward to the possibilities for re-development that peacetime would bring - with both trepidation and hope.
 
Exhibition of Architecture, Lansbury, Poplar, Festival of Britain ASS00250 Exhibition of Architecture, Lansbury, Poplar, Festival of Britain

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Exhibition of Architecture, Lansbury, Poplar ASS00256 Exhibition of Architecture, Lansbury, Poplar

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In 1951, the Festival of Britain celebrated various aspects of that ‘reconstruction’ in its displays and pavilions. It foregrounded modern architecture in the temporary displays on the South Bank and introduced modern town-planning in exhibitions such as the ‘live architecture’ show at Lansbury, organised by London County Council.
 
As Peter Moro remarked:
 
There was much talk about new towns, neighbourhood units and so on – it showed, at life-scale, what some of these ideas meant.
Peter Moro, an architect who came to Britain in 1936 hoping to work for Walter Gropius, quoted in John R. Gold, The Experience of Modernism: Modern Architects and the Future City 1928-1953, E & FN Spon, London, 1997, p. 213.
 
The 30-acre site at Lansbury was part of a much bigger scheme to redevelop the Stepney and Poplar area in London’s East End. In later years, parts of the estate were allowed to fall into a poor state of repair.
 
Clock tower at Lansbury, designed by Frederick Gibberd ASS00970 Clock tower at Lansbury, designed by Frederick Gibberd

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The Priory Green Estate in Finsbury is a surviving example of modern social architecture which, importantly, has a particularly fine sculptural relief above an entrance to one of the blocks on Wynford Road (now Priority Heights). Although recognisably a family group, the simple forms of the relief show an influence of Constructivism.
 
Mural depicting family on Priory Green estate, 1946-57 ASS00941 Mural depicting family on Priory Green estate, 1946-57

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Mural at entrance to block on Priory Green Estate, built 1946-57 ASS00943 Mural at entrance to block on Priory Green Estate, built 1946-57

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The estate was designed by Tecton architects Lubetkin, Bailey and Skinner and was completed to earlier designs in 1957. Lubetkin was a leading figure in the innovative Tecton architectural group practice. Particularly influenced by Le Corbusier, he pioneered the use of concrete and created some of the most sculptural stairways ever designed for ordinary social housing blocks. A Heritage Lottery grant in 2000 facilitated extensive renovations to the estate and the low concrete relief and its tiled surround were restored. The relief now fronts a new children’s play centre.

In an article in Apollo in 1962, Edwin Mullins surveyed sculpture in London since the war. He comments on new forms of patronage.
 
…there is a wealth of post-war building most of it for private firms, but sadly little good modern sculpture to go with it. And it is naïve to assume that even this small amount would have been acceptable, had not enlightened public bodies shown the way. This is a new kind of patronage, and without it modern British sculpture might have become exclusively the preserve of the art trade and its clients. The London County Council, in particular, has consistently spent money on equipping schools and housing estates with sculpture – often difficult sculpture. Before 1956 the expenditure was not sytematic, but in that year it was decided to allocate £20,000 annually for this purpose, and by May of this year over forty works, most of them commissioned (on Arts Council advice) were in place all over Greater London.
E. Mullins, ‘The Open-Air Vision, A Survey of Sculpture in London since 1945’, in Apollo, August 1962, Vol. 76, No. 6, p. 455.
 
Although there were earlier examples of sculpture being sited on housing estates, it was in the mid-1950s that the London County Council made a decisive commitment to commission contemporary works of sculpture for specific sites including works by Siegfried Charoux and Willi Soukop.
 
'The Neighbours' by Siegfried Charoux, 1959 ASS00962 'The Neighbours' by Siegfried Charoux, 1959

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'The Pied Piper of Hamelin', wall relief by Willi Soukop ASS00967 'The Pied Piper of Hamelin', wall relief by Willi Soukop

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Charoux contributed a major work - The Islanders - to the South Bank site in the Festival of Britain. Search the Image Archive for other sculpture made by Charoux.

Architects such as Lubetkin were particularly committed to the transformative powers of architecture and believed it could radically improve and enhance the quality of everyday life for ordinary people. Such ideas were founded on the notion of architecture as a social practice in which buildings could embody social messages. For them, public art and sculpture played a vital role in this.
 
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Harlow
 
Family group by Moore ASS00487 Family group by Moore

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The most lauded marriage between art and a new town occurred at Harlow, which grew rapidly from a small, scattered rural population to a thriving centre for over 70,000 people. It eventually acquired a sculpture collection larger than any other British town of similar size…
Richard Cork in E. Rosenberg and Richard Cork, Architects’ Choice: Art and Architecture in Great Britain Since 1945, (Thames and Hudson, London, 1992), p. 52.
 
Cork’s comments draw on Henry Moore’s preface to the catalogue entitled Sculpture in Harlow published in 1973. The catalogue outlines the history of the town and the major role played by Harlow Art Trust in acquiring so many major works of sculpture. It includes details of the sculptures with photographs by Graham Portlock. Many of the views of Harlow sculpture included in the ASS Image Archive are from photographs taken by Portlock for the 1973 catalogue.
 
‘Sheepshearer’ by Ralph Brown ASS00490 ‘Sheepshearer’ by Ralph Brown

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Frederick Gibberd, chief architect for Harlow and member of Harlow Art Trust, wrote the introduction for the catalogue.
 
There has been a remarkable development of British sculpture since the war, so much that we now lead the world in that art. The Harlow collection stands as a testimonial to the resurgent taste for plastic art. More than this, it is a collection which is an integral part of the town’s design adding both to the visual diversity of individual scenes and to the character of Harlow as a whole.
Frederick Gibberd, in Sculpture in Harlow, Harlow Development Corporation, 1973.
 
Gibberd was passionately committed to the idea that all citizens should be given free access to works of contemporary art. He designed the town environment with this in mind, acquiring works from established artists such as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, as well as commissioning work from lesser known younger sculptors.

By 1973, Harlow had 27 works of sculpture on public sites around the town. Currently, Harlow’s website at http://www.harlow.gov.uk/Default.aspx?sID=726 lists over 60 works of sculpture – artists include Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Betty Rea, F. E. McWilliam, Elisabeth Frink, John Mills and Antanas Brazdys. Harlow Art Trust continues to acquire sculpture for public sites around the town and is involved in various public art projects.
 
‘Watergardens - 2’ by William Mitchell ASS00492 ‘Watergardens - 2’ by William Mitchell

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‘Watergardens - 1’ by William Mitchell ASS00491 ‘Watergardens - 1’ by William Mitchell

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During the 1950s and 1960s, some works were located in housing areas or near communal open spaces. Sally Doig’s Wrestlers stood on the terrace of the Sports Centre.
 
‘Wrestlers’ by Sally Doig ASS00485 ‘Wrestlers’ by Sally Doig

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Others were sited in the town centre beside public buildings or in shopping precincts. Trigon, situated in Broad Walk in the Town Centre, was purchased from Lynn Chadwick in 1966.
 
‘Trigon’ by Lynn Chadwick ASS00484 ‘Trigon’ by Lynn Chadwick

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Henry Moore’s family group, carved in Hadene stone, was the first sculpture acquired by the Trust in 1954. Originally, it was sited in a landscape setting but it was later moved to a location in front of the Town Hall. Since being vandalised, it has been stored at the Henry Moore Foundation’s Perry Green studios. The Harlow Art Trust plans to reinstall the Moore group in 2003 in a renovation project which features a newly designed extension to the Town Hall. In a long distance view of the Moore group, William Mitchell’s abstract frieze can also be seen on the office block in the background. In the 1960s, Frederick Gibberd also commissioned Mitchell to design a large set of doors for the new Roman Catholic Cathedral in Liverpool.
 
Family group by Moore ASS00487 Family group by Moore

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Henry Moore's Family Group viewed on its town centre site in Harlow ASS00942 Henry Moore's Family Group viewed on its town centre site in Harlow

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Offices in the centre of Harlow with a view of Henry Moore's family group on the left of the plaza ASS00968 Offices in the centre of Harlow with a view of Henry Moore's family group on the left of the plaza

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Another of the most important works is Ralph Brown’s Meat Porters designed especially for the Market Place. The Trust commissioned this piece in 1957. Brown produced a striking work of brutal realism featuring two men holding up an ox carcass. The work was shown in the open-air exhibition held in Battersea Park in London in 1960 and was sited at Harlow soon after.
 
‘Meatporters’ by Ralph Brown ASS00488 ‘Meatporters’ by Ralph Brown

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'Meatporters' by Ralph Brown ASS00969 'Meatporters' by Ralph Brown

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Another bold siting was Hepworth’s Contrapuntal Forms, originally commissioned for the Festival of Britain in 1951. The two blue limestone monoliths dominate the domestic setting in the Glebelands area.
 
Blue limestone carving by Barbara Hepworth ASS00486 Blue limestone carving by Barbara Hepworth

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Other sculptures, including Brazdys’ Echo have spectacular locations. Its gleaming metal forms create a stunning effect against the surrounding low-rise buildings.
 
‘Echo’ by Antanas Brazdys ASS00483 ‘Echo’ by Antanas Brazdys

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Although in the early years much of the work acquired and commissioned by Harlow was figurative, abstract sculpture in a variety of new materials has been sited. Whilst Harlow has built up a remarkable collection of contemporary work in keeping with the modern architecture and social ethos of the town, the collection does include nineteenth-century sculpture too.
 
‘Eve’ by Auguste Rodin ASS00489 ‘Eve’ by Auguste Rodin

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What problems do you anticipate might be posed by such a large collection of public work?

Study works at Harlow in the Image Archive. How much does the collection reflect more general developments in sculpture in the period?

In July 2002, the government's Select Committee for Transport, Local Government and the Regions published its19th report, entitled ‘The New Towns : their Problems and Future' (HC - 603 - 1). Clearly, the utopian
spirit in which many of the New Towns were set up in the 1950s and 1960s, has not sustained development into the 21st century. In some cases, the 'new model' housing estates built all at the same time have deteriorated at the same time too, transport systems have become inadequate, recreational facilities have been under-funded. In common with other New Towns, Harlow has areas of social deprivation and urban decay. The report acknowledged the need for urgent action. It addresses the issues of degeneration-regeneration and makes a series of general recommendations. Browse the report and its findings at
www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm200102/cmselect/cmtlgr/603/60302.htm
Does the report make any reference to the notion of 'cultural regeneration'? How might the report inform a contemporary reading of public art/sculpture in a New Town setting?
 
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Questions / Discussions

Use the PMSA series of books and the online Image Archive to research and study sculpture commissioned and sited in other provincial towns and cities in the period such as Liverpool, Birmingham and Coventry. What kind of work was commissioned? Which sculptors were commissioned and what style of work was produced for specific housing locations?

How, if at all, does sculpture contribute to a sense of community or neighbourliness?

How might sculpture contribute to disaffection and social alienation within communities?

Does sculpture in the community setting offer a site for collective memory and/or identity? How does meaning change through time? Find examples to support your arguments and ideas.
 
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Images

The following images directly relate to Housing/Harlow :
 
Flats at Lamble Street, Gospel Oak. ASS00163 Flats at Lamble Street, Gospel Oak.

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Pimlico flats, section 2 ASS00164 Pimlico flats, section 2

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Warrington-The Home of Vladivar ASS00179 Warrington-The Home of Vladivar

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'Miner' by Siegfried Charoux ,1950-51 ASS00948 'Miner' by Siegfried Charoux ,1950-51

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Bronze sculpture by Siegfried Charoux ASS00961 Bronze sculpture by Siegfried Charoux

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You might also want to search the Image Archive for other work by artists mentioned in this section or for images which have other references to housing and/or ‘new towns’.
 
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Texts

The Public Sculpture of Britain series published by the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association’s National Recording Project/University of Liverpool including published (or forthcoming) volumes on the City of London, Glasgow, Warwickshire with Solihull and Coventry, Leicestershire and Rutland, North East England, Birmingham and Liverpool.

J. Allan, Berthold Lubetkin, Merrell, London, 2002

M. Garlake, New Art New World – British Art in Post-War Society, Yale University Press, New Haven, U.S.A, 1998

John R. Gold, The Experience of Modernism: Modern Architects and the Future City 1928-1953, E & FN Spon, London, 1997

B. Goodchild, Housing and the Urban Environment, Blackwell, Oxford/London, 1997

Mel Gooding, Public: Art : Space, A Decade of Public Art, Merrell Holberton Publishers, Public Art Commissions Agency, London,1998

E. Mullins, ‘The Open-Air Vision, A Survey of Sculpture in London since 1945’, Apollo, August 1962, Vol. 76, No. 6, pp. 455-463.

Sandy Nairne and Nicholas Serota, (eds.), British Sculpture in the Twentieth Century, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London,1981

P. Nuttgens, The Home Front, Housing the People 1840-1990, BBC Books, London, 1989

E. Rosenberg and Richard Cork, Architects’ Choice; Art and Architecture in Great Britain Since 1945, Thames and Hudson, London, 1992. (Particularly Chapter Two: ‘Housing and New Towns’).

Sculpture in Harlow, Harlow Development Corporation, 1973, with photographs by Graham Portlock

www.harlow.gov.uk/Default.aspx?sID=726 Harlow website includes lots of images and information on public sculpture in Harlow

www.pmsa.org.uk Public Monuments and Sculpture Association website with direct access to online bank of images plus lots of useful information and links on public sculpture and organisations

www.sculpture.org.uk Goodwood Sculpture Park website with directory and online images

public-art.shu.ac.uk/ Sheffield Hallam University Public Art Research Archive – online bank of images and lots of weblinks/information
 
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