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Designing Britain 1945 - 1975 > Art for Social Spaces > Case Studies > Precincts /Parks


The urban environment – the ‘precinct’ – presents a vast array of different kinds of ‘spaces’ for public art and especially for sculpture, from buildings to plazas. More recently, a number of British cities have made extensive use of sculpture in schemes aimed at rejuvenating city centre public spaces. In the 1980s and 1990s in Birmingham, for example, major works of sculpture have provided a focus for architectural schemes.

Besides this kind of civic space, from the 1940s onwards a range of new public sites emerged for sculpture in the urban environment. This section will explore some of these new possibilities, including open-air shows of contemporary sculpture in public parks and schemes/projects for siting sculpture, either temporarily or permanently, in city spaces. It will ask you to consider some general issues relating to artworks sited in the urban environment and makes reference to a selection of examples, including the Peter Stuyvesant City Sculpture Project in 1972.

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 the exhibition and location of sculpture to the cultural life of the city. The issues and images discussed in the Housing/Harlow and Schools case studies will have a direct relevance to material here.

Large Object' by Hubert Dalwood,1959 ASS00954 Large Object' by Hubert Dalwood,1959

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It could be argued that the ‘open-air’ exhibition of sculpture staged in Battersea Park in London in 1948 pioneered the idea of taking sculpture to ‘the people’. It gave ordinary citizens – rather than regular ‘gallery-goers’ - the opportunity to experience contemporary sculpture in relaxed surroundings. With over 170,000 visitors, it was regarded as a great success. The Battersea show – with a comprehensive programme of events, workshops and lectures - was the first in a series of triennial exhibitions which ran from 1948 until 1966. The newly founded Arts Council of Great Britain organised them in conjunction with London County Council. The shows were all held in Battersea Park, apart from the 1954 and 1957 exhibitions in Holland Park. Of course, to some extent the range of work was limited to sculpture which could tolerate outdoor conditions. Each show had a different theme - the 1957 show, entitled ‘Sculpture 1850 and 1950’ featured a diverse selection of figurative and abstract sculpture in a range of materials. The 1960 exhibition showed contemporary work from British and French sculptors.
Joy ride' by Franta Belsky,1957-58 ASS00966 Joy ride' by Franta Belsky,1957-58

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‘Figures with a Carcass’ by Ralph Brown ASS00955 ‘Figures with a Carcass’ by Ralph Brown

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The Arts Council also organised a series of ‘open-air’ shows of contemporary British sculpture which toured the provinces through the 1950s and early 1960s. Many of the venues were public parks.

The idea of showing sculpture in public parkland settings was extended to permanent sites. One of the earliest examples was Middelheim Sculpture Park which opened in the suburbs of Antwerp in 1950. It has continued to acquire works for its permanent collection since the 1950s. The first sculpture park in Britain was Yorkshire Sculpture Park which opened in 1977. The site, at West Bretton near Wakefield, has extensive open-air and indoor spaces for showing sculpture and runs educational programmes, sculpture workshops and cultural events alongside historical and contemporary exhibitions. A number of other sculptureparks/sites have opened in rural/semi-rural settings – see information and weblinks on, for example, Goodwood in West Sussex, Grizedale Forest and the Forest of Dean. For an international directory of sculpture parks and sites see the ISC Sculpture Parks and Gardens Directory at

Inner-city and urban environments have also offered spaces for ‘sculpture trails’ – a notion generally associated with forest/woodland settings. These more architectural spaces have sometimes fostered work that rejects the conventional parameters of sculpture produced for a more ‘natural’ or landscaped environment. Irwell Sculpture Trail is a partnership between the local authorities of Bury, Lancashire, Rossendale and Salford. The trail has 35 sculptures sited along the River Irwell and includes work by Ulrich Ruckreim and Edward Allington. Recent commissions include Rita McBride’s ‘ARENA’, a 5 meters high architectural piece described as a ‘sculptural amphitheater’ which has been constructed in Lower Kersal, Salford as part of the Commonwealth Games cultural festival. McBride’s work brings together the artist’s fascination with architecture and the idea of public ‘spectacle’.
I have always been fascinated by the structures and the scale of structures built for potential spectacle, like football stadiums. ARENA was originally less of an architectural or a sculptural idea but more about trying to formalise how people interact with the space within.
Information supplied by Irwell Sculpture Trail, 2002.


In the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, the civic squares and pavements of British towns and cities provided sites for equestrian figures, portrait statues of local dignitaries, politicians and benefactors, war memorials and commemorative sculpture. St John’s Gardens, situated at the rear of St George’s Hall and Plateau in Liverpool, was one of the first ‘urban sculpture parks’. Its formal gardens were laid out at the end of the 19th century as a space for workers to relax amongst formal gardens surrounded by statuary of local businessmen and philanthropists.
St. George’s Hall Plateau ASS00185 St. George’s Hall Plateau

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War memorials were a common sculptural feature of city precincts but very few new ones were erected to specifically commemorate the Second World War. Rare examples include Charles Wheeler’s Mercantile Marine Memorial at Tower Hill in London.
Detail of Mercantile Marine War Memorial at Tower Hill, London ASS00951 Detail of Mercantile Marine War Memorial at Tower Hill, London

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The Mercantile Marine War Memorial at Tower Hill, London ASS00950 The Mercantile Marine War Memorial at Tower Hill, London

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In the post-war period, new kinds of urban precincts offered new communal spaces amongst public libraries, parks, streets, bus stations and pedestrianised shopping areas. Sometimes, the architectural features of shopping precincts and street furniture appear to have been designed with sculptural qualities in mind.
Wulfrun Shopping Centre, Wolverhampton ASS00186 Wulfrun Shopping Centre, Wolverhampton

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Newbury Park Bus Station ASS00177 Newbury Park Bus Station

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In the New Towns of the 1950s and 1960s, civic buildings of all kinds continued to provide sites for architectural sculpture or backdrops for free-standing work. These new spaces demanded work in keeping with modern design and architecture.

But how far does the work sited reflect this?
What, if anything, was new about these post-war urban spaces? See work commissioned and sited in the ‘New Towns’ of the 1950s and 1960s, for example, Harlow, Stevenage.
‘Meatporters’ by Ralph Brown ASS00488 ‘Meatporters’ by Ralph Brown

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Family group by Moore ASS00487 Family group by Moore

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‘Trigon’ by Lynn Chadwick ASS00484 ‘Trigon’ by Lynn Chadwick

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'Joy ride' by Franta Belsky,1957-58 ASS00966 'Joy ride' by Franta Belsky,1957-58

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Abstract sculpture by Jose de Alberdi ASS00965 Abstract sculpture by Jose de Alberdi

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‘Red-brick’ university precincts offered a number of new sites for contemporary sculpture.
The dramatic expansion in university building after the war led to an acknowedgment. Among some institutions at least, of the need for art on the campus…[…]…New universities proved more willing to welcome modern sculpture, regarding it as a manifestation of their commitment to cultural vitality.
Richard Cork, Art and Architecture in Great Britain Since 1945, Thames and Hudson, London, 1992
The University of Liverpool, for example, expanded rapidly between 1950 and the mid-1970s. The campus became pedestrianised and many new buildings were erected with sculpture forming a key element of design. Some work was commissioned as an integral part of the buildings but free-standing sculpture was also commissioned or purchased ready-made for precincts and specific sites. Hubert Dalwood made work for universities at Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and Liverpool. After winning the competition for the Liverpool commission in 1959, Dalwood produced Three Uprights, three rising totem-like forms with abstract surface decoration cast in aluminium for a site near the Chadwick Tower.

Dalwood worked on other public projects. In 1967, Dalwood submitted a proposal and maquette for a relief sculpture for the façade of the Leeds City Art Gallery. The space allocated for the sculpture was long and narrow and Dalwood’s relief would have emphasised this. He proposed to make a smooth-surfaced relief in aluminium that would reflect light from the sky down into the square.
Relief model by Hubert Dalwood ASS00493 Relief model by Hubert Dalwood

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Neville Boden and Austin Wright also produced models for the scheme and the maquettes and drawings were exhibited at Leeds City Art Gallery in 1968. All three sculptors had been Gregory Fellows in sculpture at the University of Leeds. In the end, however, the local council decided not to go ahead with the project as redevelopment plans included the re-building of an entirely new gallery and public library.

In the urban environment, commercial buildings also provided spaces for sculpture. In the mid-1950s, the new Time Life headquarters in Bond Street was designed by Michael Rosenauer, an Austrian-born architect who
... regarded architecture as an opportunity to create a gesamtkunstwerk.
Richard Cork, Architects’ Choice : Art and Architecture in Great Britain Since 1945, Thames and Hudson, London, 1992, p. 14.
Rosenauer commissioned various works from contemporary artists including a mural painting from Ben Nicholson. Henry Moore produced 4 carvings in Portland stone, forming a screen across part of the second floor frontage and a reclining figure for the terrrace. Geoffrey Clarke, one of the eight young sculptors who had shown work in the acclaimed exhibition of British sculpture at the 1952 Venice Biennale, also produced abstract metalworks for the building.
Iron sculpture on the London - Time-Life building, Geoffrey Clarke,1952 ASS00958 Iron sculpture on the London - Time-Life building, Geoffrey Clarke,1952

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Commercial sponsorship funded the procurement of works of sculpture in public space – or at least it was possible for the passing citizen to see and appreciate the work. Commercial sponsorship and private funds supported figurative and abstract work. Study the following two contrasting examples. Clarke’s spiky 80 foot long sculpture was suspended high up on the side of the east wall of Thorn House in 1961.
'Three Printers' by Wilfred Dudeney,1957-59 ASS00946 'Three Printers' by Wilfred Dudeney,1957-59

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Industrial or commercial sponsors, public and private funds were used to commission sculpture using both innovative forms and new materials. Mary Martin, a key member of the post-war group of British Constructionists in the 1950s, was consistently devoted to the notion of an abstract constructed artform. She particularly explored the potential of the sculptural relief using metal, glass, aluminium and perspex and carried out a number of large-scale commissions, including a brick screen-relief for Musgrave Hospital in Belfast. Her final work in 1969 was a 60ft wide wall relief construction in anodized aluminium and wood for the wall of a dining room at the University of Stirling. A maquette for a fountain commissioned by BP House in 1965 typically explores positive/negative shapes and tilted and diagonal forms.
‘Maquette for a Fountain’ at BP House ASS00496 ‘Maquette for a Fountain’ at BP House

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Peter Stuyvesant City Sculpture Project 1972

In 1972, the Peter Stuyvesant Foundation financed a project to site sculpture in eight city-centres in Britain. In the 1960s, the Foundation had supported painting and sculpture in a series of important exhibitions at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, including the ‘New Generation’ show held there in 1965. The cities involved in the 1972 project were: Birmingham, Cambridge, Cardiff, Liverpool, Newcastle, Plymouth, Sheffield and Southampton. Each city identified two sites and sixteen sculptors made work which was to be on show for six months. The organisers, which included Jeremy Rees, director of the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol, hoped that some of the works would be purchased by the local authorities for permanent sites. Sculptors included Barry Flanagan, Brower Hatcher, Liliane Lijn, William Turnbull, William Tucker, Bryan Kneale, Kenneth Martin, William Pye, Bernard Schottlander.
Tall free-standing metallic sculpture by Kenneth Martin,1972 ASS00959 Tall free-standing metallic sculpture by Kenneth Martin,1972

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See Image Archive for examples of other work by these artists, including a painted metal maquette produced by Schottlander, a sculptor who produced a range of spectacular colourful abstract forms for public sites.

The kind of work produced was diverse, ranging from Martin’s abstract metal constructions to Nigel Hall’s seven searchlights beaming into the sky above Sheffield. Robert Carruthers’ oriental gateway in Birmingham was one of the few works to be kept and sited permanently. Some of the sculpture created enormous public interest – in Birmingham Nicholas Munro’s 20ft high fibreglass King Kong was both loved and hated by critics and public.

Importantly, this project comes at the end of the period covered by Designing Britain. In the 1960s, British sculpture had developed in new directions – in terms of themes, form, materials and techniques. A young generation of British sculptors emerged in the 1960s. Amongst them were Philip King, William Tucker, Tim Scott, Isaac Witkin, David Annesley, Michael Bolus - all had studied sculpture at St. Martin’s School of Art with Anthony Caro and all were involved with the New Generation sculpture exhibition at Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1965. They abandoned the ‘plinth’ to work with polyurethane, glass and painted aluminium, creating brightly coloured abstract forms and flat shapes – more akin to painting than traditional sculpture. A number of these sculptors contributed to the City Sculpture Project in 1972. Others, such as George Fullard, assembled sculpture or created environments from industrial junk or domestic waste. Towards the end of the 1960s, the notion of sculpture as ‘object’ was fundamentally challenged as artists embraced Conceptualism and increasingly rejected traditional ideas and formal gallery spaces, incorporating new media such as photography into their work. Such developments were encapsulated in the exhibition when attitudes become form staged in 1969, first in Berne and Krefeld, then at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.

You should consult recommended texts to study general developments in sculpture through this period. Think about how the notion of sculpture ‘in the expanded field’ might affect work produced for the public domain? If form becomes ‘attitude’, what might ‘public sculpture’ be? What ‘form’ might it take?

What does the future hold for sculpture in public urban spaces?
'Beyond Tomorrow' by Karin Jonzen,1972 ASS00947 'Beyond Tomorrow' by Karin Jonzen,1972

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Karin Jonzen’s sculpture Beyond Tomorrow, sited at the Guildhall Piazza in London, was bought and donated in 1972 by Lord Blackford, a former Deputy Speaker in the House of Commons. As the two figures seem to be looking ahead – perhaps into the future – the title for the piece, was suggested by a friend of Lord Blackford’s.

Can sculpture continue to engage in new ways with urban space? What kind of dialogue does sculpture set up with the inner-city/corporate backdrop?

The final group of sculptures for study are the works sited around the 28 acre Broadgate complex of offices, near Liverpool Street Station in the City of London. Under the direction of Stuart Lipton since 1984, a range of works have been sited amongst the plazas and walkways – some, such as Serra’s Fulcrum have been commissioned, whilst others have been purchased ready-made for specific sites. In contrast with the problems surrounding the siting of his earlier Tilted Arc in New York, Serra’s collossal cor-ten steel monolith for the main entrance to Broadgate has been regarded as a resounding success. Segal’s Rush Hour was not a commission – but was brought into the scheme later.
'Fulcrum' by Richard Serra,1987
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'Fulcrum' by Richard Serra,1987
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ASS00944 & ASS00953 'Fulcrum' by Richard Serra,1987
Use the images of the Segal and Serra works to try to evaluate them. How many different ‘readings’ can you bring to them?


What does the notion of ‘open-air’ imply? What connotations might it have had at mid-century?

Search out the exhibition catalogues and read other texts on the LCC and Arts Council open-air shows of sculpture, dating from 1948. Study the works on show – some are included in the Image Archive - consider themes, forms, materials. Did any particular forms/ideas dominate the shows? Research how works were chosen - how important was the selection process?

Select one commercial project which has involved the commissioning of sculpture. How would you go about studying the processes involved? What questions do you think you would you need to ask? How would you measure success or failure?

Is the cultural life of the city enhanced by public sculpture? How? Use examples to support your view.

What historical context does the ‘natural’ landscape offer/bring as a site for sculpture? How, if at all, does an inner-city setting differ?

Research and discuss alternative forms of British work in the public field in the 1960s and 1970s. Events, performances, ‘happenings’ were usually object-based, involving the construction of environments and assemblages. Examples might be: activities of the Fluxus movement or work/acts performed in public space by artists such as Gustav Metzger.


The following images directly relate to Precincts and Parks :
figure ASS00957 figure

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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 urban precincts and/or to sculpture parks/trails.


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.

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

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

Malcolm Miles, Art, Space and the City: Public Art and Urban Futures, Routledge, London, 1997

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

E. Rosenberg and Richard Cork, Architects’ Choice: Art and Architecture in Great Britain Since 1945, Thames and Hudson, London, 1992

Harriet F Senie, Contemporary Public Sculpture – Tradition, Transformation and Controversy, Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford, 1992

W. J. Strachan, Open Air Sculpture in Britain, Zwemmer/Tate Gallery, London, 1984

G.S Whittet, ‘Open Air Sculpture at Antwerp’, Studio, December 1953, No. 729, pp. 172 – 177.

‘City Sculpture’, Studio International, January 1972 – special issue on Peter Stuyvesant City Sculpture Project 1972.

Exhibition catalogues for LCC/Arts Council of Great Britain open-air shows in Battersea Park and Holland Park 1948 – 1966.

Exhibition catalogues for Arts Council touring shows of contemporary British sculpture 1950s and 1960s. Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail Grizedale Forest Sculpture Trail Middelheim Open-Air Sculpture Park in Antwerp Yorkshire Sculpture Park near Wakefield Directory of sculpture parks