Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
An unpolished look back at post-war urban renewal in Great Britain.
Paul Gatenby is a curator of the ugly.
At his blog Between Channels, Gatenby chronicles British graphic design and architecture from the 1960s and '70s. But instead of looking for the most beautiful or iconic buildings of the time, he seeks more honest glimpses of what everyday Great Britain looked like. Typically acquired through user submissions and sometimes his own finds, Gatenby posts distinctively amateur, seemingly agenda-free photography of brutalist-designed commercial centers and public spaces.
"I like to see the truth about the past. The '60s weren't the swinging time that so many would have us believe," Gatenby says via email. "Many of the scenes in the photographs that I have collected are shabby and lugubrious rather than bright and futuristic."
Great Britain invested heavily in many of its communities after World War II, modernizing them by building new roads, housing, and commercial spaces. In a nod to their forward-thinking design, these projects were anti-Victorian in scale and appearance. Instead, architects tended toward emotionally restrained forms accompanied by complicated spatial arrangements and wide, open gathering areas.
Although these post-war projects were ambitious, they were ultimately ineffective and developers lost interest in upgrading them. As a result, many of these projects failed.
"I love British vernacular architecture because it sums up the whole failure of Great Britain's post-war utopian planning policy," Gatenby says. These stories are told through pictures like those in an obscure 1968 student portfolio titled "Colour in Shopping," by C.E. Fudge. Fudge's collection includes photos of post-war commercial developments throughout Britain, an unintentional time capsule of now outdated shopping centers as relatively new concepts in urbanism.
Commenters on Gatenby's blog admire these trips through time, as the images remind some of their own childhood. Others are left inspired to document for themselves how these places have changed.
"There's always something fascinating about a previous generation's view of the future — what makes many of the brutalist landscapes so interesting is that they were views of the future that were actually built and have decayed and degraded over our lifetimes," says Gatenby. "The things I find and post are not about nostalgia, they're about creating a momentary view of what things were actually like."