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Brutal and Beautiful: Celebrating Modern Architecture

23 - 29 June 2014, Park Hill, Sheffield

From cathedrals to private houses, printing works to art galleries, English Heritage exhibition 'Brutal and Beautiful' comes to Sheffield and tells the story of post-war architecture in England.

Farnley Hey, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire 1954-5, designed by Peter Womersley
Farnley Hey, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire 1954-5, designed by Peter Womersley © Historic England

Brutal and Beautiful, an English Heritage exhibition which showcases England's best post-war architecture, is coming to Sheffield in June as part of Sheffield Design Week and Love Architecture Week.

The exhibition highlights the finest post-war buildings in the north of England, including the Sheffield Arts Tower and Farnley Hey, a modernist house near Huddersfield. The exhibition also includes other iconic buildings such as the Barbican Centre in London and Liverpool Cathedral.

It is 25 years since the first post-war buildings were listed. Now they are popularly admired but at the time the idea of conserving our recent history was fiercely debated and the future Tate Modern was rejected for listing. Brutal and Beautiful looks at our love/hate relationship with England's recent architectural past and asks 'what is worth saving?'

A black and white image of the electricity substation on Moore Street, Sheffield, designed in 1968 by Jefferson, Sheard and Partners
The electricity substation on Moore Street, Sheffield, was designed in 1968 by Jefferson, Sheard and Partners © Jefferson Sheard Architects

With thanks to Urban Splash, the exhibition is displayed at Park Hill in Sheffield, itself a Grade II* listed building and a major statement of both 20th and 21st century design ambition.

Trevor Mitchell, Planning and Conservation Director, Yorkshire for English Heritage, said: "We wanted to bring this exhibition to Sheffield because the city has more listed modern architecture than any other city in the north of England. The fantastic images in the Brutal and Beautiful exhibition show why we should value these buildings and look after them for future generations to enjoy."

Using stunning photography and video interviews with architects and clients of post-war listed buildings, the exhibition will show what makes the post-war era special and why the very best of its buildings are worthy of preservation.

A building has to be 30 years old to be considered for listing and more than 500 post-war sites have been listed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of English Heritage since 1987. The first was Bracken House (1955-9), former home of the Financial Times, where listing helped save it from demolition. Among the most recent buildings to be listed are Sheffield's Moore Street electricity substation and Halifax's former Halifax Building Society headquarters.

Elain Harwood, English Heritage's specialist on post-war architecture and curator of the exhibition, said: "It is English Heritage's role to recommend which buildings of each era should be preserved for the future. Our new exhibition, Brutal and Beautiful shows how far we have come in 25 years and why we should continue to recommend that the best buildings of this unique era be conserved."

Architecture from 1945 to the 1980s

The exhibition covers the history of architecture from 1945 to the 1980s with the best examples of each era highlighted. The years of austerity after the war saw a Functional Modernism used for many buildings. Schools were light, bright and child-centred. Houses were lighter and more open-plan. Modernism was also chosen for fashionable office buildings, such as the Trade Union Headquarters, Congress House in London.

A tougher architecture emerged in the late 1950s and in Britain this robust style using timber and brick as well as steel and concrete found a name when architects Alison and Peter Smithson wrote of the 'New Brutalism'. It was a term used to describe a private house in Watford that they designed for engineer Derek Sugden.  This greater robustness informed the Royal College of Physicians on the edge of Regent's Park, London, which was designed by Denys Lasdun, perhaps the greatest architect of his generation and best-known for the National Theatre on London's South Bank.

The 1960s was the highpoint of post-war optimism and British engineering was particularly innovative, as seen in the pre-cast panels of Richard Seifert's Centre Point in London and the slenderness of the Severn Bridge.

The 1970s saw the beginnings of a reaction against the extremes of Modernism though interest in engineering continued. Architects pushed the possibilities of steel and emphasised structure, creating High Tech, a style that made Norman Foster and Richard Rogers internationally famous.

Exhibition information

23 - 29 June 2014
Open 12.00 - 18.00
Park Hill, Sheffield 
Tickets:  Free admission
For more information see the Sheffield Design website

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