The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Bridgwater CIAM


Postponement of visit to Bridgwater Arts Centre

Unfortunately, and due to circumstances beyond our control, we are having to postpone the visit to Bridgwater Arts Centre on Wednesday 14 December. We hope to go there however in September 2017 when they plan to hold an exhibition devoted to the CIAM Congress held at the Arts Centre in September 1947. In the meantime I enclose some notes our Chairman Bob Hardcastle had prepared in anticipation of our visit. We will keep you informed of c20 West events in 2017 as soon as the dates have been finalised.

BACKGROUND NOTES-BRIDGWATER ARTS CENTRE, 11-13 Castle Street, Bridgwater,TA6 3DD, 01278 422700.

Bridgwater Arts Centre was opened on 10 October 1946 and was the first to be designated  by the Arts Council. It is housed in a Grade 1 Listed Building and was designed by Benjamin Holloway for the Duke of Chandos. This exhibition mentions the CIAM conference held there in September 1947.


The CIAM (in English – the Congress of International Modern Architects )  was founded in Switzerland in 1928 and disbanded in 1959. The driving force behind the founding of CIAM was Madame Helene de Mandrot, a rich patron of architecture, who in 1928 asked Sigfried Giedion to organise a meeting of leading modern architects.

The first president of the Congress was Karl Moller, who was succeeded by Le Corbusier. CIAM was described as the “think tank of the modern movement” and it set out its concept of urban planning in the “Athens Charter”.

This concept was rejected by the citizens of post war Dresden however when Mart Stams put forward his plan for the rebuilding of the city. His scheme was described as “an all out attack on the city”.

CIAM however continued to meet until it was disbanded in 1959 with the Smithsons, who were members, but disliked its urban planning ideas, and attempted to take “modernism” forward with Team 10.


In 1937 The CIAM Congress was in Paris. Following the meeting in Bridgwater in 1947 the 1949 Congress was held in Bergamo in Italy.

It appears that the proposed venue for the post war “reunion” meeting in 1947 was intended to be the UN Headquarters building in New York. However at that time it seems to have been too expensive for the majority of delegates to get to the USA. So England was considered and, as previously mentioned, the Arts Council had just funded Bridgwater Arts Centre. So one can imagine the prospect of the publicity to be gained by holding the CIAM Congress there.

It appears that only Gropius and Sert came from America and as it was in England the MARS group were well represented by such names as Holford, Gibbard, Martin, Goldfinger, Maxwell Fry, Wells Coats, Jane Drew etc.

One can only wonder at how the Mayor of Bridgwater at the time must have felt in welcoming such a gathering of architects to his town. A group photograph shows the attendance at the time and although Alvar Aalto is supposed to have attended he does not appear on the photo.


In the meantime there is an event in Bristol which may be of interest. It is the Cabot Institute Annual Lecture 2016- “Ideas to Change the World”. It is from 18.00 – 19.45 on Friday 25 November at the Wills Memorial Building in Bristol (BS8 1RJ) Entry is free but tickets have to be obtained on the Lectures website.