The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Turning Forms (1950)

Barbara Hepworth © Bowness

Photo: Barney Hindle

An unusual concrete sculpture by Barbara Hepworth has been painstakingly restored and will feature in a forthcoming exhibition at the Hepworth Gallery, Wakefield.

Turning Forms was the first work that Barbara Hepworth made in concrete. It sat on a slowly rotating plinth, outside The Thameside restaurant, at the main South Bank Festival of Britain site, completing one stately revolution every two minutes. The restaurant was designed by Jane Drew (as partner in the firm Maxwell Fry & Jane Drew), who was an admirer of Hepworth’s work. Drew had a major role at the 1951 Festival, and was also responsible for the Harbour Bar and the Health and New Schools pavilions. She used her influence to secure direct Festival funding for a work she felt would complement her building especially well. Whilst most of the other sculptures, both at the South Bank and in Battersea Park, were commissioned by the Arts Council (including Hepworth’s better-known Contrapuntal Forms, in Irish blue limestone, which is now on the Glebelands housing estate in Harlow.) The Festival board paid for Turing Forms directly.

Turning Forms (1950)

Barbara Hepworth © Bowness

Photo: Barney Hindle

The list description for the work emphasises how dissimilar it is to much of the artist’s work, describing it as “an unusual kinetic composition, a helix structure originally made to turn by an electric motor. The constructivist composition has a strong affinity with the work of Naum Gabo, rare in Hepworth’s large-scale work.”

When the Festival closed, Turning Forms was given to Hertfordshire County Education Authority and sited in front of St Julian’s School, St Albans, in 1952 (now the Marlborough Science Academy). In October 2020, after nearly seventy years outside, it was moved to the Jackson Sculpture Conservation studio for major conservation work. Hertfordshire County Education Authority were pivotal in enabling the restoration.

Turning Forms during fabrication

©️ Bowness

Careful scientific analysis, research and information from the Hepworth estate showed that its original steel frame was made by F J Moore LTD of Plymouth, and coated with Vermiculite to form a comparatively lightweight rough core, which was transported to Hepworth’s Trewyn Studio. There the concrete was built up and carved back. The final surface finish was of Snowcrete with an applied wash of Snowcem. The conservators discovered that this was not a wash but a proper coherent applied layer. However, over the last ten years on site it had been refreshed with several layers of white Sandtext exterior paint.

Both Snowcrete and Snowcem were proprietary cement-based products developed by Blue Circle and a history of the firm provided more information:

Snowcrete was developed by the group in the 1920s.  Here was something decorative, something to give boring old cement a bit of glamour.   Initially manufactured at Magheramorne in Northern Ireland, it was subsequently made in West Kent on the Medway.  Snowcrete brought the possibility of coloured cements and development was carried further to produce Colorcrete.  During the Second World War further development was carried out following the Government’s request to produce a camouflage paint.  This development led to the introduction of Snowcem, which was Snowcrete with some additives and was effectively a paint.  For a time, it was enormously successful as other paints were largely unavailable.  It was produced in plants in India, Thailand, Brazil and Singapore, and reached a peak output from Blue Circle plants of 10,000 tons a year in the early 1960s. For many years it was highly profitable for the Group but its growth declined with the advent of emulsion and resin-based paints.   

Tessa Jackson and David Buck inspecting the work after the first coat of Snowcem had been applied

Photo: India Carpenter

Once the work was in the conservation studio, Tessa Jackson could assess the extent of cracks, mould growth, land losses to the surfaces, and pull a team together to enable her to restore it, of which I was excited to be part (drawing on my expertise/experience of historic concrete conservation). It was gently cleaned by Andy Coxall (cement specialist) using a ThermaTec steam cleaning system, a process originally developed for cleaning delicate architectural stonework. Andy Coxall also carried out concrete analysis and worked on the removal and replacement of large structural fills and advised on the concrete throughout.

After sufficient time for drying out Tessa was able to replace some areas of loss, and consider how best to reinstate the surface, to replicate the original effect as accurately as possible.

Amazingly Snowcem is still manufactured to the original formula, and Snowcem specialists David and Robert Buck from Northern Paints and Coatings came to the studio and applied the final layers to the work. Taking great care not to obscure the fine surface detail, they spray applied the product in two very fine layers which were later gently smoothed back to recreate the hand finish.

Tessa Jackson & Andy Coxall in the conservation studio

It’s now ready to head to Wakefield, where it will be shown alongside Hepworth works on other media. A particular objective of the exhibition is to draw on new research from the recently established Hepworth Research Network (HRN), in collaboration with the Universities of York and Huddersfield, into the ways material factors shaped Hepworth’s sculptures and how they related to her broader conceptual and aesthetic concerns. This will include how starting bronze casting in the 1950s enabled Hepworth to create new forms and how, later in life, she experimented with new materials such as lead crystal and aluminium. Also on display will be The Hepworth Wakefield’s unique collection of 44 surviving prototypes in plaster, aluminium and wood, many of which show the marks of Hepworth’s own hand and tools. These will be shown with a specially commissioned intervention by artist Veronica Ryan, the first artist to undertake a residency in Hepworth’s old studio in St Ives, where the prototypes once stood.

Sadly, it has not been possible to physically make Turning Forms rotate again, but there is a short film of it moving one rotation in 2 minutes made by Huddersfield University. There is also a documentary film being made by Royal society of sculptors. After the exhibition closes it will return once more to the Marlborough Science Academy. Its condition will be monitored, and any repairs needed carried out in a timely fashion.

City Hall, London

Photo: Nek_Z@n, Flickr

Our recently published Top 10 Buildings at Risk list received great coverage in the media, including nearly a full page in the print edition of the Guardian (5th May) listing all 10 buildings plus online and in depth stories on the Architect’s Journal and Dezeen a lots of regional radio coverage. We are delighted with this reach and hope that it will galvanise relevant decision makers to rethink their plans.

Additional media coverage:

Keeping the lights on for Brutalism

Credit: Brutwax

Brutwax, a London based company, creating hand-poured candles and other products with a focus on Brutalist aesthetics have announced that they will be donating 10% of their profits to C20 Society. We would like to thank Jamie and his team for considering C20’s casework as a cause to support. He has said: “we are incredibly proud to support C20 Society to help conserve the worlds irreplaceable Brutalist treasures. By committing to this, we attempt to help protect the very thing that inspired the product.” Their products take inspiration from the forms, textures and materials of Brutalist architecture and apply them to everyday home decor.

Each candle is hand-poured using an all natural wax, with a crackling wooden wick, and comes with a hand-poured and hand finished base, using a specially formulated, high strength concrete. The candles are around 160mm tall and weigh roughly 750g.

They have just launched a Kickstarter campaign which you can contribute to here.

Note: the money raised through the Kickstarter campaign will not be donated to charity. This campaign is to help raise funds for the start-ups initial production costs.

Brutalist architecture inspired hand-poured candle

Photo: George Higham for Brutwax (2021)

To celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Festival of Britain, which opened its doors to the public on 4th May 1951, we are offering our readers and supporters the chance to download The Festival of Britain South Bank tour by Elain Harwood, Annie Hollobone and Alan Powers, originally published in Festival of Britain journal (2001).

You can buy the full journal  and support our casework for just £10 on our shop here.

You can catch-up on our recent Festival of Britain events here.

Downloads

  • Festival of Britain South Bank Tour by Elain Harwood, Annie Hollobone and Alan Powers

    Download

Roger Stevens Building, Leeds University

Photo: Simon Phipps

Simon Phipps’ recent photographic survey, Brutal North (September Publishing, 2020) covers over 120 modernist buildings in the north of England, many of which can claim to be Brutalist and which are, sadly too often, unoccupied, in need of extensive repair or facing threat of demolition.

Taking the basic building information included the book, (which was written by Manchester School of Art’s Matthew Steele), our volunteer Lettie Mckie has compiled a project spreadsheet which we are using  to generate illuminating graphs from the data collected, such as the cumulative listings over time and the number of listings by region and city. This research (which is still in progress) will help C20 track trends in the listing history of Brutalist Buildings in the North of England and help us focus future campaigning priorities.

We have been going back through the C20 case files, to ascertain the listing history of each building, checking the reasons for refusal in cases where listing has been turned down, often on several attempts, and analysing whether we have new information which means that a further application is worth pursuing. We have also been going through the planning records of each local authorities where a building is located, and noting down any significant alterations that have been made to it already, or if there are any plans for redevelopment.  It has been most challenging trying to find out the current state of repair of a building, whether it has ever been coated or painted, or if the building was in fact constructed fully to its original designs, which can make a big difference to a case for listing.

The more information we can find out about the more accurate the overall picture. Please get in touch via caseworker@c20society.org.uk if you can help us fill in any of the blanks on the spread sheet which you can download below. We are particularly interested to hear of any current threats to buildings on the list, or any local campaigns that we might not be aware of. We also welcome any photographs of Brutalist buildings at risk.

Downloads

  • C20 Brutal North Research Spreadsheet

    Download

Donate to help us protect the Brutal North

Give monthly or one-off to the C20 casework fund to support our campaign to protect Brutalist architecture in the North of England

  • Donate
Maison Zilveli and its elegant balcony

Photo: Weltz family

Readers of C20 Magazine may remember the house in Paris which we featured back in 2013 (issue 3). Maison Zilveli, was designed in 1933 by Jean Welz, a friend of both Le Corbusier and Adolf Loos. Our author, Peter Wyeth described his excitement at coming across the house, and his growing fascination with it as he researched its history.  It was then in a state of extreme dilapidation, but Wyeth was optimistic that it could be sensitively refurbished and gain the recognition it deserved as a major work of early modernism in the city. He has become an increasingly vocal advocate for it.

Sadly, things have not proceeded as expected and there is now a very real threat that the building will be demolished and a replica constructed in its place.  Wyeth describes the proposed replacement as “a cynical pastiche” and points out that it will have almost double the space and leave out key features. He is mounting a campaign against demolition, and calling upon architecture and conservation experts in France and abroad to write to Le Monde and lobby the French Minister of Culture.

We certainly agree that a replica of the house, however carefully constructed, would be an inadequate substitute for the genuine historic artifact, and that the case for demolition has not been justified. Although the house was built on uncompacted land, some of which has been subject to subsidence, a geophysical survey by the nearby Architecture school of Belleville, apparently shows no ‘caves’ under the house, a big advantage compared to a number of the neighbouring houses. Like many buildings of the period, the concrete was built with less cover to the reinforcement within than would be required today.  This does mean that some of the reinforcement has corroded, and some elements of the building have sagged. However there is increasing knowledge and expertise to enable a conservation-led solution to address this, and to properly complete the job by reinstating the original elegant balcony.

Over a dozen international conservation architects and historians have written to the French Minister of Culture requesting a year’s stay of execution pending a professional assessment of the condition of the house.

Read Peter Wyeth’s article for Iconic Houses and C20 Magazine here.

Sign the petition to save the house.

Peter Wyeth’s has written a book: The Lost Architecture of Jean Welz, to be published in November by Doppelhouse Books, Los Angeles.

We are pleased to announce that our Director, Catherine Croft, has written a guided architectural tour of Elephant and Castle as part of Open City’s Pocket London Tours. The tour is suitable for walking or cycling and showcases examples of 20th century architecture in the area, built as part of an ambitious post-war reconstruction effort. It includes several striking buildings including Metro Central Heights, originally known as Alexander Fleming House, by Hungarian-born modernist architect Ernő Goldfinger and constructed in the early 1960s.

Those of you who have been on our very popular “Up the Elephant” C20 walks will know that C20 tour leader, Richard Walker, lives in the Goldfinger building and he has made the below video which gives you a sneak peak into the amazing lobby and his flat in the building itself!

Richard will also be hosting a walk for us on 12th June. Booking will open soon on our events page.

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Become a C20 Society member and save money on our events and publications.

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Eltham Palace, 1933-36 by Seely & Paget. Grade II listed

Elain Harwood

During this Art Deco Month initiative by The International Coalition of Art Deco Societies, we will be hosting a special virtual event about Art Deco in Britain with Elain Harwood.

Elain will talk about cinemas, seaside buildings, factories and other buildings in this most fantastic of styles, based on her book Art Deco Britain, published by Batsford.

We’re also running a competition to win copies of Elain’s book over on our Instagram.

To enter:

  • Book a ticket to our event here
  • Head to our Instagram posts on 12th April and / or 19th April to identify which Art Deco Buildings are represented in the photos posted, enter your answers in the posts comments field and tag a friend who might like to participate too

NB: If you do not have Instagram, you can also email your answers to website@c20society.org.uk.

We will draw two winners at random from amongst the correct answers we receive.

You can also check out the rest of the ICADS Art Deco Month programming here.

Nardini’s, Nelson Street, Largs, North Ayrishire, 1935, C. Davidson & Sons

Competition Terms & Conditions:

  • The competition is organised by C20 Society. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are in no way responsible for its content or the selection of the winners
  • This competition is in no way sponsored, endorsed, administered by or associated with Facebook, Twitter or Instagram
  • Multiple entries by the same person are allowed if they have multiple Instagram accounts
  • You may enter guesses for both posts
  • The winner can decide if they’d like the book sent to them to another person of their choice as a gift
  • The competition will run from 12th April 2021 to 27th April 2021 at midnight
31B St Mary’s Road, Wimbledon

Photo: Peter Ruback

We are delighted that 31B St Mary’s Road, Wimbledon, has been listed at Grade II. C20 Society was consulted by Historic England, so we provided some new information on the house and supported the application to list it. The additional details we supplied were partly  drawn from a 1966 newspaper article that our Caseworker, Coco Whittaker, found during her research.

31B was the first of three almost identical houses in Wimbledon designed by Peter Foggo (1930-93) and David Thomas (1933-2019) and built in 1965 by Forrester Developments Limited. While employed full-time in the late 1950s and 60s, Foggo and Thomas worked together in the evenings and at weekends as Peter Foggo David Thomas Architects. 31B was one of a number of private houses designed by the pair in these decades.

‘A Modern Home on Wimbledon Hill, Marylebone Mercury, 26 August 1966

Photo: British Newspaper Archive

31B is raised 2ft off the ground and constructed of a reinforced concrete frame, with brick end walls and large areas of polished plate glass in steel window frames, and it has a flat roof. The house is entered from under a large carport canopy and up three very wide concrete steps. In its style, the building displays the influence of Mies van der Rohe (who Foggo and Thomas had met) and the Californian Case Study houses. Unlike the other two 1965 houses in Wimbledon: 9 Alan Road and 31A St Mary’s Road which have been rendered and extended respectively, 31B’s exterior has been little altered.

The houses are described in a 1966 newspaper article as “luxurious, and […] designed to suit high standard family living. Special attention has been paid to the needs of the individuals in the family” (‘A Modern Home on Wimbledon Hill’, Marylebone Mercury, 26 August 1966). The four bedrooms are organised into two pairs (each pair with one bathroom) which are separated by the living area. This arrangement means the children’s bedroom can be used as a suite, distanced from the parents. Interior spaces are designed to be flexible: the living room can be used for relaxing and/or entertaining, and dining can be accommodated either here or in one of the bedrooms located close to the kitchen. The living room can be opened up by way of sliding doors onto a private garden at the back of the house.

Interior walls are clad in specially finished sapele veneered panelling and floors (which were all on the same level) are made of polished Canadian maple. Kitchen and utility room worktops are created from Formica and sinks from stainless steel. Other fixtures include Californian louvred doors and built-in cupboards. Services were carefully integrated into the design of the house. Light fittings were flush with the ceiling, and the house heated by warm air generated by a gas fired boiler and distributed through ducts below the floor and out of wall vents, eliminating the need for radiators which would intrude on the interior. This heating system was designed by the engineer Max Fordham. As the 1966 article reported, “the quality of ideas, thought and implementation […] resulted in products of such excellence.”

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