A Visual tour of the UK's Modernist High-Rise architecture.
As you walk through the UK's towns and cities, you'll more often than not be overlooked by a shimmering wall of glass or muscular concrete. Hitler's terrifying bombing campaigns of the Second World War turned the nation's landscape into a blank canvas for an optimistic architecture predicting a bold, bright future.
All over the country, office blocks and housing sprung from the ground faster than nettles after a summer rainfall. A bright new band of architects exploiting a richness of materials and energy designed higher and higher structures stylised in glass, steel and concrete.
Towns like Croydon were transformed into scenes from the Jetsons as architects such as Richard Seifert stamped their futuristic thumbprint on the landscape and future.
A future that was becoming more and more vertical.
But fast forward through time and these giants of commerce and future thinking have struggled with the test of time. Once shimmering glass curtain walls have become streaked and clouded, the concrete stained with the ravages of the British climate and millions of car exhausts.
An analogue age so willing to usher in a digital future became the victim of progress and a disposable culture. The 60's vision of an open plan work space full of men and women, smartly dressed inputting data gave way to bare brick walls, sofas and 'hot-desking'. These huge monolithic buildings also cost a fortune to keep and maintain (with many owners mistaking 'reduced need for maintenance' for 'no need for maintenance'. It is however this clash of the bold future statement with the battle scars from 50 years of British economics that have created such a stunning visual concept.
I have always been interested in high buildings, I say interested instead of liked or loved. I find them domineering, aggressive and at times a little scary. The idea of so much trust been laid in the hands of engineering and design sometimes gives a feeling of lack of control. Throughout my childhood these concrete blocks peered down from height as I started to take note of the world around me, they appeared angry, authoritative and uncaring. Couple this with a fear of heights and my relationship with tall buildings was always going to be an unconventional one.
But the visual spectre of them was too much to resist. As an artist I loved the form, the angles, the sharp uncompromising line. I loved the rough textures and the way they wore exhaust dirt like a gritty, proud tattoo. I loved the way they would cast shadow at dark angles putting some elements of the elevation into constant darkness. These buildings had character, narrative, history and a visual aesthetic that was unwilling to compromise, they didn't care what you thought.
So I started drawing them.
Starting off with the Brutalist icons of the Barbican and Trellick tower, then moving on to more local delights such as Kingston House in Hull (with my favourite external staircase), it wasn't long before Brutalism would give way to a broader Modernist church. This would feature glass walled giants such as the CIS Tower in Manchester, the Arts Tower in Sheffield, One Croydon and the BT Tower.
I then teamed up with a Graphic Designer friend Nick Lamb to compile a visual essay of Britain's Modernist High-Rise, combining my illustrations with Lamb's beautiful photography and subtle design skills. It was then decided that we should turn the project into a book, a visual record of a journey around the nation's most interesting post-war high-rises up to the late 70's. This would take us the length and breadth of the country capturing it's most iconic (and maligned) Modernist High-Rise architecture.
Vertical Futures was born and turned into a Kickstarter project to finance what promises to be a beautiful visual account of these Modernist giants. NC
You can find more information about the Vertical Futures project and it's Kickstarter campaign at www.vertical-futures.org and through our Twitter page @verticalfutures.