Did the introduction of art into new town development have a significant positive effect on the locality including:
- reduced crime rates
- positive economic indicators
- social cohesion
- health indicators
- life chances – mobility indicators
WHAT WAS THE PURPOSE OF ART INSTALLED IN NEW TOWNS?
- support environment
- who were the artists? Boyson, Henderson, Chimisky, others?
- education – how did locals respond?
- paper over mistakes
- compensate for ugly architecture of slab concrete blocks
- a revolutionary or even subversive element
HOW DID 21ST CENTURY ARTISTS RESPOND TO NEW TOWNS
- Rise up and Build installation
- Grafitti artists
- My own work
MATERIALS What materials did the artists and the builders use? Did the architects want materials to be used for both artistic and building purposes? Any locally sourced materials ? For example decorative concrete blocks outside the Skelmersdale Library, and decorative subway entrances in Digmoor leading to the factories. GEOGRAPHY Skelmersdale Development Corporation inherited coal fields and former brick works and significant post industrial waste – slag heaps. Did this encourage them to think artistically in their creation of an Utopia? POPULATION Were the new towns build for locals – dispossessed communities from completely different areas? Skem has a history of the alien community, from the thousands of Welsh miners brought here to mine, to the North Liverpudlians from Scottie Road brought here to industries such as Courtaulds, Thorns and Dunlop. Did any of the art or buildings recognise the inheritance of the Liverpudlians – see the Parade shopping arcade, and the central shopping centre at the Digmoor estate was built like the entrance to a football stadium. Was this sensitive recognition of the background of the new inhabitants – or a disagreeable joke?
Digmoor Parade, key hole architecture Skem style. The bollards you can see are not images painted on the wall behind, but the real surrealist thing.
I spoke to Alan Boyson on the phone, mainly about his involvement with the Skelmersdale Development Corporation, and the art work he designed for them, but also about his distinguished career in civic art.
THE SKELMERSDALE PYRAMID
Originally this was one larger pyramid and four small ones. It was placed above the original entrance to the Concourse Shopping centre in Skelmersdale, and was taken down when a large, glass extension to the building was made. He felt that the concrete boxed design of the pyramid that he made under contract to the SDC was generally not well liked at the time of its construction, and he himself had wanted to produce something rather more organic in its style. The pyramid was covered in ceramic tiles But, boxed, and concrete, seemed to suit the general style of Skelmersdale at the time.
Alan Boyson had orignally taken this job, because not everyone had wanted ceramic solutions to sculptural design. He modestly felt that he had no greater status than the abuilders and planners working in Skelmersdale. There was little money available in the 1960s and he would get paid for his basic skills with no extra allowance for his artistic status.
A positive public response
Boyson suggested that the public response was largely unknown at this time – people are much more vocal about their views nowadays. The only job where he had the exact response he wanted was the stained glass window in St Anne’s Church as shown above.
The Bijlmermeer neighbourhood, which today houses almost 100,000 people of over 150 nationalities, was designed as a single project. The original neighbourhood was designed as a series of nearly identical high-rise buildings laid out in a hexagonal grid. The apartments were meant to attract a suburban set, rather like condominium housing.
The buildings have several features that distinguish them from traditional Dutch high-rise flats, such as tubular walkways connecting the flats and garages. The blocks are separated by large green areas planted with grass and trees. Each flat has its own garages where cars can be parked.
The Bijlmer was designed with two levels of traffic. Cars drive on the top level, the decks of which fly over the lower level’s pedestrian avenues and bicycle paths. This separation of fast and slow moving traffic is beneficial to traffic safety. However, in recent years, the roads are once again being flattened, so pedestrians, cycles and cars travel alongside each other. This is a move to lessen the effects of the ‘inhuman’ scale of some of the Bijlmer’s designs. It is felt a direct line of sight will also improve safety from muggers.
- An artist who carries out a predetermined plan or formula is never considered a true artist but merely a draughtsman. The artist must be prepared to relinquish his initial ideas to those demands that call out from the relationships that begin to establish themselves in a work. Deference is as importance as will in the creative act.
- It is precisely this art that has been lost in the making and thinking of architecture. To begin to bring back this art we must begin to question the privileged position that the architect believes he possesses. The belief that the architect can solve problems is part of that privileged position.
- To bring back the art means being responsive. But at such a scale to what are we responding? Are we responding to furniture or to the automobile? If we cannot know to what situation we are responding then how can we pretend to solve anything?
- I am not sure that architecture can exist beyond the level of an absolutely specific condition (i.e. present a specific need and not a general premise). If this is true then the field of planning, and specifically urban planning, must be questioned.
- We must also remain aware of the grey line where architecture drops away and politics takes over. If we follow Tafuri’s argument we must know that architecture is always in danger of supporting as well as concealing the hidden agendas of the prevailing power structure. In response to “what can architecture offer to the Bijlmermeer,” we must acknowledge that this is equally, if not more, a political problem.
Comments made in response to changes to the Bijlmermeer. with thanks to Wikipedia
Armored safety glass can be etched on both sides when in place, giving a definite three dimensional appearance.
When such glass is on a passage way, as it was in the illustrations, the viewer, in walking past, changes the viewpoint, giving a varied, changing interlinking of lines. The method is fairly straight-forward.
Cover the entire glass area with adhesive tape, then cut into the tape with a sharp knife, peel the tape back, exposing the plain glass. This is then etched by blasting the exposed glass with grit under great pressure.
This operation is executed on both sides.
The tape is then completely removed, exposing the completed design.
Was this the method used by Alan Boyson in Manchester, St Anne’s for his etching on glass?
With thanks to William Mitchell
Glenthorne school annexe in Skelmersdale was is an imaginative feast. An annexe to the main building, which is rather more orthodox, it rather has the look of a structure put together with left over building materials.
One of Mike Cumisky’s first subway/underpass retaining wall sculptures from around 1967. The concrete detailing was carried out in carved polystyrene, attached before casting, and then cleaned to reveal the exposed concrete face. This was very likely to have been completed in conjunction with the Tanhouse design teams of architects, planners and engineers In Skelmersdale.
These decorated underpasses were to guide workers to their factories, as the overpasses were designed to take people to the Concourse civic and retail centre.
Cumisky’s cast concrete feature are similar to those found in Cumbernauld New Town and created by Brian Millar.
Carbrain Totem 1966, Courtesy of: Brian Miller Archive
Roller Skating Birds 1970, Courtesy of: Brian Miller Archive
Local MP Gregg McClymont said that he had many happy memories of Brian’s creations.“As a new town boy growing up in Cumbernauld in the 1980s I was fascinated by the weird and wonderful murals and sculptures which I saw all around me and which made Cumbernauld unique,”
But, none of these designs come anywhere near matching the scope of Henry Moore’s brick feature ‘Bouwcentrum Wall’ (building centre) created in Rotterdam in the 1950s. Part of this enormous work is shown below
Courtsey of Henry Moore Foundation, Leeds