Sunday, 31 August 2008

the ballad of tinsley towers...

tinsley towers prior to last weeks demolition

well, that's the problem with travelling...look away, turn your back for a minute and when you spin round they've gone and changed it all, pulled every damn thing down and put up a parking lot....

a little while ago, back in the spring, you might remember that i visited sheffield to take a peek at the tinsley towers, a pair of rare but delapidated 1940's cooling towers on the rotherham end of the m1, decried by some as an eyesore but admired by others as elegant modernist icons of the regions industrial heritage. click here for my earlier posting:whilst for the whole story and 3 year long campaign, follow this link.

condemned to demolition despite winning channel 4's Big Art Prize, following a vigorous campaign to preserve what could prove to be an integral and unique part of sheffield's burgeoning regeneration plans, i took the edale train over the pennines. i wanted to take a look around, do a spot of delving and try to understand why a city with a brand new bold 'masterplan' was blind to the potential offered by these iconic structures, why they were determined to ignore the pleas of many of its citizens, and why the support of the likes of anthony gormley and anish kapoor, artists well known for their involvment in other successful regeneration packages, fell on firmly deaf ears.

in the journal entry i wrote at the time i expressed some fears about the future of our cities, devoid as they might soon be of any 20th century icons, without remnants of our troublesome century - fears about the determination of our local authorities, planners and the privatised development companies formed to rebrand, reinvent, and culturally whitewash our thousand-year old bunioned, carbunkled and beautifully wrinkled towns and cities into strait jacketed, endlessly repeated narrow visions of 'cosmopolitan sophistication', usually mediocre and doomed to be almost immediately outdated...

lulled into an insane and clearly unwise reverie of optimism as i subsequently travelled across france, mooching happily round the disshevelled glamour of old europe, with its careworn and casual sophistication, i had temporarily forgotten about the threat to the tinsley towers and fondly imagined that such widespread support and stalwart campaigning would at least instigate a stay of execution or perhaps a re-think and some intervention by the woefully mis-named regeneration company in charge, creative sheffield.

yes dear reader, you of course in your wisdom are already laughing bitterly at this display of naivity from a lady of such long years and life experience! for whilst i was away e-on the owners were moving rapidly with plans for their sad demise, dangling a fat wad of cash to the city as compensation, for you've guessed it, a lovely new 'landmark' artwork in their place. giant stainless steel footballs have apparently already been mooted as suitable replacements for the former eyesores.

the towers were demolished last sunday, the bank holiday weekend, at 3am, with a viewing platform kindly provided for the occasion. video footage and media coverage is all over the internet and easily available to anyone wishing to see the death of these elegant but austere architectural classics. i for one can't bear to look but i read with bitter satisfaction that they literally refused to collapse without a fight.

the demolition and rebranding of our cities is continuing, even gathering pace, and there's not much time left to ensure that we are not erasing our histories, our own archaeological moment, our part in the ongoing patina of the metropolis, warts and all, with every vernacular building we carelessly bulldoze or detonate.

english heritage are belatedly catching up with what is being seen as a crisis by an increasing flottila of 20th century historians, cultural geographers, architects and the like, and for the past 10 years has published an annual list of buildings at risk, deciding this year to take a new approach. to coincide with new legislation, the charity has launched the Heritage At Risk list, a comprehensive guide to monuments at risk of being relegated to the past. this now includes not only buildings, but battlefields, parks and shipwrecks. and for a brilliant overview of the state of the nations heritage, covering all periods, try the save britains heritage website .

and finally i beg you to learn more about the precarious state of our 20th century classics by visiting the 20th century society. its an invaluable site with details of cases across the whole country, a building of the month feature, and details of talks to attend and ways to join in and lend support.

read it, subscribe to it, lend your support. go wild and join it! save our future...


Anthroslug said...

This disregard for the recent past, and refusal tos ee the importance of even that which does not meet the standard definition of urban beauty, is, unfortunately, not unique to England, or Europe. In my working life, I am routinely faced with people who seem bound and determined to wipe as much of the 20th century away as they can, and I have seen more important historical structures and buildings demolished to make way for strip malls and conominiums than I care to recall.

What, if any, legal or regulatory protection do these structures have in the U.K.? Int he U.S., we have hte NAtional Historic PReservation Act, and a number of state, county, and municipal laws and regulations (though they are oftne unfortunately toothless), but what do you have to work with?

Anthroslug said...

Wow, my spelling and grammar are off today - sorry if the last post reads as if it came from someone with a massive head injury.