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Manplan 2: Society and its Contacts

The second issue of Manplan concentrated on the future of communication, in particular the how the transport and distribution networks designed to serve society might bring us closer together. Manplan’s view was that “Society is its contacts” (The Architectural Review, October 1969) and that any breakdowns such as traffic jams were symptomatic of a functional failure of society itself.

Although much of the technology represented in this issue now looks terribly dated the AR recognized that society was on the verge of a communications revolution:

“Come the revolution there will be more talking less walking. Bedside computers, wristwatch-walkie-talkies… miniature telephones, portable videotape recorders…But till the glorious revolution comes, the traveller’s lot must be improved by experiments of a kind and scale as yet untried by successive Ministers of Transport.” (The Architectural Review, October 1969)

With this prediction in mind it is somewhat ironic that despite the huge strides made in telecommunications networks and the ubiquity of mobile phones there has also been a huge increase in people commuting by public transport and travelling for business or pleasure in the intervening 50 years.

One success of the transport revolution in the 1960s was the huge increase in global container traffic integrated across sea, rail and road. At the same time the AR highlighted the power of the road lobby, the almost complete eradication of the canal network as a freight carrier and the loss of archaic, sometimes dangerous, labour intensive working practices such as shunting unfitted (unbraked) freight trains.

The most distinctive feature of Manplan 2 was a seven-page spread of a silver and blue concept drawing of the gas turbine powered, tilting, Advanced Passenger Train (APT) designed to increase connectivity by moving passengers at increased speeds. Sadly, the APT project despite being developed into an electric version was dogged by technical issues and was finally killed off in 1986. Today, tilting ‘Pendolino’ trains are in service and there remains much polarised debate about the merits of High Speed 2 (HS2) which would have satisfied Manplan’s vision of improving connectivity into city centres and greater competition for the airlines.

Controversy surrounding HS2’s intended London’s terminus, Euston, is of course not new with the station just having been rebuilt the year before Manplan was launched. Regarded by British Rail (BR) as the “most civilized station in the world” the AR took a much harsher view illustrated by this image of the plaza:

The Euston arch was murdered. The grandiose piazza – a senseless space more often than not wind swept – was robbed of the one thing that could have given it meaning.” (The Architectural Review, October 1969)

Although Euston’s ‘Spring Restaurant’ was well received, scorn was directed at the lack of seating (only 160 seats), with BR’s reasoning being that “If we did provide seats, they would be quickly taken up by hippies, layouts and drunks.” (The Architectural Review, October 1969) Euston was also compared unfavorably to the superior passenger environments provided at airport terminals (for example Schiphol) at that time preparing for the commercial introduction of the Boeing 747 ‘Jumbo Jet’ in 1970. Even so the AR forewarned that the huge predicted demand for air travel would soon highlight any weaknesses in airport design. And in turn the higher capacity of larger airliners would lead to more congestion on the roads with more people trying to get to the airport to travel on them, thus transport networks should be developed as integrated systems.

Manplan 2’s conclusion was to consider that it was not necessarily modes of transport alone that improve communications. Rather it is transport in conjunction with technology which could improve how we live and that the rapid technological changes in communication should ultimately suppress our demand to travel. Although Manplan 2 was arguably the most prescient of the series, even though the world has seemingly ‘shrunk’ the demand for travel remains unsated. Could it be that ultimately it might be the environmental movement rather than technology that slows this demand?

Manplan 2: Society and its Contacts

Publication date: October 1969

Series editor: Tom Rock

Guest photographer: Ian Berry


Article by Jonathan Makepeace

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Carruthers crane at AEI cable works, Northfleet

NOTES: This is one of the images taken for 'Manplan 2: Society is its contacts (travel and communication)' in Architectural Review, vol. 146, 1969 Oct.

Standard Telephones' portable Starphone in use on the streets of London (claimed to be the world's smallest UHF radio telephone in 1969)

NOTES: This is one of the images taken for 'Manplan 2: Society is its contacts (travel and communication)' in Architectural Review, vol. 146, 1969 Oct.

Terminal 1, Heathrow Airport, London: public telephone area on the concourse

Conran, Sir Terence Orby (1931-)
NOTES: This is one of the images taken for 'Manplan 2: Society is its contacts (travel and communication)' in Architectural Review, vol. 146, 1969 Oct. The telephone kiosks and telephone book carousels were designed by Terence Conran.