Manplan 3’s opening image of the River Tyne taken by Tim Street-Porter dramatically captures the slow, painful decline of heavy industry. Yet in 1969 many precision engineering products were still being manufactured in dilapidated 19th century buildings and with poor working conditions for employees leading to frequent industrial unrest.
“Industrialists, if they think of an architect at all, regard him as a stylist who is engaged to titivate the more conspicuous parts of a structure designed by engineers or contractors.” (Robert Andrew Bullivant, Chairman RIBA Public Relations Committee, quoted in The Architectural Review, November 1969)
In this issue The Architectural Review [AR] considered new approaches to designing industrial buildings, with the projects depicted clearly highlighting the transition from the buildings of the Industrial Revolution to the steel framed, cladded sheds with which we are so familiar today. Harold Brockman writing in The Financial Times (20 March 1969) considered that “We no longer need to think of factories in terms of concentrated and polluted areas solely devoted to industry” proposing instead that light industry should “now be planned within residential areas.” This formed the basis of the AR’s argument that industrial buildings should be designed to give greater flexibility and aid easier expansion by means of ‘system building’ as well as that “clean industry” be brought back into residential areas. They particularly wished to counter planners determined to separate industry from housing into trading estates which the AR considered to be ghettoes of “outstanding natural ugliness.”
This was the first of the series to employ a guest editor, in this case Norman Foster. Foster was an appropriate choice given that he was previously part of Team 4 the designers of the Reliance Controls Limited electronic factory, Swindon (1967) often regarded to be the first true High-Tech building. Here a radical approach was taken housing the factory floor, management and staff amenities in one flexible, adaptable building or ‘serviced shed’. Thus, it was a much more democratic building without the segregation typical of the time. In Manplan 3 Foster proposed a ‘multi-purpose system’ using the American School Construction Systems Development (SCSD) system. Foster’s megastructure housed not only the factory but its associated offices and storage but perhaps even a supermarket: “Not so much town workshop as a workshop embracing a town.”
Amongst several international examples of good contemporary industrial design two British designs stood out. The Marconi-Elliott micro-electronics factory by Anthony B. Davies & Associates at Witham was clad externally giving strong visual unity and internally was designed to be a highly controlled environment with air conditioning, vacuum cleaning plant and an acid neutralising effluent system. Roche Products storage building, Welwyn Garden City by James Cubitt, Fello Atkinson & Partners was considered to integrate well with the already critically acclaimed Modernist factory by Otto Salvisberg completed in 1939.
Another of the buildings featured was Foster Associates’ quick conversion (three months) of an existing building in Hemel Hempstead for Computer Technology Limited which was claimed to be Britain’s first fully flexible work-space. It was expanded further in 1970 with the addition of temporary inflatable ‘air tent’. Similarly, in the grounds of the ruined Eglinton Castle a pneumatic building was erected just 6 weeks after ordering at Robert Wilson and Sons’ canning factory which had expanded in size beyond its existing Robert Adam designed stable block.
As good example of a ‘town workshop’ it seems odd that the AR used a number of photomontages of the Pepys Estate, Deptford combined with industrial buildings yet chose only a single image to illustrate the Canning Place development then under construction in the centre of Liverpool. This was a complex of office buildings, flatted factories, pub, showroom and fire station.
As part of his commission for the AR Tim Street-Porter travelled around north east England, Manchester and Birmingham documenting doomed industries, slum housing (with the inevitable gangs of children and stray dogs), and polluted landscapes all now virtually swept away in the space of two generations. Yet of the many hundreds of photographs taken the vast majority of the images printed up and ultimately published depict late sixties contemporary industrial architecture. Compared to the first two issues, the photographs used to illustrate Manplan 3 focussed more positively on architecture, rather than on the harsh reality of what had gone before or failing contemporary architecture.
As the Manplan series it progressed it gained a certain notoriety with which it is associated today. The opening salvo came in the February 1970 edition from Edward Grozier who considered that the ‘town workshop’ concept would not live up to its ideals and ultimately descend into squalor:
“I can see no place for industry in residential areas… Architects should practise what they preach; they joyfully advocate living umpteen floors up in the thick of things but are careful to live in country cottages themselves. Who would not do his best to stop a smart, clean transistor works starting up next door to his house?” (The Architectural Review, February 1970)
For more images, see: Manplan 3
Click for further information on the exhibition: Wide-Angle View: architecture as social space in the Manplan series 1969-70, 13 September 2023 to 24 February 2024.
Manplan 3: Town Workshop
Publication date: November 1969
Series editor: Tom Rock
Consultant editor: Norman Foster
Guest photographer: Tim Street-Porter
Article by Jonathan Makepeace