The Diverse Modernities Project seeks to foster understanding, appreciation and conservation of the full range of Britain’s twentieth-century architectural heritage.
Until recently, the orthodox view of modern architectural history was shaped by the teleological narrative of the modern movement – that good pre-modernist architecture was on “the path” to modernism. Modernism was presented as the true architecture of modernity, and other styles featured mainly as precursors or deviations.
But this is too simple. In fact, many schools of architecture have flourished in modern Britain, in a complex and creative relationship to canonical modernism. In the interwar period, most buildings were non-modernist, encompassing a huge range of buildings both developing and departing from the architectural traditions of Edwardian Britain. These approaches continued on a reduced scale in the postwar decades, and many were renewed from the 1980s onwards as postmodernism became influential.
Throughout this period, British architecture was enriched by traditions from across the world, from the Armenian church of St Sarkis in 1923, to the Serbian Orthodox Church of the Holy Prince Lazar in 1968, the Neasden Temple in 1995, and the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies in 2017. Alongside these architect-designed buildings, Britain also saw millions of homes built in modern vernaculars based on the Tudor Revival, Neo-Georgian, and the Arts and Crafts Movement.
These architectural approaches profoundly enrich Britain’s built environment, but they still tend to suffer from official neglect, and enjoy little protection from our conservation system. This has especially affected post-industrial areas of Britain, whose rich late nineteenth and early-twentieth century architectural heritages have often suffered terrible losses. There is a real and present danger that funds to support ‘regeneration’ will be used to erase the remaining heritage in ‘left behind’ industrial towns.
The Diverse Modernities project seeks to change this, championing the full range of Britain’s modern heritage. We argue for the relevance of this heritage to contemporary priorities for the built environment, like respect for the street, sensitivity to context, openness to varied historical memories, and the creative interaction of tradition and modernity. And we argue that there is scope for the listings system to give greater protection to such buildings, as an essential part of the heritage of modern Britain. Specifically, we seek to:
- Raise the level of academic, professional and public awareness of the diversity and quality of twentieth century non-modernist architecture;
- Improve the approach of the listing system to early twentieth century and late nineteenth century non-modernist architecture; and
- Encourage and support more listing in northern and former industrial towns.