Welcome to our newest expert, Alexander Davidson. Alexander is a postgraduate researcher, specialising in architectural plastics and economic and environmental transformations. His articles have appeared in numerous publications including C20 Magazine: The Magazine of the Twentieth Century Society and Bauhaus Zeitschrift. He is an active member of the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain, the Construction History Society and the Twentieth Century Society, and also hold a BA Hons. in History (University of Sussex, 2011) and an MA in Architectural Conservation (Hochschule Anhalt, 2015). He is currently based in Berlin.
Alexander will be publishing 11 viewpoints in June:
The Barbican Redevelopment Scheme
This viewpoint – an epic two-parter on the Barbican Redevelopment Scheme – tells the story of the making of the modern office building and how plastic laminates revolutionised the design and construction of the building type. In particular, how curtain-walling systems enabled the open-plan offices of today.
BBC Broadcasting House
In this viewpoint, I tell the story of Broadcasting House, its design and construction and its magnificent recording studios. The story features angry local residents, neo-Art Deco facades, and formaldehyde resin.
The Beddington Zero Energy Development (BedZED)
This viewpoint focusses on a landmark environmentally friendly housing estate in Sutton and reveals how – for a brief moment in time in the early 2000s – the South side of the river felt like the centre of the universe.
The viewpoint deals with four Greater London Council housing blocks – two in Tower Hamlets and a second pair in Westminster, where the architects employed an experimental plastics building system in their design and construction. More latterly, the buildings were involved in the “Homes for Votes” scandal in the 1980s, which has received renewed attention in the light of the Grenfell Tower disaster.
In this viewpoint, I’ll be discussing a Service Tower (a series of bathrooms stacked in the shape of a helix), which was built as part of scheme to transform four Victorian terraced houses into student housing in Paddington, London, in the late-1960s. More specifically, how architects Nicholas Grimshaw and Terry Farrell promoted architectural plastics on aesthetic grounds in a way which has ultimately proved to be unsustainable.
London Olympia Exhibition Centre
This viewpoint focusses on a futuristic vision for plastics in architecture and interior design: Alison and Peter Smithson‘s House of the Future, which was shown at the Daily Mail Ideal Home Show at the London Olympia Exhibition Centre in 1956. The exhibition structure, containing everything from chairs made of fibreglass to bedding fashioned out of Nylon, popularised an aesthetic for the materials’ use in architectural and visual design which has lasted until the present day.
In this final viewpoint, I tell the story of Terry Farrell’s TV-AM building (1981-83), its design, its relationship to the styles of postmodernism and classicism, and its plastic eggcups. The television studios’ exuberance, unfortunately, were only matched by their ephemerality, their fate determined by rapid changes in broadcasting technology and fashion. For a thirty-year period, however, they burnt brightly like Wham dancing in the sun.