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Pavements in the sky

I’ve been wanting to write on this subject for a long time, but never managed to find the time to do so, however I find that it’s too long for just one post, so will have to break it down into separate parts.

Lets start at the end of the Second World War. The City of London and it’s environs are in a terrible state due to the German bombing campaign. All the buildings on the map below coloured blue/purple are classed as “Damaged beyond repair” and anything red is “Badly damaged-Doubtful if repairable“.

Just to give some idea of the level of destruction the next map shows the area around Cannon Street station.

To put this into context in the next map I’ve highlight the buildings that remained. As you can see the areas of devastation were vast.

The rebuilding process was slow to start after the end of the war, mainly because the country was on the verge of bankruptcy, so for more than four years damaged areas were tidied, if not cleared and virtually every street in the City had it’s own wasteland.

Cannon Street 1947

The other contributing factor to the delay was the question of what was to built in it’s place. Therefore there ensued a long battle between planners, architects, councils, building contractors and just about anyone who wanted a say in the redevelopment. To say that each end of the argument were diametrically apposed is something of an understatement. On one side there was the campaign to rebuild the City in it’s old image and on the other were some planners who wanted to pull it all down and start again. In fact the same arguments that had raged after the Great Fire in 1666, although then the inhabitants of the City took matters into their own hands and started rebuilding their properties a matter of days after the fire had been extinguished.

Sir John Reith

The Government, possibly wishing to oversee policy without actually fully involving itself in the process created the position of Minister for Planning and Reconstruction and it’s first appointee was Lord Reith, Director General of the BBC. However his tenure in the position was short lived as after several months his views on how the city should be reconstructed became apposed to those of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who subsequently sacked him.

Sir Patrick Abercrombie

Even before the war ended, planners such as Patrick Abercrombie came up with proposals to reconstruct the capital, with a balance between housing, industrial development and open spaces. The first 10-storey council housing block opened in Holborn in May 1949. High-rise housing another Abercrombie recommendation was hailed as the solution to London’s growing population, this also seemed to be the mantra for the commercial buildings that would spring up from the rubble.

And it is to the creation of these high rise buildings and the planning and thought process that I want to focus on. I was going to write my own piece on the “Planners Dream” for this brave new metropolis, but my drafts were long and rambling, so to ease you into this subject if you don’t already know about it I’ve inserted a brilliant video by Chris Bevan Lee below which sums the subject up far better than I ever could. I hope you enjoy it and if you did I’ll see you later in part 2.

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