Municipal Modernism

by robertmcnicol

We all know about the prevalence of Modernism in municipal building in Britain in the post-war years. Modernism, in a variety of varieties, became the norm for public structures, be those housing, concert halls, churches, libraries, schools, universities

It is a cliche to say that Modernism became the style; that the explosion of Modernism came initially from the need to build quickly after the war and then to house and provide the infrastructure for the baby-boom generation; that Modernism was quick and new and clean and honest and cheap. It is another cliche to say that Modernist buildings were often too cheaply constructed; that the over-zealous experimentation amongst the so-called Brutalist architects led to depressing or alienating structures; that the financial crisis of the Seventies gave rise to massive under-investment in new municipal building; that the well-intentioned political desire to house and educate and punish and entertain the less well-off en-masse, with not enough resources, led to the current state of many of those buildings.

Hove Trial Centre is, thankfully, not a cliche. It is fantastically horizontal in an almost Frank Lloyd Wright kind of a way; the top storey is faced in thousands of mosaic tiles rather than the usual concrete; it is heavy, certainly, but not overbearing – the mild ziggurat is offset by both the lowness of the building and the steps and sloping gardens along the front. Buildings associated with justice usually try to overawe and dominate the unfortunates who end up traversing their thresholds – and that’s just the lawyers. That was a joke, you may laugh.

Suit yourself. Anyway, I may be wrong but I can’t help but see an allusion to fairness in the architecture of this building – the literal eveness of the roofline and the obviousness of the facade hint at equality; but it’s balanced by the solidity and mass of the building. I really like it.

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