ESSEX Architecture Weekend ‘The Modernist County’
10 – 11 September 2016
Multiple sites across Essex
ESSEX Architecture Weekend is a programme of tours and events from the Radical Essex project, celebrating the county’s pioneering role in twentieth century architecture. The two- day festival will provide unique access to three key sites – the Bata Estate in East Tilbury, Frinton-on-Sea and Silver End village – and in doing so will show how the region was at the forefront of Modernist architecture and experimental community models.
Visitors can experience these architectural gems first-hand, travelling from one to the other on dedicated buses, and also attend talks and events conducted by leading experts and artists, including Elizabeth Darling, Owen Hatherley, Charles Holland, Alan Powers and Ellen Thorogood. The weekend will be centred around Silver End, a model village conceived in 1926 by the industrialist Francis Henry Crittall to house workers close to his Crittall Windows factory. The village was developed from two experimental houses in nearby Cressing Road that date from 1917, showing this unique site to be the earliest example of Modernism in the UK. Today, the village still displays amalgamated architectural styles, with terraced ‘flat- tops’ sitting alongside grand Modernist mansion houses.
Le Chateau, Silver End 2016 © Catherine Hyland, courtesy Focal Point Gallery
The Bata shoe factory in East Tilbury was no less pioneering. Founded in 1932 by the Czech visionary Thomas J. Bata, the factory is considered one of the most important planned townscapes in the East of England in the twentieth century. Meanwhile at Frinton-on-Sea, visitors will have the chance to explore the largest group of individually designed Modernist houses in the country.
All of these buildings have had a profound impact on the people of Essex, and especially those who lived in them. When Silver End celebrated its 90th anniversary in April 2016, members of the Heritage Society spoke of the importance of the village’s architecture: “The significance of the design was not so much a concern of the first residents moving into the properties, they were however thrilled of the improved living space carefully implemented by the architects, including running water, electricity and garden space to grow produce, a rarity and luxury at that time. Over recent years renewed interest in the Modern style has made people very proud of their homes.”
Moving through the twentieth century, the weekend will also explore the contentious postwar New Town developments of Basildon and Harlow. The public will be able to visit these ‘concretopias’, as well as those of University of Essex’s radical Colchester Campus, with guided tours of the significant Brutalist buildings. In addition to these estates and living complexes, Essex also boasts a number of individual buildings of significance from the period, including The Royal Corinthian Yacht Club in Burnham-on-Crouch, a building which represented Britain in MoMA’s ‘Modern Architecture: International Exhibition’ in 1932; the Wells Coates designed Shipwrights house in Benfleet; and the only building designed solely by the world- renowned engineer Ove Arup on Canvey Island. The weekend will also feature artist commissions, including the launch of a new series of work entitled ‘The Radical National Trust’ by British artist Alan Kane, a new architectural commission from Essex-based practice HAT Projects, and ‘Details’, an Essex edition of the illustrated publication by Curl la Tourelle Head Architecture and Arnaud Desjardin.
In revealing Essex as ‘The Modernist County’ this weekend will redress perceptions of the architectural history of the region. Coinciding with Heritage Open Days 2016, ‘ESSEX Architecture Weekend’ will share their ethos of discovery and curiosity, in which visitors will have the opportunity to explore and learn about the county’s progressive approaches to living practice in the twentieth century, and consider their ongoing relevance and legacy.
Focal Point Gallery Director Joe Hill, who is leading Radical Essex, says: “Through this project we are excited to have the opportunity to share and celebrate the important role Essex has played in the development of contemporary architecture in the UK. This is apparent not only in the design styles, but in the varied and radical approaches to social structures. It is utterly unique in this regard, and yet so underrepresented. We hope that this programme will help to encourage people to reflect on the innovative past of the county, in order to promote experimental and pioneering building for the future.”
More information: www.artmattermagazine.com/radical-essex-focal-point-gallery | www.radicalessex.uk