Why would I be writing about architecture on a retirement site? Furthermore architecture that some people would regard as not really architecture at all, just an aberration, a blot on the landscape? I speak of course of what came to be called Brutalist architecture which Wikipedia describes as – typically massive in character (even when not large), fortress like with a pre-dominance of exposed concrete. Furthermore it says ‘in its ruggedness and lack of concern to look comfortable or easy, Brutalism can be seen as a reaction by a younger generation to the lightness, optimism and frivolity of some 1930s and 40s architecture’. And specifically in Leeds the YEP building was described in a Guardian article as ‘brutish’ and Brutalist buildings were described as being ‘at odds with good taste and their surroundings’. So admittedly it doesn’t sound so great when described in that fashion, but I don’t care, I like it. The Wikipedia entry has some lovely (strange word you might think but I stick by it) examples of Brutalist buildings around the world. Not, unfortunately our building, the Yorkshire Post building above, as it was in its prime. Now this iconic building in Leeds is being subject to complete brutality as you can see from the attached photos, below, which were incidentally taken from a passing car, hence their indifferent quality. Still point made I think. Compare and contrast with pictures below with one above.
Let me repeat that I like Brutalist buildings, not a whole town of them nor even large areas of them like the South Bank or the Barbican. But, that said, I think there is room in every city for one or two such buildings as a contrast, a touchstone of a variety of styles. That after all has always been the strength of architecture through the ages, contrast. And the mantra of our lives today – valuing differences. The Yorkshire Post building is in the ‘it’s different’ category. Leeds has, or rather had, one or two Brutualist buildings that I always felt made a pleasing contrast to the excellent Georgian and even more excellent Victorian architecture of the city. And it is the very proximity of one style next to another that gives (in my opinion) pleasure to the open-minded which obviously rules out Prince Charles and his carbuncle theory. Not that was the case with the YP building as it is somewhat removed from the city centre. Like they were a little ashamed of it even then in the 50s, 60s and 70s when brutualist architecture flourished. The YP building was, I believe, completed in 1970 and opened bizarrely, I think you will agree, ‘with a flourish’ by none other than Prince Charles. Yes, the same one, how many are there after all?
And why does all this matter to me as a retired person. well it’s about the respect for the past issue that I’ve written about elsewhere in this blog and also, as a retired person, when you see something being pulled down there’s that element of self interest – that might be me they’re pulling down but in the, hopefully not too near, future. So this blog is just to say, shame. Couldn’t we have hung on to the past? Leeds already has too much of what has been called Lego architecture, all looking the same. Homogeneity is generally dull at best and insidious at worst. So I’m just saying it’s a shame that we couldn’t have found a place in our lives for, what in my opinion was, an iconic building. The Yorkshire Post building wasn’t just any old Brutalist building it was an interesting one as you can see from the photos. And of course it was ‘ours’.
Ah but you say what do you know of architecture? Well, let me tell you that, but for the fact that I managed to fail all 5 of my A levels way back when, I could have had a career as an architect. That was where I was heading, to Manchester University to study architecture. In retirement it is possible to look back at the key moments of your life and say things like – if this then that. But for me there are no regrets, (no tears goodbye as The Walker Brothers sang many years ago), no wishful thinking, just a mild reflection on how different things could have been at certain key moments if small things (not that failing 5 A levels felt like a small thing at the time) had turned out different. If you’re an ‘everything happens for the best’ type person then that’s fine, if you’re a reflective type of chap which, in retirement, I’ve somewhat become, then a bit of gentle reflection is OK.
And talking of newspapers, when I left art college where you did not need A levels at that time, I wanted to be a journalist. In 1970 I wrote a piece about being unemployed – a bit like I am now – and sent it to the editor of the Yorkshire Post who I met at a wedding. I thought it was a sign, a portent, but it wasn’t. He was extremely kind in his feedback and, at one of my lowest ebbs, kind of kept me going. No internet then, no websites, blogs, podcasts, self publishing of course. So that’s another reason I like this building or ex building as it now sadly is.
By the way in a concession to the iconic status of the building they’ve agreed to keep the tower and incorporate it into whatever architectural gem they replace our building with. You can see what it looks like currently. I’m not sure how its juxtaposition is going to turn out. I’ll keep you informed. In the meantime on with my retirement.
The tower; all that will remain of the Yorkshire Post building