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Architecture and Urban Planning - A Memoir \ David Best
I 1950 - 1960
Immigration to Israel

  The year 1951 was a special year for Britain; it was the Centenary of the 1851 Great Exhibition, the central feature of which was then the magnificent Crystal Palace containing exhibits which represented the latest Technology and Art of that vigorous and enterprising Victorian Age. By 1951 post war Britain was emerging from the devastation distruction and austerity of the Second World War. The social changes implemented by the new Labour Government were beginning to show their first successes. Amongst them, the Social Security Act, the establishment of the National Health Service and the Town and Country Planning Act. New urban concepts were already beginning to be realized on the ground. There was a fresh feeling of optimism in the country at the time and the Festival of Britain, built on the South Bank of the River Thames was to be the vehicle through which this growing confidence in the Nation's future would be expressed. The structures and exhibition buildings themselves were entirely in the style of “ Modern Architecture”, which was just becoming acceptable by the British public. The Festival of Britain, as it had been a hundred years before, would present a showcase to the world of the British industrial design and technology of 1951.

    The new Festival Concert Hall facing the River Thames, I found particularly enchanting. This building was afterwards criticized as 'frivolous architecture' and its witty riverside elevation was subsequently 'sanitized', by being replaced by an iniquitous glass fenestration during the late 1960's. In fact the Festival Hall, in spite of this brutal intervention into its architectural integrity has resiliently maintained a visual 'festivity' that many other Concert Halls that were built much later have never achieved. This building and much of the other “Festival Architecture” was symptomatic of a good deal of the emerging British modern architecture of that period, which managed to avoid the somewhat ponderous style of a great many of the new buildings that could be seen at that time on the Continent.  The architecture of the Festival of Britain somehow expressed a short-lived blooming of optimism and rejoicing after the sad and drab period of the' war years'. It was also an expression of the social and political expectations of the late forties and early fifties. Sadly this atmosphere soon evaporated together with this particular characteristic style of English architecture, to be replaced by what turned out to be the passing fashion of 'new brutalizm'; an architectural reflection of the aura of the ‘cold war’ years. Some architectural critics at the time had called the Festival Architecture; ‘trivial and picturesque’, a term which somehow diminished its generous and genuine human connotations. It was architecture of a lighthearted style, which appears intermittently throughout British architectural history and somehow always leaves pleasant memories. The lightweight but often engaging ‘Georgian Architecture’ of John Nash is such an example and the ‘Free Style’ work of Rennie Mackintosh and his crowd is another one. I considered myself lucky to have left an England still bathing in the benign atmosphere of the 'Festival of Britain'.


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