The Brvtalist is very proud to feature an organization whose mission is very near and dear to our hearts. The Twentieth Century Society (C20) was founded as the Thirties Society in 1979, and exists to safeguard the heritage of British architecture and design from 1914 onward. Throughout the years, C20 has saved dozens of historical and culturally significant architectural sites. The Brutalist movement began in Britain and some of the most notable and important examples of the style are in danger of being demolished. With the help of people like you and me, C20 fights to save these amazing structures and also educates the world on why they are important.
We reached out to the organization to find out more and we were able to speak with Catherine Croft, Director of C20, and she provided some excellent information and insightful responses to our questions. Please find the Q&A below.
The Brvtalist: Tell us a little bit about C20 and its mission.
Catherine Croft: We campaign for the preservation of great architecture and design from 1914 onwards, in the UK. (Yes we do go right up to the present day, and no, we don’t know yet what we’re going to do about our name, now that it’s the C21st!) We are a charity, we have members (who support us and come on our trips), and we have an official role in the planning system. We research the history and significance of buildings (we are lucky in that often we can still speak to their original designers), and we work with architects and owners to ensure that changes needed to provide new facilities don’t compromise what’s special about the buildings we care about.
TB: What is the process for finding and deciding what structures you look to "rescue"?
CC: Every local planning authority has to contact us when it someone makes an application for permission to carry out major work to a building which is already listed, but many of the buildings we are interested in are too recent to be listed yet. That means we rely very extensively on our members and supporters to let us know about what’s going on. We can’t get involved in everything we’d like to (we just don’t have the resources), so we prioritise according to how important we think the building is and how extensive the alterations would be—sadly all too often its total demolition which is being proposed, so those cases go straight to the top of the heap.
TB: How can people get involved if they want to help?
CC: Lots of ways--- the simplest is just by joining the Society—subscriptions fund our work, and you get to come on trips and kept up to date on cases—readers of the Brvtalist are very welcome! By telling us about buildings under threat, by starting a local campaign, by sending us photographs and researching local history archives. Volunteers also help us with the website, the Magazine and social media, and with running the office here in Farringdon.
TB: Talk about a project you are currently working on and its status:
CC: We are currently trying to prevent the demolition of Robin Hood Gardens. This is a massive housing estate in Tower Hamlets, East London by architect’s Alison and Peter Smithson. It’s been turned down for listing in the past, and there is planning permission to build a new and much denser scheme on the site, but we have got one last chance to save it. It’s a fantastic example of Brutalism.
Architect Richard Rogers has just given us a huge boost by calling on all his contacts to write directly to the Department of Culture Media and Sport asking the new Minister, Tracey Crouch, to finally list it (which she can now do). That would change things completely, and it could be renovated, and the existing community could stay intact which would be great result for heritage, for local people, and for the environment---just think how much energy there is embodied in all that concrete.
As you can see, the importance of an organization like C20 is beyond words. They fight to save structures when no one else can or will and so many have been preserved, which helps continue the legacy of great architecture and teach the future about their importance. We would like to thank Director Catherine Croft for taking the time out to answer some questions and we urge all of our readers to get involved with this great charity. For more information please visit http://www.c20society.org.uk