20th and 21st Century architecture

Modern (and "looked modern at the time") architecture in Britain

For the first half of the 20th century England was too busy expanding into suburbs (in an architecturally uninteresting way) and fighting World Wars to pay much attention to architecture.

The Art Nouveau movement only caught on in Glasgow with native son Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928), but all his work remains there.

After the World War II Blitz, much of central London had to be rebuilt, but most of the new bank buildings and the like that went up in the City held to a functional school of architecture aptly named Brutalism.

It wasn't until the boom of the late 1970s and 1980s that Post-Modern architecture gave British architects a bold, new direction.

Identifiable features of 20C architecture in England

  • The skyscraper motif. Glass and steel as high as you can stack it. Like the Victorians, Post-Modernists also recycle elements from architectural history, from Classical to exotic (though, for the moment at least, Gothic seems finally to have fallen out of style).

Best examples of 20C architecture in England

  • Llyod's Building, London. The British Post-Modern masterpiece by Richard Rogers (who had a hand in Paris's funky Pompidou).
  • Canada Tower, London. Britain's tallest building, by César Pelli, is the centerpiece of the early 1990s Canary Wharf office complex and commercial development.
  • Charing Cross, London. Whimsical designer Terry Farrell capped the famous old train station with an enormous Post-Modern office-and-shopping complex in glass and pale stone in 1991.
  • The Gherkin, London. Norman Foster's iconic 2003 building—originally called the Swiss Re Building, but since 2007 officially named for its address at "30 St. Mary Axe"—has always simply been called "The Gherkin" by Londoners for its distinctive, picklish shape. (If we're going with vegetables, I think it looks more like some fennel made of glass.) With its 24,000 sq meters of glass cladding set in a helix of lines around its tubular body giving the whole a dynamic twisting vibe, The Gherkin went from derided architectural folly to accepted landmark rather more quickly than do most overly bold modern buildings. It's also fairly green for its era, wells within the steel and glass walls allowing air to spiral up and reducing its energy footprint.