Chris Rogers writer on architecture and visual culture

White Heat London

Sixty years ago, Britain’s science and technology led the world. Extending her wartime leads in radar, aerodynamics and computing whilst also exploring new fields had yielded remarkable successes in the first years of peace. British firm Ferranti built the world's first commercially-available computer, based on a Manchester university prototype, in 1951. Working with American biologist James Watson, English physicist Francis Crick discovered the double helix structure of the DNA molecule in 1953. Bernard Lovell built the Mark I radio telescope at Jodrell Bank in 1957, using actual war surplus materials. And Christopher Cockerell conceived the hovercraft, an invention deemed so important that it was classified until 1959 when the first example could finally be unveiled. All of this was achieved despite the economic impact of a global conflict and aligned with a widespread feeling of progress and optimism.

As the country moved confidently into the next decade, the mood was captured by Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s speech to the Labour Party conference in 1963 when he talked of a new Britain “forged in the white heat of this revolution”. Its foundries were scattered across the country but in London especially, cutting-edge engineering came together with new architectural and design solutions to create daring, stylish and modern constructions, both public and private, that brought improvements to many aspects of life.

A few, like the slim concrete shaft of the Post Office Tower and the Underground’s automatically-operated Victoria line, are well known, together with the innovation they represented. Others are familiar sights but not widely recognised for their impressive advances, whether Europe’s most sophisticated cinema or Fleet Street’s newest premises. And many are hidden gems, from a High-Tech ‘shed’ anticipating the Docklands boom by a dozen years to a multi-storey urban workshop built half a century before today’s concern with accommodating the capital’s makers.

Some have not survived but all are a cause for celebration and so the White Heat London series does exactly that, with a monthly download summarising a key project of this exciting decade. Each is presented as a two-page pdf with concise text, a contemporary technical illustration and three carefully-chosen images, all in a period-appropriate style.

Issued in chronological order of completion throughout this year, they will highlight British achievement that has often been overlooked and which laid the groundwork for today’s fast-paced, digitally-enabled built environment.

To obtain an exclusive bonus article linking this first project and next month’s that won’t be available online, simply get in touch via the ‘Contact’ tab, email, Facebook PM or LinkedIn PM.

Posted 15 January 2020

White Heat 01 - BBC thumb
thumb - White Heat 02 - Mirror
thumb - White Heat 03 - WLAT
thumb - White Heat 04 - PO tower
thumb - White Heat 05 - Central Ho
thumb - White Heat 06 - Odeon
thumb - White Heat 07 - Victoria

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