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the influence of the LCC's architects department

Clare Melhuish reviews...

It seems that there is a history of the London County Council (LCC) architects department's influence abroad waiting to be written - and promising a fascinating global tour from 'Roehampton-by-the-sea' in Jamaica, to Rijeka on the Adriatic coast, from Hawaii to Moscow, and Staten Island to Cergy-Pontoise. A unique get-together of 70 'survivors' of the department offered a tantalising array of on-the-spot information deriving from personal involvement and experience. This started to generate a more exotic picture of the department and its achievements from that of the somewhat worthy, but prolific, purveyor of housing and schools which we have half-forgotten today.

As speaker Nicholas Bullock pointed out: 'We started reconstruction earlier than most, ' not having to wait for Marshall Aid after World War II.

And what was proposed and achieved in Britain was keenly watched by the rest of Europe. The LCC hosted delegates from Sweden, Denmark, Russia, Turkey, South Africa and elsewhere, who came to visit the new buildings, and to discuss issues such as riverside planning. Schemes such as the Lansbury Estate were also exhibited abroad, and the County of London and Greater London plans were, Bullock suggested, 'greatly revered' (Harvard's planning course in the 1950s also started with a study of the former).New Town projects, especially Hook, generated 'considerable fascination'. But, surprisingly, the European architectural journals carried little coverage of the LCC's work, unless within the context of larger trends perceived as particularly British - such as the picturesque, promoted by the AR, or Brutalism.

According to Bill Mitchell, who answered an advert in the Daily Mirror for someone to 'assist in decorating' the LCC's housing schemes, at a salary of £20 a week, the LCC was not good at generating its own publicity. It was due to people like Mitchell, who gave talks all over the world about the LCC's work, accompanied by his magic lantern and special large-format slides, that the word was spread. And people were 'amazed' by the high specifications and inventive exploitation of materials which were characteristic of the projects.

According to Mitchell, even the British architectural journals, 'run by cliques' - notably, the AJ 'with the grey photos' - failed to give the LCC its due. By contrast, some of the best documentation is to be found in film archives, such as the Pathe Gazette, and in the imagery generated by popular culture for artefacts such as record covers.

This seems strange, when the LCC counted among its own team now-celebrated photographers such as John Donat. Perhaps, as Elain Harwood suggested, the problem of recognition was to do with the absence of 'named architects' behind the LCC's oeuvre; perhaps, as mentioned by Eric Classey, it was because its output was simply too diverse. Whichever the case, it is a rich legacy due for re-evaluation.

The conference LCC Architecture 1945-1965 was organised by the Twentieth Century Society and held at the Architectural Association

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