Leeds: Pevsner Architectural Guide By Susan Wrathmell. Yale, 2005. 326pp. £9.99
At last, to Leeds - and the magnificent series of Pevsner city guides, underwritten by the Heritage Lottery Fund (inspired patronage), moves towards completion. Leeds was ill-served by the Buildings of England.
The 1959 volume covering the West Riding, given a rather basic revision in 1967, had just over 40 pages on the city - this new guide has 326. Nor was Pevsner's account of Leeds especially sympathetic or insightful. For many years, Derek Linstrum's Historic Architecture of Leeds (1969) was the best source, though its coverage of the 20th century terminated c.1910.
Linstrum is one of several contributors to this volume, with authoritative accounts of Cuthbert Brodrick's three major works. The book sensibly draws on the researches of a number of locally based historians, along with an excellent study of the university campus from English Heritage's Elain Harwood. At last, the outstanding work there by Chamberlin, Powell & Bon, the only post-war architecture in Leeds of unquestionable national significance, receives due recognition.
John Minnis gives a swift but authoritative tour of the suburbs. Discoveries include the houses of Bedford & Kitson, the only notable local practice working in Arts and Crafts, and churches such as St Martin, Potternewton, and the fantastic St Bartholomew, Armley.
The principal focus is, however, on the city centre, which remains agreeable, spared from the disastrous post-war reconstruction that wrecked Sheffield and Hull.
The large numbers of surviving Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian buildings are properly documented. Leeds has Britain's oldest surviving private subscription library, its most splendid covered shopping arcade, one of the finest Victorian pubs (Whitelock's), and the best Victorian theatre outside London, the latter the work of the Scottish-born George Corson, who is usually ranked only after Brodrick in the local pantheon.
After the usual spate of destruction and mutilation during the 1960s - George Gilbert Scott's Beckett's Bank was perhaps the worst loss - conservation policies have kicked in since the 1970s. The rise of city centre living and the bar and restaurant boom have fuelled a campaign of conversion and refurbishment.
Leeds, though a true regional capital, is not a place where contemporary architecture makes much of a showing - unlike Manchester (or even Gateshead). The city lost out on the Lottery and is currently struggling to rehouse its central museum and art gallery. There is no new concert hall or convention centre. Recent work by noted national practices is thin on the ground - Dixon Jones' Henry Moore Institute (essentially a conversion) is the most significant, along with housing by Levitt Bernstein and Allford Hall Monaghan Morris.
Masterplans by Farrell and Foster have been shelved in favour of piecemeal redevelopment of two key city centre sites. During the 1980s, the planner-imposed 'Leeds look' (first highlighted by the AJ) dominated the local scene, with mostly dire results.
More recently, Carey Jones, the leading local firm, has led the fight back with buildings in a broadly Fosterish mould, essentially derivative but done with conviction.
John Betjeman, writing in the 1930s, said: 'Leeds has no use for aesthetics.' The post-industrial metropolis of the 21st century, while lacking the monumental drama of Manchester or Liverpool, has human scale and a rich urban texture. By injecting highquality design into the mix - Panter Hudspith's new theatre on Millennium Square is exactly what's needed - Leeds can start to create the material for a Pevsner or Wrathmell of the future.
Kenneth Powell is an architectural journalist