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Croydon: The new frontier for defending Brutalism

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The National Trust focuses its attention on Croydon with a two-week programme of tours celebrating the town’s 1960s building boom

A few eyebrows were raised last year when the National Trust – they of the historic English country house and national parks preservation – expanded its remit to 1960s urban concrete monoliths. So it was that the NT celebrated Brutalist architecture in 2015 at three sites as part of their Brutal Utopias project: the University of East Anglia, Park Hill in Sheffield and the Southbank Centre in London. At the time Joseph Watson, London creative director of the NT, opined that, ’It’s not so very long since a generation spoke of “Victorian monstrosities” and systematically worked to erase that era in built form. We are now in danger of doing the same with Brutalism.’

This summer, Croydon has been chosen as the new frontier for defending Brutalism, and NT tours and events have been announced for the end of July. The NT promises to ‘delve into the contemporary heritage of Croydon and shine a spotlight on the borough as one of the most important examples of the postwar ambition to build a new society.’ Edge City: Croydon continues the NT’s admirable goal of ‘seeking to change the perception of heritage from country houses and coastlines and celebrate the real places in which people live, work and play’.

The trust has joined forces with Croydon Council and the tours will tell the story of Croydon’s 1960s building boom and its future ambitions. A highlight is a tours of the significant 1962 Fairfield Halls – strongly influenced by the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall and due to embark on a two-year closure for a £30 million refurbishment – which includes behind-the-scenes access to the venue which has played host to The Beatles, The Who and Morrissey.

The council’s design team for the Fairfields Halls includes Rick Mather Architects, a practice responsible for the entire Southbank Centre masterplan (1999 - 2014) and the Lyric theatre in Hammersmith. Local consultants Mott MacDonald and planning practitioners Turley Associates are also involved.

Other events in the series include a Routemaster tour of the borough and ‘Once Upon a Time in Croydon’, a screening of 1960s footage of the town featuring historic film from the British Pathé archive. This event takes place at Lost Format Society, the rooftop space on top of one of Croydon’s famed multistorey car parks. An NT guidebook to the town will also be published. Often referred to as an ‘Edge City’ – a city-sized development on the outskirts of a city – the project is a riposte to Croydon’s ‘Crap Town’ reputation.

As Croydon undergoes another wave of regeneration, the NT hopes to spark a debate on what is special and cherished about such suburban places, how they came about, how they took their current form, what people love about these places, and how we can maintain and develop them for future generations.

Watson said, ‘Love it or loathe it, it is indisputable that Croydon stands for a postwar ambition that few other places can match. Its irrepressible spirit is what we seek to uncover – and how that can be harnessed so that the best of the past, present and future can be combined to create places in which we can all share pride.’

Edge City: Croydon takes place between 16 and 24 July. For more information and to book, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/london

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