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John Outram’s Po-Mo pumping station given Grade II* listing

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John Outram’s famous 1988 Postmodern pumping station on the Isle of Dogs, east London, has been handed a Grade II* listing

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport agreed with advice from Historic England that the multicoloured ‘temple of storms’ was among ‘the most exciting buildings of the 1980s’ and deserved statutory protection.

It is the debut listing to emerge from Historic England’s ongoing thematic assessment of Postmodernist buildings, which is looking at the ‘most significant examples of the movement’ – many of which are now reaching the 30-year-old listing age. 

Officially known as the Storm Water Pumping Station, the pocket gem was described by Historic England as the first example of Outram’s ‘mature style and remains one of his best-known buildings’.

It now joins the 8 per cent of buildings listed in the upper categories of Grade II* and Grade I – a select group of England’s finest and most important landmarks.

A spokesman for Historic England said: ‘Outram’s pumping station returns to the tradition of impressive municipal pumping stations which largely came to an end in the 1930s. Beacons of this tradition include Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s richly fanciful Gothic Abbey Mills Pumping Station of 1868.

‘Built over 100 years apart, Bazalgette and Outram’s polychromatic pumping stations share an exuberant celebration of their utilitarian function, the earlier building christened a ‘cathedral of sewage’, the later a ‘temple of storms’.

Roger Bowdler, Historic England’s Director of Listing, said: ‘Outram’s pumping station was one of the most exciting buildings of the 1980s. He exulted in the panache and exuberance of Classicism, and gave this utterly functional structure an exterior which is unforgettable.

‘It is vital that we keep the List up to date: it’s really exciting that we are starting to see the very best of Postmodern buildings find their place among England’s finest works of architecture.’

John outram post modern pumping station on londons isle of dogs

John outram post modern pumping station on londons isle of dogs

Responding to the news of the listing, John Outram, 83, said: ‘The oldest architecture I ever visited was the 20,000-year-old painted caves of Lascaux. Decoration is the origin and essence of architecture. It can mediate, in the theatre of a built room or a built city, the epiphany of a meaning.

‘I was told, in 1955, at the beginning of my life as an architect, that my medium was both to be illiterate and devoid of metaphysical capacity.

My work has been a rebellion

‘My work has been a rebellion. I refused to live in a city designed by proudly subliterate haptics whose ambition was to reduce it to mere plant. I aimed to invent that ‘meaning’ and confirm those epiphanic techniques.

He added: ‘I have never wanted to be part of that celebrity circus which the star architects have found it necessary to become. I like my work to stand for me. After all, that is what it is for. So I am particularly pleased that so much has been understood, and so well recounted in the listing.’

Other major schemes by Outram include his Cambridge Judge Business School extension from 1995 and his Egyptian House in Oxfordshire, built in 2000.

Meanwhile the listing of the ‘pioneering masterpiece’ has been celebrated by The Twentieth Century Society, which described the decision as a turning point for Postmodern architecture.

The building represents the advent of the Postmodern style into the architectural canon

The society’s director, Catherine Croft, said: ’This is not the first Postmodern building to be listed, but it is the first of its genre to be listed purely on its own merits without the presence of a threat. In a way it represents the advent of the Postmodern style into the architectural canon which is an exciting and important moment.’

Comment

Tamsie Thomson, director, London Festival of Architecture
This year’s festival theme is memory, and throughout June we have seen hundreds of events exploring how memory is captured within the built environment. The listing system is a brilliant mechanism for capturing our historic and architectural memories, and in London it’s a springboard for debate on how the city can and should change.
John Outram’s Pumping Station is a brilliant example of Postmodernism in one of the fastest-changing parts of our city, and to celebrate that building as we consider London’s built environment memories couldn’t be more fitting.

 

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Very obliged to Historic England, almost as dreadful a moniker as Post-Modernism. H.E. have written a very decent Catalogue Raisonneé of the “Temple of Storms”. I enjoyed reading the distinctions made between what was listed and not listed - a fascinating series of judgments - and altogether well made. My generation of post-WWIi London Architects aimed to create an Ur-Architecture to which Modernism (which we termed “L’Architecture Autre” as it had no roots in the Anglosphere) would merely be the latest style. It was the putative theorists such as Banham who decided that Architecture Autre would REPLACE the 9,000-year old medium altogether! This comic notion seemed to catch-on especially with the British especially after the shock of losing our 350-year old Empire. In a pique of nose cutting the Brits trashed the entirely of the ‘High’ culture that they had laboriously acquired from Europe: Latin, Greek, Architecture and all went into the white hot furnace of Labour’s “Age of Trash” technology. British Architects then shone, with High Tech leading the van, in this desert of illiteracy. James Stirling was the only one who treated it properly, by mainly sending it up, as Summerson described, in the role of “The Joker”.

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