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Twentieth Century Architecture 5: Festival of Britain and Brief City: The story of London's Festival Buildings. (Engineering Happiness).

Edited by Elain Harwood and Alan Powers, London: Twentieth Century Society. 2001. [pounds sterling]19.95

BRIEF CITY: THE STORY OF LONDON'S FESTIVAL BUILDINGS

Directed by Maurice Harvey and Jacques Brunius, Massingham Production Ltd. 1952. [pounds sterling]9.95

Fifty years ago Churchill's returning government spared little time in removing all traces of the Labour Party's Festival of Britain, and in October 1951 as the Festival Flag fell the South Bank Exhibition Buildings were also hauled down.

In recognition of this, The Twentieth Century Society not only organized a well attended conference, and released on video The Observer's film Brief City: The Story of London's Festival Buildings, but have also published a collection of essays that bring together new historical analysis and the recollections of those involved.

Like the Festival itself, when read together the essays are rather eccentric. Brief pieces on fringe events such as Coventry's Godiva Pageant, and references to the Festival's contribution to morris dancing and best kept garden competitions are read in stark contrast to the more weighty contributions of the South Bank and Lansbury Exhibitions.

To an architectural reader, the book is critically light. No explicit attempt is made to place the architecture within it postwar context, and only passing reference is made to some wonderful experimental pieces -- such as the Fairway Cafe's pre-stressed concrete diagrid roof and the wonderfully precarious 'Carry-Cot' offices. Therefore, beyond the broader stylistic themes discussed in Alan Powers' fine essay, 'The Expression of Levity', the opportunity to discuss specific architectural innovation has been missed.

Despite this, the essays and the film perfectly encapsulate the spirit of the Festival with perhaps the only omission being an editorial conclusion. The Society's recent conference concluded with Simon Sadler's excellent critical comparison with the millennium celebrations. Had the book included this piece we may have been left with more pertinent contemporary questions, rather than just fond memories of the birth of the 'Contemporary Style'.
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Author:Gregory, Rob
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 2002
Words:320
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