Brutalism, Boxy Charts and B Block

I was thinking about design this week having come across a photograph of one of my old schools.  What struck me was how much I liked the building, and how consistent it was with the buildings I love now.  In turn that led me to think about whether nurture has a greater influence on my design preferences than nature.

B Block at John Port School

B Block at John Port School

B Block, as it was known, at John Port School, seemed a lot bigger in my mind than shown here in the distance, across the school pond, but the most striking thing to me is the similarity to the CIS Tower on Miller Street in Manchester where I work now.  Both have tower structures and a plinth extending the ground floor footprint.

CIS tower showing plinth

I have blogged on here before about how much I love the CIS Tower as a building, but by far and away my favourite building is the University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norwich. It is simply, to me, the perfect example of Brutalist architecture.  A stunning symbol of modernism rising from the green campus like a cruise ship coming in to harbour.  It’s a great big 3D boxy chart of a building. I have taken a lot of photo’s of it – some may argue too many !

UEA July 2011

The Architect Denys Lasdun constructed his ziggurat walkways and terraces with thought and the campus and buildings of 1964 still seem fresh and relevant today.  The concrete is suffering a little, but its weather-beaten patina just adds something extra to me.  I have a painting of it in my living room. I have restricted myself to a couple of pictures here, or concrete may take over completely !

UEA detail July 2011

So if my love of the CIS Tower comes possibly from going to B Block everyday for a few years, maybe my love of boxy charts and the UEA is born of something in my childhood as well.

Kodachrome 64 may be the answer.  My Dad loved photography; he was very good at it too.  I remember from being very young that slides were his preference and family slide shows became annual events – wedding fashions usually getting the most laughs at the Christmas slide show with my dad as head projectionist.  He only ever used Kodachrome when he could get hold of it – he was very brand loyal.


Slides, especially in the quantity my Dad took, are a nice boxy shape and if you file them, as he did, and as I do, (yes I still use slide film!) then they look like this (… for those brought up in a digital age);

slides filed

Nicely structured I think you will agree.  Slides, slide shows and the catalogued boxes were a constant in my childhood.   The grey magazines he, and now I, keep slides in, remind me of the CIS Tower even now.  They also satisfy my, nature driven, desire for rigour in filing, but don’t tell anyone.

agfa slide mag

If I go back even further Lego played a major part in my younger life … ok I am going back a fair way I admit that, but in those days I used base plate to build on – Lego was the same, but simpler in the early 1960’s:

lego board

You see the similarities I am sure.

This is not an overly scientific assessment, but I enjoyed revisiting some nice memories as I wrote it.  I’m not sure if my love of Brutalism, boxy charts and concrete is born of nature or nurture, but I am leaning to the view that nurture played a big part now I come to think about the influences in my childhood. Right, now I’m off to see when I can go visit the UEA again …..

10 February ‘13

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One thought on “Brutalism, Boxy Charts and B Block

  1. Mark Hodgson says:

    I’ve combined your love of Brutalism with Lego. It wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped!

    (Graduated in 1983, lived for two years at Waveney Terrace!)

    My Flickr album of Lego UEA ziggurats…

    Sunny reshoot - right side

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