Commerce, Modernity and heritage : the history and (lack of?) conservation of office buildings in the City of London, 1945-1985
The decades immediately after World War II saw the construction of many office buildings, largely the result of an unprecedented property boom that swept Britain in the 1950s and 1960s. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the City of London. Within post-war architecture scholarship, in contrast to housing and schools, offices have received little attention. Despite two thematic listing projects, office buildings – particularly speculative developments – represent only a small proportion of post-war architecture on the statutory list of buildings of special architectural or historic interest. Contemporary accounts of office architecture are often disparaging, with little significance attached to a building typology seemingly at odds with modernist principles supporting the socialist agenda of national reconstruction, something that could be read as a typological ‘class distinction’. A further distinction exists between purpose-built offices and the much more numerous speculatively built offices, the latter usually considered to be of little architectural distinction having been constructed to achieve the greatest financial return. The lack of an authoritative architectural history of office architecture raises serious conservation challenges as there is a risk that uninformed decisions could be made resulting in the demolition or major alteration of potentially significant buildings. This dissertation attempts an objective assessment of office architecture built between 1945 and 1985 in the City of London, to consider whether the contemporary and later criticism – and lack of scholarship in this area – is justified. It also seeks to evaluate the potential historical and architectural significance of office architecture, considering conservation and management issues.