EVENTS | Are There Enough Buildings in Leeds to Justify a Leeds Modernist Society?

Ahead of our collaboration with Colours May Vary, PHIL KIRBY wonders whether there’s enough Modernism left in Leeds to warrant setting up a Leeds Modernist Society…

‘We’d like to start a Leeds Modernist Society, but we’re not sure there’s much here…’

I read this quote from Neil’s interview with Jack Hale and Eddy Rhead from the Manchester based Modernist Society with a twinge of recognition and envy. Where are our great Modernist buildings in Leeds?

Truth is, mostly demolished.

In the last decade we’ve lost so many great buildings to the wrecking ball. The Yorkshire Post headquarters, now just an advertising screen.

The International Pool, less than a half century old, done in less than a decade ago. The wonderfully futuristic overhead walkways around the Merrion Centre, gone.

(Quick question. Why cover Merrion House in Architectural Fablon? It’s not brick, never has been brick. This is just a sticker.)

And long before that, Quarry Hill, one of the greatest examples of civic modernism anywhere in the world…

Anyone even whispers SOYO in my presence and I shall take you around the corner and reenact that scene from Pulp Fiction, And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee. You have been warned.

So, what is left? What justifies setting up a Modernist Society in a city that seems determined to demolish, erase and forget its Modernist heritage?

Right now I’m struggling with this question (and still consumed with hatred, rage and implacable resistance to the very idea of SOYO) but I took a walk around the city today to see what I could find.

Modernism is not nice.

Modernism is not pretty.

Modernism doesn’t necessarily give you a warm and fuzzy feeling inside.

But you can’t avoid it.

You might even live in it.

And it’s not just the obvious.

So, yes, there’s plenty of Modernism in Leeds to justify a Modernist Society.

What’s your favourite thing? Or most hated thing, that’s equally valid.

Let us know. And come along to the inaugural meeting, it should be illuminating.

But as Fred Ponting said, book early…


  1. You’re right Phil Modernism is all around provoking its own aesthetic response.

    But you shouldn’t be too pessimistic. There is still plenty of this stuff around and arguably despite a “postmodern moment” more is arriving all the time albeit with different roots and stylistic details.

    So, in the spirit of architectural criticism I will give you four of my modernist icons to start the ball rolling

    (1) LGI boiler house (at least I think that is what it is) next to the Dental hospital (itself a nice Brutal example) – now there are zillions of snaps of the Roger Stevens building on Tumblr and of course this part of Leeds Uni is listed but who notices that local classic of “Ersatz Bauhaus” providing the power for the LGI? Modest in scale but nicely proportioned with that tasteful purity so much associated with the Dessau original. This is a late example of the state led modernism of the social democratic era.

    (2) The Yorkshire Bank branch at Moortown Corner – this is an example of the style known as “La Moderne Foue” – all crazy angled windows, “see their legs” upstairs staff room and dubious use of materials – set within the-impossible-to-access-without-having-a -crash car park. A moment of “never had it so good” consumer society, I would like to find the time to explore more of these modernist outliers of which I’m sure there are more, before the brand completely disappears.

    (3) Royal Observer Corps Group HQ Yeadon – in the complex relationship between object, users and viewers clearly buildings don’t only present themselves in form but also “irradiate” many other cultural, social and political representations. So, with this one in what I shall call the “Brutalissimus” style it is not so much the building’s form, which is utilitarian in the extreme (even to its anti- flash white paint) but its purpose which commands our attention. Should Leeds have been terminated in a nuclear war, apart from the council war room (now demolished) this would have been the last redoubt. Interestingly when I last looked the power supply was still on.

    (4) Pick any of the office sheds at Thorpe Park – it’s important to realise the modernist architectural style if not its substance is still being churned out today to signify or possibly disguise the idea of “progress” being created within. I’m calling this style “svelte neo modernism” – the architectural details are a bit cliched in my opinion but are very much of the millennium period. Given all the development planned and on-gong around Thorpe Park it will be interesting to see what appears next.

    An eclectic mixture but each evocative in its own way – the canvass of Leeds Modernism is truly inexhaustible.

    1. Am not sufficiently on top of modernism to be certain of my subject but I’ll list three anyway with the confidence of a dilettante (please eliminate if not modernist):

      1. the Woodhouse Lane car park (a non-driver’s delight – glorious at any time of the day or season but especially viewed panoramically at dusk if it’s raining)

      2. the Arndale Centres at Crossgates and Headingley (by contrast the Shipley Arndale is quite possibly the ugliest building in West Yorkshire and its wretchedness prejudiced me against Hagenbach and Chippindale for too long)

      3. The Engineering faculty building at UoL (a fairly predictable choice perhaps but I like it, I like it)

    2. John, you might be interested to know that I was ‘browsing’ through a history of the LGI today which happened to refer to the LGI Generating Station Complex. Apparently it was built to cater for an enormously enlarged LGI that was planned in the 60s but never constructed. The Chief Executive of the LGI at the time decided to push on with the Generating Station even after the project was abandoned, though it was then much too big for purpose and they ended up ‘pumping’ excess electricity into the National Grid! That was pre-Clarendon and Jubilee Wing though, so I imagine things are more in proportion now. TBH, I worked at the LGI for quite a few years but I can’t say that I really have much impression of the Generating Station, tucked in as it was round the back.

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