Power to the postwar: architecture’s most scorned era finally gets some love

It may not have given rise to many beloved landmarks, but this week, 14 office blocks from the postwar era got listed status. And they’re an innovative bunch, from a space-age tower of Pisa to the hanging gardens of Basingstoke

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‘The hanging gardens of Basingstoke’ – aka Gateway House – is among 14 newly listed postwar office building
‘The hanging gardens of Basingstoke’ – aka Gateway House – is among 14 newly listed postwar office buildings / © James O Davies/English Heritage
‘The hanging gardens of Basingstoke’ – aka Gateway House – is among 14 newly listed postwar office building
‘The hanging gardens of Basingstoke’ – aka Gateway House – is among 14 newly listed postwar office buildings / © James O Davies/English Heritage

One of them leans out precipitously into the street, the sharp white teeth of its stacked arcades framing sleek bands of tinted windows. From across the road, its curving prow recalls a top-heavy Tower of Pisa with a space-age twist, as if the Imperial Stormtroopers HQ has had a makeover. Fifty miles away, another emerges from a tangle of shrubbery in a business park, a multi-storey slab that looks like it’s been overtaken by nature. Foliage drips from its cascading terraces in the manner of a modernist Angkor Wat.

Both 30 Cannon Street, in the City of London, and Gateway House – aka “the hanging gardens of Basingstoke” – are extraordinary examples of what an office building can be. And this week, they received just acknowledgement in the form of Grade II listed status.

They join a group of a dozen other buildings that have been singled out for listing as part of English Heritage’s latest project to assess postwar offices from 1964–84, a period and building type that might not immediately jump to mind as fertile ground for producing cherished landmarks.

“We have to stay ahead of the game,” says Roger Bowdler, director of designations at English Heritage. “There’s no big book saying what matters from this period. The jury’s still out, and we have to make our decision before it has returned.” ….

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