Modern Futures

Lead Research Organisation: Manchester Metropolitan University
Department Name: School of Science and the Environment


This interdisciplinary research network brings together academics, representatives from the creative industries, policy-makers, and activist groups to explore the legacies and possible futures of modern architecture: buildings like Birmingham Central Library, London's South Bank Centre, St Peter's Seminary and Preston Bus Station, whose future is currently being actively debated.

In September 2013 Preston Bus Station was granted listed Grade II status following a sustained period of campaigning that involved conservation societies, architectural enthusiasts, local activists, artists, filmmakers and everyday bus users supporting this example of Brutalist architecture. Such widespread public support and interest in post-war modernism (although long the focus of architectural conservation societies) is a recent phenomenon. It took fifteen years of lobbying and campaigning to get Preston Bus Station listed, yet it was only in the last two years that the fate of this municipally owned building became something that garnered national and international attention. This is a reflection of the new and diverse interpretations of modern architecture that are now emerging, and of the novel activist and creative alliances that are being formed to celebrate and campaign for particular buildings and styles.

Coming at a moment when post-war architectural modernism is the focus of growing interest, but is still controversial and contested, an examination of the possible futures of this building style is critical and timely. Drawing on the perspectives of academics, professionals and community groups, the network will ask, for example, how is modern architecture valued (economically, socially and politically)? Who is speaking out for this architectural style? What groups and alliances have formed around particular buildings threatened with demolition? What gets knocked down, what gets saved? Who decides - market forces or public opinion? How might modern buildings be adapted and reused if their original purpose is no longer relevant? What does listed status mean for modern buildings? A safe future, or being destined to be mothballed as examples of 'historic interest'? The answers will provide new directions for conservation and regeneration policy, academic debate, and creative practice.

Planned Impact

Beyond the academic community, this research network will yield direct benefits for a range of policy-makers and public sector partners (including the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, the Department of Communities and Local Government, local councils, and English Heritage), third sector partners (The Twentieth Century Society, Docomomo), and private sector partners (architects and property developers, creative industries such as graphic designers and artists) involved with the network. It will also benefit local community groups and a wider interested public who care and campaign for modern architecture.

Potential impact therefore lies both in the direct exchange of ideas in the network between academics and these broader communities of interest and professional practice, and in the dissemination of the network's findings to the wider public. This engagement will be facilitated both through external-facing activity, such as construction of the publically-accessible website dedicated to the network, and through the three workshops and two film showings, which, through their diverse geographical locations (London, Preston, and Glasgow) will engage diverse communities of interest.

The research will benefit Government and Third Sector partners by contributing directly to policy making with regard to the listing and conservation of modern architecture. Insights from others invested in architectural modernism from a number of perspectives will:
- Enable critical discussions over listing decisions to take place, providing insights for future policy changes and developing understanding between different stakeholders.
- Increase the effectiveness of public policy and services around architectural heritage by increasing professional and public understanding of, and engagement in, listing, planning and development decisions.
- Highlight the collaborative opportunities for campaigning, education and redevelopment offered by partnering with other groups.

The Research network will yield benefits for Creative industry partners by providing:
- Opportunities to communicate their diverse and novel ways of documenting, understanding and celebrating modern architecture with policy makers, government, and third sector groups involved in architectural conservation and through this, influence current and future policy and practice.
- Opportunities to collaborate with academics to reflect on their own creative practice.

Local community groups will benefit through:
- The sharing of best practice around education and campaigning.
- The networking opportunities (with similar groups, as well as with policy, third sector and private sector organisations) afforded by the events.

Local government, planners, architects and developers will benefit directly and indirectly through the insights produced through the network's discussions and outputs, which will:
- Clarify current and possible future policy directions
- Provide evidence of current best practice around architectural conservation with regard to collaboration between private, public and community stakeholders.
- Produce new understandings of the economic, social and cultural value of modernist buildings and the ways that these can be preserved and harnessed
- Suggest ways in which creative solutions can be applied in plans for reuse and redevelopment.


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Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
AH/L015323/1 29/10/2014 06/12/2015 £17,052
AH/L015323/2 Transfer AH/L015323/1 06/03/2016 06/06/2016 £4,588
Description There has been a groundswell of interest in modernist architecture in recent years, particularly buildings from the second half of the twentieth century. Individuals and groups are engaging with modernist architecture in the form of popular histories, documentaries and community projects, and digital and social media. Alongside this growing popularity however, many of these buildings are under threat from demolition and regeneration. Modern Futures explores these trends, their connections, and how more popular and creative engagements might be used to inform the uncertain future of modernist architecture.
Exploitation Route The publication 'Modern Futures' contains summaries of the key debates and ideas that arose from the Modern Futures network, it is accessible to a broad public interested in design and architecture and also to those with more specific professional interests in architectural conservation. As such it may influence popular and professional debates and thinking on modernist architecture and heritage.
Sectors Construction,Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Fostering debate around modernist architecture and heritage across creative sectors, professional bodies and enthusiast groups.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

Description Modern Futures book launch 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 60 people attended the Modern Futures book launch at King's College London, editors (Neate and Craggs) provided an introduction, contributors gave short intros to their chapters, discussion followed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016