As a lover of anything that brightens up our everyday environment, I have long been a fan of murals. Having discovered this one by chance, languishing at one end of a dismal shopping precinct, on a day trip to Coventry a few years ago, I was amazed to see it was by Gordon Cullen. I only knew of him through his pioneering work on the idea of townscape, from articles in Architectural Review to his seminal book Townscape, later republished as The Concise Townscape, published in 1961. He thought that urban design should aim “to take all the elements that go to create the built environment: buildings, trees, nature, water, traffic, advertisements, and so on, and to weave them in such a way that drama is released”. (Cullen, 1961, p.9)
He used Italian hill towns as a model to show how a walk through a town should lead to a series of ‘jerks’ and ‘revelations’ which stimulate and excite the walker.
“If … we design our towns from the point of view of the moving person (pedestrian or car-borne) it is easy to see how the whole city becomes a plastic experience, a journey through pressures and vacuums, a sequence of exposures and enclosures, of constraint and relief.” (Cullen, 1961, p.10)
The Coventry mural was designed in 1967 and has been cut down and moved from its original location, but at least it survives and my chancing upon it indeed had the effect Cullen might have wished for.
Then a few weeks ago I happened to pick up a leaflet for a one day design fair at a school in West London and discovered that another Gordon Cullen mural had been newly restored and was about to be officially revealed, after a long campaign.
Painted in 1952-3 and in a school by Erno Goldfinger, this was a hidden gem. I was reminded of the School Prints project of the 1940s, as well as the original Picture Puffins Series, some of which were for sale at the fair. I met a lovely lady, Catherine Burke, a Cambridge academic, who has edited and written several books on the art and architecture of schools. The Decorated School (published by the ever enterprising Black Dog Publishing) which I bought there, is a fascinating selection of articles, including one featuring Greenside, as well as one on Asger Jorn’s Decorations for Århus Statsgymnasium.
The school seemed to be well-loved too.
A riposte to Michael Gove who does not think architects should be involved in building schools, and I seem to remember does not think much of art in schools either.