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Learning To Love Modernism

Cliff Richard fans may have been know it for years, it's where the popstar rollerskated whilst performing his video, Wired for Sound, but most outside Milton Keynes will not be familiar with the MK Centre.

With the news that the MK Centre has now been given a Grade II listing making it a protected historical building, many find themselves bemused that such a thing as a shopping mall can be considered of much importance, particularly as it is in Milton Keynes, a new town better known for its roundabouts than its stunning architecture.

This isn't any old shopping mall though but one of the most important examples of modernist retail architecture in the UK. It was originally masterplanned in the sixties with construction running from 1973 to 1979 making it just one of many of the post-war shopping centres that sprung up over Britain.

Of particular interest however are the two huge glazed areas that tip a nod to international architecture with their minimalist metal frames and full height transparent glazing.

At the same time it merges a retail area and a winter garden into one thanks to the fact these areas were internally landscaped by Roger Griffiths and Tony Southard with the northern arcade accommodating temperate plants and the warmer southern one contain semi tropical ones. The arcades have even been constructed to line up along the same axis as Midsummer Boulevard meaning on the summer solstice the sun will shine through them just as it does Stonehenge.

Such lavish public amenity combined with philosophical expression would be almost unthinkable now as developers try to wring every penny they can out of the land they own, but the volume (or scale of the architecture), combined with the surface (simply geometry) and the plan (the alignment that creates a rhythm of space) are modernism personified.

The building owners, Hermes Property Asset Management and PRUPI, aren't happy but it's this same attitude that the property is under their sole control to be modified that has always been carried out in the name of progress - the same thing that's seen many fine buildings demolished or changed beyond recognition from Princes Street in Edinburgh to Euston Square in London.

Of course, these buildings were unappreciated in their day too as it is with all architectural styles of the immediate past that fall out of fashion. Only with the passage of time and the changes in our society that renders them anarchronisms do we come to realise the true importance of them.

Perhaps in 200 years time when a Star Trek style replicator has been invented thanks to a self-fulfilling prophecy and commerce and retail become obsolete, we will have crowds of tourists visit the MK Centre to learn about how throngs of people once went shopping.
MK Centre, Milton Keynes
MK Centre, Milton Keynes