New book reassesses the work of Sir Frederick Gibberd – architect, town planner and landscape designer

Sir Frederick Gibberd was an architect, town planner and landscape designer.  His practice completed around 100 major projects ranging from housing and town centres to nuclear power stations and reservoirs, via schools, libraries and technical colleges.  His key works (a number of which are listed) include Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral,  London Central Mosque in Regent’s Park, the Master Plan for Harlow New Town, Didcot Power Station and the original terminal buildings at London Airport (now Heathrow Airport).

Gibberd began his career at the forefront of modern architecture in Britain. He was fully committed to modernist principles and his first significant building, Pullman Court in Streatham, is still regarded as a masterpiece of the International Style in England.

So why has Gibberd’s work been largely excluded from narratives of modern architecture in Britain?

After the Second World War, Gibberd developed his aesthetic design approach to create a softer distinctly English form of modern architecture and town planning. His emphasis on aesthetics led each new building to fit sympathetically into its surrounding environment; he was not concerned with the ‘isolated monument’ but rather the wider urban context.  Combining his skills as an architect, town planner and landscape architect, he sought to create visually pleasing buildings, townscapes and landscapes for people to enjoy.

His focus on the environment and the aesthetic gave rise to criticism that he had abandoned the principles of the Modern Movement. Many conventional narratives discount him as a serious figure because he developed this artistic approach.

Christine Hui Lan Manley challenges this conventional view of Gibberd and offers a comprehensive reassessment of his life and work.

Despite a prolific 50 year career very little has been written about Gibberd.  The sheer range and diversity of projects has meant that he is difficult to categorise.  There is no convenient label we can attach to him or his work.  Condemned as conservative, formless and dull by some, frivolous by others, Manley argues that Gibberd’s body of work deserves greater recognition in the narrative of 20th-century modernist architecture.

This book reaffirms his role as a significant twentieth-century architect.

Christine Hui Lan Manley is an architectural historian.  She works in architectural practice, specialising in housing design and layouts. When Frederick Gibberd died 33 years ago, he left many diary notes, sketch books and travel journals, as well as a large file labelled ‘BIOGRAPHY’ – this has been a great source of material for Christine who spent three years researching in the archives at the Gibberd Garden.

Twentieth Century Architects Series

Frederick Gibberd is part of the Twentieth Century Architects series published by Historic England. This series jointly commissioned by Historic England and the Twentieth Century Society is designed to create enjoyable and accessible introductions to the work of architects who deserve more attention.  By widening the knowledge about these under-represented architects the series contributes to the work of protecting significant buildings from demolition or disfigurement.

The Twentieth Century Society campaigns for the preservation of architecture and design in Britain from 1914 onwards.  Historic England is the public body that looks after the historic environment.