‘New Elizabethan’: The Queen’s reign ushered in a new era for architecture – CNN | Ad On Picture

Written by Jonathan Glacey

Jonathan Glancey is a British architecture critic and author.

After Queen Elizabeth II acceded to the throne in February 1952, popular composer Ronald Binge changed the name of a light and graceful piece he had originally titled “The Man in the Street” to “Elizabethan Serenade”. He reportedly did this to reflect the optimism of the new Elizabethan age.

While equating the proverbial “man in the street” with the proclamation of a new queen might be seen as an act of lese majeste, Binge was clearly on to the trail. The Queen was 25 and began her reign in an era of sustained post-war austerity and food rations, equally marked by an upbeat new social accord – a fanfare for the common man – underpinned by a national health service. free education and welfare state.

London’s Royal Festival Hall in 1951. Recognition: Current Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Moreover, the dissolution of the British Empire was apparently an era not of pomp and circumstance but of modesty. Of modesty also in architecture, where the palatial country houses of Elizabeth I in England were replaced by such unassuming but inspired designs as the prefabricated schools thrown up by local government architects. Obviously, the architectural landscape of Queen Elizabeth II’s United Kingdom was intended to be very different.

The 1951 by King George VI. The Royal Festival Hall that opened had already set the tone for a new architecture that was modern, welcoming, elegant and democratic at the same time. The building’s location on a waterfront promenade was commanding, yet suited everyone from kings and queens to Ronald Binge’s man on the street.

The Barbican Estate in London is an example of the social housing that became increasingly common early in the Queen's reign.

The Barbican Estate in London is an example of the social housing that became increasingly common early in the Queen’s reign. Recognition: Sue Barr/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images

If the Queen’s reign had been short, architectural historians might have thus characterized the new Elizabethan era. However, Queen Elizabeth was Britain’s longest-serving monarch, and over the past 70 years, new British architecture has changed beyond recognition.

One could certainly speak of the new Elizabethan era in terms of the brutalist universities, hospitals, multi-storey car parks, art galleries and concert halls of the 1960s. Or the concrete social housing of that decade, with its constant dew and the formative humidity. Or the short-lived craze for plastic and disposables that came with the mini and miniskirt.

In July 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. In the same month, the Queen’s eldest son, Charles, was proclaimed Prince of Wales at an investiture ceremony at Caernarfon Castle. Within these medieval walls, Lord Snowdon – whose lightweight, diaphanous aviary at London Zoo, designed with Cedric Price and Frank Newby, had opened to critical acclaim in 1965 – created a theatrical backdrop for the event, which was celebrated by all measuring, pure ’60s.
The investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales in 1969.

The investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales in 1969. Recognition: Reginald Davis/REX/Shutterstock

Prince Charles took his oath under a perspex canopy (so much the better for TV cameras to see through) adorned with a plastic version of the Prince of Wales’s feathered emblem. Perhaps he wore a plastic raincoat rather than an ermine cloak.

If this was New Elizabethan architecture, then so was the reaction to this Modernism as Postmodernism and Neoclassical architecture bowed out after the economically depressed 1970s. The latter, promoted by the Prince of Wales, was heralded by a revival of chintz and stately home decor magazines such as The World of Interiors.
All of this was somehow of Elizabethan origin as well, as – most certainly – the restored and enlarged Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace. Designed by John Simpson and opened by the Queen during her Golden Jubilee in 2002, to house part of the royal collection held in trust for her successors and the nation, the new gallery featured a chaste Greco-Doric entrance that fronted multicolored galleries lies.
The Queen walks through the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace with President George W. Bush during his 2003 State Visit.

The Queen walks through the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace with President George W. Bush during his 2003 State Visit. Recognition: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

The project included stonemasons; woodcarver; gypsum, scagliola, copper and bronze workers; specialized carpenters and painters; Blacksmiths and carpenters. It was of Elizabethan origin, but as distant in spirit from perspex prefabricated schools and royal pavilions as John Simpson’s style was from the contemporary ‘high-tech’ architecture of Norman Foster and the late Richard Rogers.
The Queen walks over the Millennium Bridge over the Thames in 2000 before inaugurating it in a ceremony.

The Queen walks over the Millennium Bridge over the Thames in 2000 before inaugurating it in a ceremony. Recognition: Tim Graham/Getty Images

And yet high-tech architecture and today’s privateering, computer-altered design are Elizabethan too. A long reign in a rapidly changing world has made it almost impossible to characterize Neo-Elizabethan architecture in specific terms.

Still, if you listen to Binge’s “Elizabethan Serenade” with open ears, you might sense something of a promise of modesty, underpinned by a quiet grace and well-mannered elegance that somehow, despite so many changes, still spells New Elizabethan.

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