After discovering the rich history and changes within the city of Coventry, I’ve come to the conclusion that a planned city is one where its people and council aspire to improve and develop the city’s buildings, landscapes and resources to better itself economically, socially and reputably. A planned city requires the willingness and evidences years of plans, re-plans and changes, a strenuous task but all in order to fulfill the ultimate goal: to create a great city. It is not one that has developed naturally. It has had much human intervention and thought. A planned city is one created by ideals and hopes for the future. Coventry embodies all of this.
The Second World War and the aftermath from The Blitz, caused the first major changes in Coventry’s landscape and plans. As late as 1920 Coventry was being described as one of the best preserved mediaeval towns in Europe. However, in years passing the ancient streets were beginning to be cleared as car city could no longer support a mediaeval street pattern. Therefore, Luftwaffe (The Blitz) merely accelerated what had already begun and forced Coventry’s building plans and aspirations into action whilst altering the city of Coventry forever.
However, in the winter of 1945-6 the centre of Coventry was still a grey, unpainted wasteland with cellars and temporary corrugated-iron buildings. The life of a whole community had been dislocated and those who could remember the cheerful, friendly pre-war shopping crowds and successful industries and many factories were painfully aware of the change. Whilst grieving along with the rest of Coventry’s population, once the rubble was cleared the City Architect and the council were not slow to publicise the positive aspect of the blitz and grasp the fact that the bombing had presented them with a clean canvas on which to build a new city. This offered the chance to re-construct the city from medieval to modern, creating excitement in the people of the city and catapulting it to worldwide attention as Coventry was about to embark on some massive changes in its landscape and buildings.
I feel the need to point out that these changes weren’t just to prove to the rest of the world that Coventry was still standing and determined to regain all that the city had lost and more, it was also to make the city habitable again. Homes were destroyed, schools demolished and access to necessary food and drink limited. The changes in the city were necessary in order to survive. But the council did see it as a chance to go further and beyond and improve the city of Coventry to what before would have been unimaginable or still in the pipeline.
The landscape and plans for the look of the city of Coventry was also changed due to the switch of architectures. Young architect Donald Gibson was the initial architect who led the design and plans for the city. Gibson’s redevelopments included one of Europe’s first traffic-free shopping precincts, Broadgate and the Upper Precinct and in creating an overall homely feeling in the city whilst wanting to maintain its medieval buildings. However, Gibson resigned from his post in Coventry in 1954 and Arthur Ling took his place with new ideas on how to develop and change Coventry’s landscape. Ling created the redevelopments of The Lower Precinct, The Belgrade, The Swimming Baths and ultimately reversed the homely style of Gibson by adding tower blocks to the Coventry landscape. Lights and glass were also used in many of the constructions bringing the impression of liveliness.
As a result, the Coventry landscape now features tall buildings, glass and sweeping angles and shapes as well as homely buildings and medieval features. I believe this adds to the appeal of Coventry. The contrast between modern and new is riveting and further emphasises the city’s reputation of rising from the ashes. This is also reflected in the plan to keep the old medieval Coventry Cathedral as a ruin, to commemorate the war and deciding to build a new Cathedral alongside. The city’s landscape shows how we are still intact with our heritage whilst willing and wanting to make it modern and up to date with the times. This attracts a multitude of people thus encouraging the improvement of the city’s economy.
Coventry then underwent substantial economic and socio-demographic changes as a result of de-industrialisation and re-structuring of local economies during the 1970s-80s which saw the country being governed by a Conservative Party, led by first female Prime Minister in Britain Margaret Thatcher. This meant the closure of numerous factories and industries in the city, thus causing mass unemployment. This economic decline changed plans for the city of Coventry, as now there were buildings needed allocated new purposes whilst the people in the city were frustrated and amidst angry protests to regain their jobs. Coventry’s motor industries never fully restored and the city was left in rubble once more. The current William Morris Building is a good representation of the city’s change of landscape, plans and people during this time. The building was in conjunction of the city’s height of industrialization then was suddenly converted to the Department of Social Security where the Coventry population would visit frequently in order to get their doll money. This shows the decline in employment and economy.
After being hit by two recessions (1981 and 1991) Coventry was desperate to revive its stance, reputation and economy. This was all solved through heavily laid out plans on improving educational facilities. The city made detailed plans to form more higher education schools and colleges, which was a success. The city created sixteen comprehensive schools. These were built to bring more people from other cities into Coventry and choose to reside here, as education is important for any growing child. Also, as Coventry is central it’s easy to access meaning that people from all corners of the country have easy access to a great education and opportunity in life. Coventry was redeeming its reputation of great opportunity and hope, maybe not in motor industries anymore, but in a great education. Whilst these plans were all in the workings from the 1940’s, Coventry University was not in the makings really until the 1960’s and finally completed in 1992. The success of the city’s comprehensive schools was a sign to much greater things and it was.
The city decided to form Coventry University I believe: to continue in improving the higher education in the city, to give access to others across the country and worldwide for a chance to gain a great education, to improve the city’s economy but to most importantly once more prove the successes that can be gained out of hardships (such as the rebuilding of the city after the war). The development of the University over the year has made the city of Coventry a multi-cultured and bright place to live. It’s creating and encouraging artistic talents and disciplined sciences. The University has added a new layer of success to the landscape of Coventry, featuring tall university blocks and student residential blocks. Its riveting and exciting. The buildings of the buildings combine old and new again fitting in with the theme of Coventry. Fallen, old, medieval and revived, new and modern. The William Morris Building again reflects this journey and change in the landscape because from being the DSS it was renovated into The Coventry School of Business. A nice circular motion, don’t you think?
Overall. I wanted to focus on the William Morris Building to reflect the changes Coventry has gone through which coincide perfectly with the changes made in this building. Coventry had great industrialisation and employment which was tested by war and shattered by the government and recessions but the City has been revived again thanks to education. These changes have also seen changes in the behavior of the people of Coventry. We responded and became renowned for our acts of peace and reconciliation after the war as the world witnessed this small town re-build itself entirely and gain back our industries and jobs. This was shattered after the 1981 recession. Racism, angst, riots and protests were now the norm for the people of Coventry. This was turned around with the developments in higher education. Coventry is now known for appealing and welcoming those from other cities and overseas, creating a multi-cultured community. Its people welcome and celebrate different cultures, unlike in the 1980’s. The city and its people are famed for its ability to revive like the Phoenix rises from the ashes which has done again and again and will continue in doing.