chapter  14
16 Pages

In search of New Syntheses: Urban Form, Late Flowering Modernism, and the Making of Megastructural Cumbernauld

ByJohn R. Gold

These words, taken from reminiscences recorded by Geoffrey Copcutt, remind us of a short-lived but fascinating episode in both the development of the British New Towns and the history of modern architecture. Copcutt was the Group Architect of the town center or “Central Area” at the Scottish New Town of Cumbernauld. Although Cumbernauld broke with many of the established practices of the existing generation of fourteen Mark I British New Towns (founded between 1947 and 1950), its most revolutionary feature was the design of its Central Area (Fig. 14.1). With its car parks and service areas at ground level linked by stairs and lifts to shops, offices, leisure facilities, and dwellings located above, the Cumbernauld Central Area represented perhaps the most comprehensive example of vertical separation of pedestrians and vehicles seen anywhere in Britain in the postwar period (HoughtonEvans 1975: 106). Its aesthetics, especially the use of raw concrete and unadorned geometric shapes in its external surfaces, resonated with the then-prevailing preoccupations of modern architecture. Its monumentality also attracted attention, spectacularly dominating the skyline in a manner that many compared with the citadel of a medieval hilltop town (Ravetz 1980: 125).