Site Structure and Disciplines Involved

This work proposes that, for a short period, one of the strongest factors influencing architectural design was a commonly held, subconscious need to project a landscape of trauma from memory. Timewise, this means that images formed in memory in 1914-18 were only fully expressed in the late-Fifties and early-Sixties. It is clear from this that the subjects of military history or architectural history will not be enough to explain what is being suggested.

The Main Proposal, therefore, and hence the site, involves interweaving three areas of study: psychology, history and architecture. Only when these are knitted together does the full body of work cohere into a single, containing narrative, which is clarified in the concluding sections. To consider this metaphorically, it is as if the architecture might be represented as the behaviour of a client presenting themselves to a therapist; the Great War history is the early, formative story of that client; and the psychology is the suite of psychical mechanisms that link this history and the later architecture as cause and effect.

The site therefore opens with consideration of the psychological mechanisms that seem to underpin the proposal. This provides a foundation for a re-telling of history, in the Chronology 1 section. At the climax of this story, when what we know as ‘Sixties Architecture’ reached its fullest expression in Britain, a comprehensive presentation – The Main Evidence – is made of the architectural features that I believe support the main proposal. This, finally, leads to the synthesising narrative at the end, in Chronology 2, which, hopefully, allows us to see the subject matter in a fuller light.

To elaborate on the inter-disciplinarity, one reason the proposal has not been suggested before is that, because it draws on the work of several disciplines, specialists in any one of the subjects have not been led to it. The┬áthree suggested disciplines – psychology, history and architecture – that underlie the will of memory give the story its mechanisms, its protagonists and its evidence.

Psychology: The suggestion that memories of a war profoundly affected architecture half a century later sounds far-fetched and beyond the paradigms of most architectural theory (although a tentative start on the psychoanalysis of buildings was made by Aldo Rossi in the mid-1960s; Rossi, 1965). At the very least it would need a mechanism or process linking the two. That link is available in the discipline of psychology, and the psychology of mourning in particular. Freud suggested that, following the experience of a traumatic event, grief could progress from mourning into melancholia (Freud, 1915). If mourning does not satisfy the needs of the grieving process, melancholia develops. Consciously driven mourning then becomes subconsciously driven melancholia. More recent research into post-traumatic stress disorder subdivides both mourning and melancholia into three phases: forgetting, remembering/re-enacting and accepting. These phases can take decades to play out, and late-onset melancholic re-enacting can involve sufferers immersing themselves in the scenario, sometimes recreated, of the original trauma. Such mechanisms of melancholic mourning provide ample scope for my proposal on Sixties architecture to be played out.

History: The bald, and harrowing, statistics of Britain’s involvement in the Great War underline the amount of raw material in terms of psychic distress produced by the fighting. In 1914, the UK population was 40 million: of these, five million served on the Western Front. Of these, 750,000 were killed. Almost half a million bodies were never found. From January 1915 until March 1918, the war in the West was a war of little movement. The Western Front became largely static, developing into a complex, man-made feature of the landscape stretching 400 miles from the Channel to Switzerland. As a result, for over three years of war, for five million men, it was home. And it was in this new homeland that the terrors of trench warfare were experienced.

Architecture: The built environment provides the raw evidence that a memorial landscape (footnote) could be re-created. Architecture involves projecting and building images held in mind. These have many sources, including memories, and so provide the potential for the hypothesis. Architecture, however, also provides a mechanism – the design competition – by which this potential bank of images could be projected. At the drafting stage of any architectural project, when several designs may be under review and when approval is often sought from peers and clients, moments of recognition and correspondence between proposed designs and memory images could lead to traumatic elements being reproduced in architectural form. Thus, it is not only the architect’s vision that counts but also the clients’ and those – on innumerable committees – whose job it is to approve a design. For example, many bunker-type design elements on Sixties housing estates may have been built because many design committee members may have subconsciously recognised the design from their experience of precisely such features during the war.

[Footnote: Landscape refers to my understanding that traumatising images, say of a putrid corpse in the mud, are not projected but rather the place within which the focus of the image lies; in other words, what is rebuilt is the container, not that which is contained. In this way, the rebuilt landscape provides a home within which the story of survivors, of all that they have seen, can be reflected upon.]