Past Events

Heathrow’s Genius Locus

Research Seminar – Mark Crinson

  • 19 October 2022
  • 6:00 – 8:00 pm
  • Paul Mellon Centre and Online

In this talk I will present some of the hypotheses and framing devices used in my new research project on the architectures and landscapes of peri-urban Heathrow, as well as short accounts of two contrasting case studies. The project spans the period 1945 to 2008 and looks at the airport’s development and its relation to the area around it (bounded by three motorways to the west, north and south, and by Hounslow Heath to the east). Through an episodic account, the project analyses the strong functional aspects of the flat landscape (reservoirs, carceral institutions, the airport) and their relation to certain examples of architecture in and around Heathrow. This, I contend, offers a refracted version of recent architectural history as salient aspects of modernism and postmodernism are differently angled in contact with the dramatically unbalanced relations between local and global interests in the Heathrow area. I want to contend that issues of utopia and dystopia, the vernacular, architectural experience, globalisation and historical development, are newly understood in the context of these conditions. In the two case studies I will discuss the Penguin building located beside the northern edge of the airport on the old Bath Road, and the Heathrow Hilton beside Terminal Four. The location of Penguin here, and the various incarnations of their warehouse and office facilities between the late 1930s and the mid-1970s, span a range of responses to the Heathrow environment, from “bypass moderne"/home counties country house to a retreat from the environment into Miesian Bürolandschaft. Flatness and the relation with the airport are articulated differently in the intra-Heathrow Hilton hotel which celebrates the placelessness of international travel through the hotel atrium’s relation to the sky as an idealised extraterritorial vision of boundlessness.

Listing image caption: London airport passenger terminal building (terminal 2). Architectural Review, 1955.

About the speaker

  • Head and shoulders portrait of Mark Crinson against a bookcase

    Mark Crinson was appointed Professor of Architectural History at Birkbeck in 2016, before that he had taught in the art history department at the University of Manchester for twenty-three years. Recently, he was Vice-President and President of the European Architectural History Network (2016–20), and directed Birkbeck’s Architecture Space and Society Centre (between 2017 and 2021). He specialises in four broad areas. His work on colonialism and architecture has resulted in three books: Empire Building: Victorian Architecture and Orientalism (1996), Modern Architecture and the End of Empire (2003, winner of the Spiro Kostof Prize), and Rebuilding Babel: Internationalism and Modern Architecture (2017). In the area of British post-war architecture he has published monographs on Stirling and Gowan: Architecture from Austerity to Affluence (2012, winner of the Historians of British Art Prize) and Alison and Peter Smithson (2018), as well as a co-edited collection (with Claire Zimmerman) on Neo-Avant-Garde and Postmodern: Postwar Architecture in Britain and Beyond (2010). On the historiography of architectural history and its relation to other disciplines he has published (co-authored with Richard J. Williams) The Architecture of Art History – A Historiography (2019), and (co-edited with Charlotte Ashby) Building/Object: Shared and Contested Territories of Design and Architecture (2022). Finally, on industry and architecture he has edited Urban Memory: History and Amnesia in the Modern City (2005), and most recently he has published his Paul Mellon Centre monograph, Shock City: Image and Architecture in Industrial Manchester (2022).