Coventry is an interesting case to show how the choice to modernise a historic centre devastated by war is a complex and controversial road that starts a much slower and more difficult process of reconstruction than expected, and not always leading to success. On 14 November 1940 Coventry, an important industrial town but also one of better preserved medieval English cities, was almost totally destroyed by an aerial blitz of the Luftwaffe that sarcastically borrowed the title of Mondscheinsonate, the sonata of Ludwig van Beethoven. Among the ruins of the ancient centre only the spier and the perimeter walls of the medieval cathedral of St. Michael were still partially standing which focused the need on the first and most immediate reconstruction. The reconstruction explored a modernist and symbolic monumentality, an old-new relationship between “shell” and “phoenix” evoking the theme of Sacrifice and Resurrection, fully expressed by the project of Scottish architect Basil Spence. Also modernist was the reconstruction of the city, starting by re-launching the pre-war plan drawn up by the English urbanist Donald E. E. Gibson; a reconstruction that contrasted a “Coventry of Tomorrow” to the idea of the historic centre “where it was and how it was”, pursued in other European cities destroyed by bombing like Dresden and Warsaw. Today, Coventry is still a curious city with a “leopard skin” shape, characterised by medieval traces, concrete buildings and urban voids in the ancient centre, that has tried to regain its identity only from the nineteen-nineties, with the Phoenix Initiative, an intervention for the revival of the alienated historical centre through a path from the past to the future of the city.

Coventry: Shell or Phoenix, City of Tomorrow or Concrete Jumble? From Reconstruction to the Phoenix Initiative

Patrizia Montuori
2021

Abstract

Coventry is an interesting case to show how the choice to modernise a historic centre devastated by war is a complex and controversial road that starts a much slower and more difficult process of reconstruction than expected, and not always leading to success. On 14 November 1940 Coventry, an important industrial town but also one of better preserved medieval English cities, was almost totally destroyed by an aerial blitz of the Luftwaffe that sarcastically borrowed the title of Mondscheinsonate, the sonata of Ludwig van Beethoven. Among the ruins of the ancient centre only the spier and the perimeter walls of the medieval cathedral of St. Michael were still partially standing which focused the need on the first and most immediate reconstruction. The reconstruction explored a modernist and symbolic monumentality, an old-new relationship between “shell” and “phoenix” evoking the theme of Sacrifice and Resurrection, fully expressed by the project of Scottish architect Basil Spence. Also modernist was the reconstruction of the city, starting by re-launching the pre-war plan drawn up by the English urbanist Donald E. E. Gibson; a reconstruction that contrasted a “Coventry of Tomorrow” to the idea of the historic centre “where it was and how it was”, pursued in other European cities destroyed by bombing like Dresden and Warsaw. Today, Coventry is still a curious city with a “leopard skin” shape, characterised by medieval traces, concrete buildings and urban voids in the ancient centre, that has tried to regain its identity only from the nineteen-nineties, with the Phoenix Initiative, an intervention for the revival of the alienated historical centre through a path from the past to the future of the city.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11697/176235
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