Leisure

The seventh in this series of broadsheets from The British Land Company PLC considers buildings associated with leisure activities of various kinds and periods - from theatre-going in Elizabethan times via the Victorian seaside holiday to today's Hi-Tech and Postmodernist structures. Leisure habits change rapidly and the entertainment industry needs to be abreast of fashion if it is to survive and prosper in a fiercely competitive market. The other side of this, of course, is that its properties soon look outmoded once a particular fad has passed. Heavy ornamentation in cast iron, for instance, was once very much in demand but was widely derided in the latter part of the 19th century, when progressive architects were turning to lighter, more sophisticated materials. Yet we see so little cast iron today that we probably value it far more than our forebears ever did - it seems to express a robust sense of optimism and exuberance, as a result of which it is now experiencing a revival in architectural circles.

Fashions are also reflected in the uses a building may be put to - the pier-head pavilion, once filled with the lush melodies of a dance orchestra, now echoes to the electronic barrage of the amusement arcade; the Art Deco cinema becomes a bingo hall; a dingy football stadium is turned into an all-purpose family leisure centre with gym, sauna, swimming pool and restaurant. Change is rapid and irresistible: if skating goes the way of the hula-hoop, we might ponder what new use could be found for Nicholas Grimshaw's extraordinary ice rink in Oxford. The more adaptable the building, though, the more likely it will survive the demolition team when its number is called. Even now, comparatively few leisure buildings enjoy listed building status and it is largely through their versatility - or the efforts of dedicated enthusiasts - that so many relics of a bygone age survive today.

Some of the most visually interesting buildings in the country are concerned with Leisure. The reason is not hard to find. To be successful, and to make a profit for the proprietors, they have to attract the eye, so that people notice them and want to make use of them for their own entertainment and pleasure. Their architectural character lacks the subtlety of a mellow Tudor cottage or old country church. It is instantaneous, fashionable, loud and uncompromising, attempting to seize our attention and make us reach for our cash. We expect a bank to look reliable, and a company's head office to be impressive - so the places where we go to enjoy ourselves need to say very clearly This is where people have fun'. After this initial surge of interest, only a few of the customers eagerly streaming through their doors would ever give these buildings more than a passing glance. For most people, it is what goes on inside which really matters and so the exterior is, literally, merely the gateway to a pleasurable experience. Here, however, we might look a little more closely at buildings that reflect developments in popular entertainment. We can see how their structure mirrors both their purpose and also the many different ways we have found of amusing ourselves.


The British Land Company PLC, (Educational Publications), 10 Cornwall Terrace, Regent's Park, London NW1 4QP The text and illustrations are copyright but may be photocopied and circulated for classroom use.
British Land Broadsheets

1599 - Elizabethan Theatre