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||| The significance of the Huddersfield Cooperative extension |||
As a powerful retailer in the north of England, the Co-op ran its own architectural department, producing good modern design. J.W. Cropper reputedly travelled to Russia in the early 1930s. Other buildings designed by him in association with W.A. Johnson, the Co-op's chief architect, are in Eastbank Street, Southport (1934), and Sunbridge Road, Bradford (1935) which was recently listed at Grade II.
The former Huddersfield Co-op is the first and best example of a truly modern building in Huddersfield. It has a handsome composition and is a very good 1930s commercial building. It must have been revolutionary in its design in Huddersfield on its opening on 29 May 1937.
"..it gives the town of Huddersfield a store that is entirely modern in design and equipped on the most up-to-date lines-a store of which the townspeople generally, and co-operators in particular, can be proud."Its elements and massing provoke an emotional response that is unique in Huddersfield. Its delicious simplicity, elegance and asymmetry is not seen elsewhere in the town. Surviving buildings such as the 1935 High Street Buildings, the 1936 Palace Theatre and the 1939 library all have strong historic and classical references that don't have the excitement of the Co-op emporium.
The use of materials, bold simplicity and modern stone cut typography exhibit the contemporary continental modernist style being pioneered by Erich Mendelsohn, Serge Chermayeff, Walter Gropius, Peter Behrens, Mies Van de Rohe and Le Corbusier.
However there is something different here. It is said that architects outside London tended to make their own rules about what they wanted 'modern'. That is demonstrated here. The continuous ribbon horizontal windows demonstrate the modernist's view that new materials free the architect from the jacket of load bearing walls and traditional detailing. However, the building does however express conservatism with some interesting detailing compared with London's avant-garde Peter Jones building of the same date. On the New Street elevation, a kneeling pair of maned lions, in high relief before a sun disc, resting their forepaws on the block ingeniously honours the flagpole.
"The extensions follow the modern trend in architecture, simple yet effective in design, with the maximum use made of horizontal lines. The most striking feature of the building is undoubtedly the window space. The large show windows on the street level make an. impressive sight, and so, too, do the horizontal strips along the front of the building and the three long "columns" of glass at the East Parade corner. The same horizontal "lines" of windows are also to be found at the rear of the premises, so that the whole store is exceptionally well lighted."The Co-op's windows have influenced Huddersfield architects over the decades. The New Street stairwell fenestration is repeated on the stairwells of the 1964 Civic Centre. The staircase on the Queensgate side is lit by one tall window - a house in Longwood was recently remodelled with such a Queensgate stairwell design 7 panes high and 3 wide in imitation (M F Greetham, 1998).
The rear of the building should not be overlooked. If one ignores the later semi industrial accretions, some of the most audacious elements can be seen with cheaper materials. The ribbon glazing is more extensive, a tall window is wrapped around a convex corner and one third floor room with two curtain walls of glazing is cantilevered out into space.
The Huddersfield Co-op building was put forward for listing and even though it was turned down its merits are significant and its massing and elevations contribute significantly and positively to the conservation area.
The Co-op carries a civic presence on its very prominent site. Standing at the edge of the town centre, at the top of Chapel Hill, it commands the view from a considerable distance down the valley. It accomplishes this 'landmarking' very elegantly, however. The two principle facades form a well mannaered address to New Street and Queensgate. The corner element handles the junction between the major facades in a most sophisticated move, allowing the major planes to slide past a receding vertical element of glazing, which itself address the larger townscape. We also see strong references to art deco 'ocean liner' aesthetic in the roofscape. To see this accomplished handling of a modernist language in 1930's northern Britain is extremely unusual, to see it manifest in stone in possibly unique.
It complements the Frank Abbey and John Henry Hanson (1886) and J Berry (1893-4) Cooperative building - all listed. It featured in the Architectural Review of the year for 1937.
"THE Huddersfield Industrial Society's new premises are a notable addition to the town's main street. But not only does the new building lend distinction to Buxton Road and the top of East Parade…"
"The building standing as it does at the top of Chapel Hill is a notable addition to town's main street"The architectural historian Alan Powers has said the the work of Cropper and Johnson is socially interesting (2005). As was the case with most Co-operative Societies the Huddersfield Society had had a humble and difficult beginning that even predated the Rochdale Pioneers. Cooperation was started to improve the social conditions of the working classes as it did so did its architecture. Not surprisingly its architecture was generally conservative and imitative of established designs. The 1929 stock market crash led to the difficult years for the movement during the depression. In its golden era the Huddersfield Industrial Society was, in this £125,000 building, exhibiting a confidence in the movement and the future that brushed away ill lit stores and old design.
At the opening ceremony the Mayor of Huddersfield, Ald Norman Crossley, "remarked amid laughter that there was a time when you could always tell the Co-op if you walked down the street, because it was a mucky hole with one little window".
This part of the town's social and commercial heritage should not be brushed aside.
It would be wasteful and unnecessary to demolish the building only to replace it with a the proposed much bigger building which would not respond to the site as well as the existing building does. The report by English Heritage prepared during the listing application process stresses that 'the Huddersfield Cooperative (performs) an important visual role in its locality'. English Heritage also says that 'it is sufficiently well protected by its position in a conservation area'.
The building ought to be reused. It could be converted for a number of uses.
In 1988 there was interest in redevelopment of the building. The chief planning officer of Kirklees Council told Greycoat Properties that the 1937 extension was "regarded as a good example of its period, and there would be quite a weight of opinion against its demolition".
It is ironic that just as British modernism is being celebrated by the major exhibition at the V&A and soon after Alan Powers' massive work of 2005 Modern: The Modern Movement in Britain, that consideration is being given to demolition of a fine addition to our streetscape.
Acknowledgments to: Architectural Review, English Heritage, Huddersfield Daily Examiner, The Twentieth Century Society , Albert Booth, Norman Culley, Keith Gibson, Alan Powers, David Wyles and Huddersfield Gem members.