Over the past decade, there’s been a parabolic swell of a very particular appreciation for modernist architecture, best exemplified by Manchester’s (and now Sheffield’s) Modernist Society. The blueprints are there, too, in society patron Johnny Marr‘s Hexagon Tower-set video for the aptly-titled New Town Velocity, as well as The Magnetic North‘s ambivalent anthems to another new town in the North West on their Prospect Of Skelmersdale.

The cultural appeal appears to lie almost as much in a nostalgia for a time when utopian aspiration seemed possible – before dystopia became the default vision of things to come – as in the clean geometries of the buildings themselves.

Recently opened at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Special Collections Gallery, Drawing The Modern draws back the curtain on the process and progress of one such local architect, tracing his development from sketchbook to concrete.

Gordon Hodkinson studied at Manchester Municipal School of Art from 1944 to 1951 under its then head of architecture, Douglas Jones, absorbing a curriculum founded on Bauhaus. After his graduation he worked for Cruickshank and Seward (the latter of the two partners had sponsored his degree), principally under William Arthur Gibbon.

Day-Sketch-for-a-Bungalow-Gordon-Hodkinson.jpgViewed through a layperson’s eyes, his never-built student pieces, their titles hand-lettered in a gorgeously lucid font, their designs rendered with an elegant precision and meticulous understatement that anticipates the work of graphic novelist Chris Ware – whose own Street Stories echo an interest in the dialogue between architecture and living – are especially captivating. Peculiarly potent with possibility are his Museum Of Modern Art, Platt Fields and, sounding like a lost Morrissey album, A Remand Home For Boys.

After half a century’s passing, not all that became actual remains unaltered – the Royal Institute of British Architects’ bronze medal awarded to Renold House in Burnage was demolished to be supplanted by a Tesco – although his handiwork can still be traced across the city, including the abandoned Ferranti factory in Wythenshawe.

Appositely enough given the exhibition’s locale, many of the realised projects are for campus constructions. Locally, Hodkinson was the project architect of the Renold Building at what was then UMIST and, across the Irish Sea, he worked in collaboration with Brenda Calvin on the now-effaced Queen’s University, Belfast Elms Halls of Residence.

This, then, seems to be the lot of the architect; in seeking permanence, to be subject to history’s erasures, no matter how assured one’s line. Drawing The Modern captures the relics of these butterfly constructions under glass, fixing them in paper and ink.

By Desmond Bullen

(Main image: Day sketch for an architect’s retreat Gordon Hodkinson) 


Drawing the Modern PosterDrawing the Modern: the work of Gordon Hodkinson and post-war architectural education in Manchester is on at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Special Collections Gallery until April 2019.