Eight Out of this World Examples of Space-Age Architecture

On 20th July 1969, the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle landed on the moon.

It was the first crewed craft to land in space. Six hours later, tens of millions of people across the world watched as Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon, followed less than 20 minutes later by Buzz Aldrin.

Design has always mirrored society, and both the Space Race and the Moon Landing had a huge impact on the era. They affected everything, from what we ate to how we cooked it, to what we drove and how we looked at life on our (now seemingly smaller) planet.

A new sense of optimism inspired designers who were influenced by Science Fiction as the public embraced technology and Modernism.

In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the first Moon Landing, we take a look at some of the best space-age architecture in England

Canopy at Markham Moor

© Historic England DP110445

Reminiscent of the Star Destroyer from the opening scene of Star Wars: A New Hope, the Grade II canopy was built in 1961 to designs by Hugh Segar Scorer. Thin shell concrete roofs were invented in Germany in the 1920s, and their strength is rooted in their shape. Originally built as a petrol station, the distinctive appearance of the canopy at Markham Moor gave it landmark status during the 1960s and 70s.

Forton Motorway Service

© Historic England DP033620

Another Star Wars ship next to a motorway, Forton Services was designed by the T P Bennett & Sons and completed in 1965. Post-war reconstruction and decentralisation in Great Britain in the 1950s increased the need for new fast freight and passenger links. Motor and motor transport was favoured, and in the late 1950s and early 1960s development of an arterial network of motorways began. Service stations were a necessity for the rest and refuelling of vehicles and passengers, but their comprehensively planned facilities were also a direct expression of the perceived significance of motorways, identified by Harold Macmillan as a key symbol of Britain’s technological, cultural, and economic progress.

British Gas Research Station

© Historic England ff003555

Designed in 1965, the Grade II* British Gas Research Centre is some of the best known work of Ryder and Yates, the Newcastle-based practice formed by Gordon Ryder and Peter Yates who met whilst working for Berthold Lubetkin.

Both had also worked for Le Corbusier and Ove Arup and with their own practice quickly established a reputation for innovative and modern architecture. The research centre is a building of great purity of form and considerable architectural subtlety, and could also double as a Bond villain’s hideout.

Trevelyan House

© Historic England DP180680

Is it a block of neat maisonettes or a rocket ready and waiting to launch? Trevelyan House in Bethnal Green was designed in 1952 (making it a little bit too old to be truly space-age) by Denys Lasdun, with Margaret Rodd as assistant architect. The site was was listed, in part, for its important and early contribution to new ideas in urban housing, and but also for its sculptural architectural form.

Space House

© Historic England DP180201

Designed by Richard Seifert and Partners in the 1960s, Space House garnered attention for the innovative use of a precast concrete grid, a form of partial prefabrication that allowed for rapid construction without the use of scaffolding, as well as for striking visual effects. Replacing an existing Edwardian building on the site, it was constructed speculatively during a property boom.

BT Tower

© Historic England

Built in 1961-5 the BT Tower was a centre of national and international telephone communication by ultra-high frequency (UHF) microwave transmission. The site was chosen at the rear of the Museum Telephone Exchange, because this exchange was already the focal point of the telecommunications system and the vision cables network for London, with cable connection to Broadcasting House. It also bears striking resemblance to a light saber.  

Mobil forecourt canopies

Mobil Canopies at BP Filling Station, Leicetershire © Historic England

A re-branding of Mobil Oil Corporation in the US took place in the mid 60’s and the brief called for an instantly recognisable and aesthetically pleasing design. The project, named Pegasus, was a total design concept encompassing shapes, colour schemes and logos and the first station opened in the US in 1966. The Grade II Listed service station in Leicestershire dates from the late 60s and makes a striking extra-terrestrial impression on drivers.

Jodrell Bank

Lovell Telescope, Jodrel Bank Centre for Astrophysics © Historic England

The Lovell Telescope was first conceived by Sir Bernard Lovell in 1948 as a means of building on the successes that had by then been achieved at Jodrell Bank with the fixed transit telescope. The dish was a scientific tour-de-force: despite the enormous development of the field, it operated without major alterations for well over a decade, remaining competitive at short wavelengths and superior at those over half a metre. It was involved in an enormous range of work, including study of meteors, the moon and planets, the aurorae, the ionosphere, deep space radio sources, interferometry and the measurement of the size of distant radio sources, as well as the tracking and control of Russian and American early spacecraft, laying the foundations for the first manned moon landing on 20 July 1969. Also Listed is the Grade II Control Room at the observatory.

Written by Gareth Lopes-Powell and Charlotte Goodhart

Further reading

6 responses to Eight Out of this World Examples of Space-Age Architecture

  1. MAY PULHAM says:

    Very interesting to read, history in making

  2. MAY PULHAM says:

    Love to read information you put out for our History in making,

  3. Diana Phillips says:

    Most of the pictures don’t say where the building is. It would be nice to know.

  4. Edwina Bell says:

    I remember the “Flying Garage” at Markham Moor very well, we always looked out for it on journeys down the A1.

  5. MAY PULHAM says:

    Markham moor photo I see often as I live not far from it and travel A1 often

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