Wide-Angle View: architecture as social space in the Manplan series 1969-1970

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Wide-Angle View: architecture as social space in the Manplan series 1969-1970

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)’s exhibition Wide-Angle View is to be held at RIBA’s Architecture Gallery in London, UK.

In 1969, the Architectural Review began the series Manplan to analyse the state of architecture and urban planning in Britain.

Revolutionary both in ambition and in execution, and radical in its tone and style, photography was central to communicating ideas and critiquing the impact of architecture on society.

Many of the issues the series covered remain relevant today, including poverty, economic uncertainty, community participation in the planning process and the role architects can play in creating a fairer society.

Manplan was not only a radical, sometimes brutal assessment of the built environment of the day, but today forms a poignant reminder of British life at the end of the 1960s.

Its stated intention was to take “as its yardstick real needs rather than minimum standards.”

Wide Angle View will feature digitised copies, archive material and 76 photographs taken by renowned professionals such as Ian Berry, Patrick Ward and Tony Ray-Jones, which have rarely been re-published and never exhibited before.

Eight special issues were published from September 1969 to September 1970, with each issue devoted to an individual area of human activity that was considered affected by design and planning choices.

Guest editors, including Lord Norman Foster and Virginia Makins, were invited together with specially commissioned photojournalists and street photographers to powerfully articulate the theme of each issue.

The images that defined Manplan were like nothing that had been seen in the Architectural Review before.

The composition focused on people, shifting the emphasis from the architecture itself to the human element within the built environment.

The dramatic black and white images, shot on a 35mm camera with a spirit of photo-reportage, created a strong visual statement to support the text of each edition, with themes such as religion, health and welfare, frustration and education.

The art direction and design of the magazine was graphic and original, providing a powerful backdrop for the striking black and white images.

The overall message was a strong, uncompromising and highly critical comment on contemporary living conditions, which embodied both the idealism of the 1960s and the disillusionment felt at the end of that decade.

Many of the issues addressed are still extremely relevant today.

The exhibition is designed by Drinkall Dean with 2D design by Pyrah Design, transforming RIBA’s Architecture Gallery to exhibit over 70 framed photographs.

Valeria Carullo, exhibition lead curator and RIBA photographs curator, says: “This exhibition, with the raw power of its photographs, brings us back to a time of challenges, disparities, disillusionment, but also a time of questioning, protesting, campaigning – in many ways, much like our here and now.

“It is a timely reminder of the importance of citizens’ participation in the decisions that affect their communities and the role architects can play in creating a fairer society.”

Lord Norman Foster adds: “The exhibition is a tribute to the golden age of the Architectural Review which, in large part, was due to the single-minded vision of an enlightened patron of the arts with a social conscience – it is an enviable legacy.”

The exhibition opens on Wednesday, September 13, 2023, and runs until to Saturday, February 24, 2024.