Guest Article: The rise and demise of Manplan in the Architectural Review

By Robert Elwall, assistant director at the RIBA Library Photographs Collection | 26 February 2010
a black and white photo of a building

Illustration of the packaged home from Manplan 5, March 1970. © Peter Baistow, Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Culture24 has teamed up with the RIBA Library Photographs Collection www.ribapix.com to bring you a series of features highlighting some of its hidden treasures. Here Robert Elwall, assistant director at the Collection, discusses the work of John Maltby.

Between September 1969 and September 1970, the Architectural Review published eight controversial issues under the generic title Manplan that overturned the conventions of architectural photography that ironically it had done so much to promote.

In place of imagery provided by its in-house photographers and freelance specialists, the Architectural Review instead commissioned new work from a number of leading photojournalists, among them Peter Baistow, Patrick Ward and Tony Ray-Jones, who were asked to deliver their verdict on the state of the nation in architecture and town planning.

The photographs they produced were very different from those that habitually adorned the magazine. Instead of approvingly dramatic renditions of unpopulated buildings under sunny skies made with large format cameras, Manplan’s photographers contributed harsh, grainy images shot on 35mm film that were thronged with people experiencing the harsh realities of a dystopian world.

Each issue was devoted to a particular theme with Ian Berry providing the images for those on communications and health and welfare while Peter Baistow, his Magnum colleague, also illustrated two – those on religion and local government.

Completing the roll-call were Tom Smith, Tony Ray-Jones and Tim Street-Porter who were respectively responsible for the issues devoted to education, housing and industry. The first Manplan issue on ‘Frustration’ with photographs by Patrick Ward set the tone for the rest.

Ward documented one month of British frustration from the stress of commuting to vandalized telephone boxes to the delights of the typical Bank Holiday weekend where the travel struggle was merely transferred to another setting - the stately home.

a black and white photo of a production line

‘In the new industries endless repetitive production lines turn men into automata’ from Manplan 1, September 1969. © Patrick Ward

The unrelenting grimness of Manplan’s imagery was reinforced by hard-hitting captions – “In the older industries the hopelessness of dead-end dirty jobs alienates the young” - and the issues’ design.

Thus the photographs were reproduced using a specially-devised matt-black ink that gave the numbers an even greater air of claustrophobia and foreboding.

The Architectural Review’s Manplan series represented the culmination of a trend towards a more photojournalistic approach to the depiction of architecture one of the first signs of which in Britain was Architectural Design’s publication of Roger Mayne’s photographs to illustrate its September 1961 number on Sheffield.

Mayne’s photographs of the city’s recently completed Park Hill flats were a major influence on John Donat (1993-2004) who became the main standard-bearer of the new approach that he described as seeking to impart “an experience of a slice of time in the life of a building”.

Manplan itself was predictably given a hostile reception by Architectural Review’s readers and in the face of falling circulation figures, the magazine’s editors decided not to continue the experiment.

In any case, the world of architectural publishing was shortly to be revolutionized by the introduction of cheaper methods of colour printing which allowed colour for the first time to become a major factor in the depiction of architecture.

The technical difficulties of working with colour and the slow speed of the available films together with the demands of advertisers conspired against the photographic values that Manplan had so compellingly espoused.

Find out more about the RIBA Library Photographs Collection at www.ribapix.com.

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