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Roz Barr explains how Spence’s radical approach to artistic collaboration and storytelling in the ruins of postwar Coventry has informed her own work
I first saw Coventry Cathedral when I was 15 with my parents and my brother. We were moody and bored teenagers who were wondering why we were there, but the visit still stuck – I remember the art as being as important as the building itself.
It was a long time before I went again. We’ve been working on St Augustine’s church in Hammersmith, and as we collaborated with graphic designer John Morgan and ceramicist Julian Stair, I started to see references in the project to Coventry cathedral and how Spence used art to weave texture into the design and architecture. We ended up taking the studio, our client Father Gianni Notarianni, and Julian to visit. It’s such an inspiring place, and embodies so much about my thinking in relation to collaboration, narrative and storytelling.
At Coventry, Spence brought together many artists in order to create and celebrate this very elegant, uplifting and beautiful space. It was a project that epitomised the optimism of post-war thinking. Spence had won a RIBA competition for the project in which his entry stood out because of the relationship he proposed between the new cathedral and the ruins of the old, which he retained as part of the processional entrance. This first move of how it sits at right angles to the ruins is very innovative – there’s a wonderful order to how the new building addresses both the city and the memory of the ruin.
“The way it sits at right angles to the ruins is very innovative – there’s a wonderful order to how the new building addresses both the city and the memory of the ruin”
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