Friday, June 3, 2011

The Pineapple

I've often remarked that Wolverton was an architect-free zone, and that is largely true. Only a few public buildings, the churches, the schools and the Science & Art Institute were designed by architects and for the most part Wolverton was built by experienced builders who built practical designs that worked. Their monument is the buildings that are still in use after 150 years. Obviously built to last and functional.

In recent times there have been two notable intrusions by architects into Wolverton - the Agora and the Cricket Pavilion nicknamed the Pineapple. I have discussed the Agora here. Now thats the cricket season is underway I want to turn my attention to the Pineapple. It is a building which I have never seen, because it came and went during a period when I didn't visit Wolverton. If I should ever wish to see it I will have to make a trip to a chicken farm in Somerset!

Some background. Cricket has as a long a history as Wolverton itself. Several cricket teams played the game, but in 1893 the teams were organized into a single cricket club.  Early games were played in a field near the Gables. I am not sure of the precise location but it could have been in the area now occupied by Moon Street and Victoria Street. When this was required for building a new field was acquired on its present site at the top of Osborn Road. The pavilion was typically Victorian in design with a raised stand to view the game and changing rooms inside for home and away teams. Thousands of these were erected across the country and many of the rituals of the game became associated with buildings like these. It certainly fitted in with peoples notion of what cricket was all about. Later a club room was created from an old railway carriage which sunk comfortably in the ground under the weight of the very comfortable upholstery. A newer structure was added to this at a later date.

The Old Cricket Pavilion and Bowls Club House

By 1972 the old wooden Cricket Pavilion was rotting away at the foundations and the Cricket Club turned to Milton Keynes for assistance. At the time the Corporation was overloaded with young architects wishing to make their mark on the world and one of them, Pierre Botschi, was offered to the unsuspecting committee. He came up with an avant garde design using stuts and fibre galss and probably much influenced by the geodesic designs of Buckminster Fuller - much in vogue in those days. Buildings of this genre were inexpensive to build and were lightweight while being structurally strong. Thousands of "Good Life" enthusiasts across the United States built their own geodesic domes or variants only to later find that they were difficult to inhabit. Noise was one problem, heating costs another and added to that the inhabitants had difficulty in adapting furniture to the space. They also leaked after a few years. Very few survive today.

Well I am not blindly resistant to new design ( and I think that is true of most of us) but the designs have to be functional and useful. The Newton Notepad computer (if anyone remembers that) was useless, but the iPad is billiant - a design whose time has come.

The new building was characterised as a Nissan hut with warts by those who could remember WW II but it became more popularly infamous as the Pineapple.

Photo from Living Archive

There were obvious and immediate useabilty problems. The cricketers could only get on to the pitch by a side door, wiping out one of the rituals of cricket where the batsmen walk down from the pavilion to the crease. There was no raised pavilion seating for the members - again a treasured convention of the game. The glass panels under the canopy were apparently invisible as they showed no reflection and there were several incidents where dogs unssuccessfully treid to make their way through this apparently emplty space. On one occasion, I am told, one little girl tried to run through. Fortunately she was not badly hurt.
To compound their problems the club committee discovered that buildings of this design were ruinously expensive to heat in winter - a fact that was probably never considered by the architect.

The building's history was ignominious and short. The cricketers and the public were listened to and the structure was sold to a Somerset farmer for chicken housing. In its place a proper cricket pavilion was erected.

Architecture is and should be about introducing aestthetic into the built environment, but is also about being true to its function. Churches are usually designed with high ceilings so that the congregation can aspire to communicate with God. Snooker rooms may be designed with low ceilings so that the tables can be fully lit. What happened here was that the architect was oblivious to the needs of the cricketing community and the gerneral aesthetic of Wolverton. Wolverton may have been a rather drab, monochrome town without much to enthuse the avearge architect but it was what it was. This new structure was an intrusion without antecedents or any reference to Wolverton's heritage as it then was. Worse still, little attention seems to have been paid to the requirements of the community the building purported to serve - the cricket, tennis and bowls clubs. The old building had viewing stands on both sides, for cricket and tennis. The Pineapple provided amenities for the players and public but divorced itself from any practical association with the games it purported to serve. They got the building because the architect wanted an opportunity to experiment with a new building form and presumably it allowed the corporation to keep down building costs. The clients (who should have been the cricket, tennis and bowls clubs) were ignored in the design process. The consequences were predictable.

The architect no doubt enjoyed the plaudits of the architectural community and it is possible that lessons were learned and the error not repeated. Wolverton was used as a laboratory for an experimental building; fortunately it was able to recover.


Andrew said...

It's wonderful to read this and see a photo, a real memory jogger this one. As I passed Cambridge Street on Western Road on my way to Green Lane every single day on my way to Bushfield School, the Pineapple never failed to catch my eye. This was the one sign, within the enclave of Wolverton at the time, that Milton Keynes was happening. I found always found it so exciting, you cannot exaggerate how much this building stood out!

It has a swansong, which you have omitted. After it disappeared, a little Wolverton girl decided that she missed the Pineapple and wrote to the BBC TV show Jim'll Fix It asking if they could find it for here. The BBC arranged for her to go to Somerset and filmed her running across a field to visit the Pineapple "chicken shed".

Shocking though the Pineapple was in its Wolverton context, it was exciting for us kids at the time!

Bryan Dunleavy said...

Fair enough, Andrew. As I said, Wolverton was drab and monochrome, and I would probably have welcomed a splash of colour when I was growing up in the 40s and 50s. My criticisms were more weighted on the side of functionality.
Thank you for the postscsript to the story. That's probably a good note to end upon.

Andrew said...

I agree that it was not ideal for its role. I haven't met many people who had much good to say about the Pineapple. Otherwise it wouldn't have had such a brief stay in Osbourne Street.