17 May 2022, 12:56
How was the British Coventry rebuilt after the war?

Every day, russia continues to destroy our cities. In Ukraine, 35.2 mln square meters of housing stock worth USD 31 bln have already been destroyed or damaged due to the war. The economy's losses from physical infrastructure damage amount to USD 94.3 bln.

Despite the fact that the war is going on, Ukraine should already think about its rebuilding. This is a complex process, but it is also an opportunity for Ukrainian cities. And we can learn from the experience of those who have already done this.

Let's start with the British city of Coventry. Owen Hatherley, a British critic and writer specializing in architecture, politics, and culture, as well as editor of the cultural section of Tribune, shares his experience of rebuilding.

The city was heavily bombed because of a large cluster of armament and aviation factories. The German aviation bombed it 41 times (in particular, on November 14, 1940, the city was bombed by more than 400 aircraft). Both industrial districts and cultural center were affected, more than 50,000 houses were damaged.

The post-war reconstruction of Coventry lasted 20 years, the process was actively discussed by the authorities and in the media, and after it, the city experienced an economic boom in the 60s.

What factors influenced the rebuilding?

  • The human-centered approach in architecture led to the emergence of large pedestrian squares, wide avenues, and green public spaces.
  • The cultural context allowed for the reconstruction of buildings, emphasizing cultural heritage and introducing a note of lightness and humor (for example, the image of Lady Godiva on the facade of the house, who, according to legend, rode naked through Coventry to have her husband, a count, reduce taxes).
  • The industrial context contributed to the fact that the buildings were reconstructed with an emphasis on the presence of the working class in the city (mosaics, panels, neon sculptures, etc. were created). In general, the social democratic current and its values had a significant impact on reconstruction.
  • The symbolic context contributed to the fact that some significant part of the past was put in the reconstruction. For example, the destroyed cathedral was left alongside the new one as a reminder of the war; the Coventry Theatre has a slab in the wall from Belgrade, which was also destroyed during the war, and the chandeliers in it resemble chains of chemical reactions, as a statement of its neutrality in the Cold War.
  • Requests of residents: the need to spend money (a large population) — the emergence of large shopping centers and squares around them; a significant number of students — the emergence of cafés, galleries, festivals; many workers live in the suburbs — wide avenues to avoid traffic (then, it was believed to be effective).

Today, Coventry is home to 306,000 inhabitants (250,000 before the war), automotive, aviation, engine and machine-building, electrotechnical and radioelectronic industry is developed; as well as production of aluminum and bronze, artificial silk. It has the Coventry University and a technical college, as well as a football club. It also welcomes Ukrainians and helps them with accommodation.

Owen Hatherley's advice for Ukraine based on the Coventry case:

  • You should start by answering three questions: what do you want? what didn't you like before the war? what should the city be like?
  • Plan ahead. Plan now!
  • Provide for the pedestrian zone with wide streets in the central part of the city.
  • Think about the development of green suburbs.
  • Container housing is an adequate option for temporary housing of people.

You can find out more about rebuilding in Coventry here.

After the victory, we have a lot of work to do to rebuild the cities, and we definitely have something to learn from the ones that succeeded in it. We are convinced that our foreign friends will help Ukraine at various levels — from planning and design to financing.

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