Photographer Nigel Green on Dover – Demolition of Burlington House.
These photographs were taken on 12 October 2015, a visit prompted by the impending demolition of Burlington House. (built 1972) Most of the surrounding complex has already been cleared, including the adjacent multi storey car park. The former County Hotel was still in the process of being demolished. Burlington House, which was the centre of the original scheme, has been covered in protective sheeting to allow for the floor by floor dismantling and removal of the building. Once gone it will join the earlier Stage Hotel, which used to occupy the site across the road as the other example of mid 20th Century architecture in Dover to have been destroyed.
For many the removal of Burlington House is a long anticipated event with the structure having attained the accolade of being one of Britain’s most hated buildings in Channel 4’s Demolition programme, 2005. What might be considered as a job well done, a fait accompli for an unloved building should also be viewed as the continued erasure of 20th Century architectural idealism from the contemporary townscape. The idea that such buildings were linked to a radical discourse, which placed the function of architecture within the broader aspirations of European modernism and social reconfiguration, has become an anathema.
I wanted to take one last look at a site that has fascinated me since my first childhood encounter in the early 1970s, when being driven through Dover I was impressed by the dynamics of scale and modernity. In the past twenty years I have visited regularly to take photographs in and around the St. James’ area and more recently in connection with photographic projects initiated by DAD. Burlington House is a key landmark that playfully mirrors the castle above and serves as focal point breaking up the uniformity of the roofline when viewed from the sea or harbour.
I would argue that Burlington House and the surrounding site had become one of the most exciting urban spaces left in the South East of England, something I promoted through bringing students and friends to visit and through my photographic work. As a ruin and part of the larger complex, it had become a truly unique environment combining both urban and pastoral elements. One of my fondest memories was of seeing people gathering wild flowers from one of the surrounding wasteland areas, a proactive and immersive engagement with place that will be proscribed by the existence of yet another generic shopping environment. Dover District Council had a gem of a site that could have been regenerated to celebrate its unique and idiosyncratic qualities, the redevelopment of Park Hill in Sheffield by Urban Splash being an example.
Each generation has its own sense of historical significance. Whilst the Burlington House development was always seen in relation to the 19th century hotel destroyed during the war, for those such as myself who associated the building intrinsically with Dover, its loss as an artefact of the early 1970s stages the same sense of melancholy and loss. Unfortunately Dover is no longer a destination but simply a place to pass through on way to the continent.