Alborz Dianat

Portrait of Alborz DianatHEIs: University of Edinburgh

Host organisation: The Twentieth Century Society

Duration of the internship: Full-time for 3 months

PhD title: P. Morton Shand and British-European Exchanges in Architecture, 1925-39

Why did you decide to undertake an internship?

I was keen to be involved in something collaborative, especially after an isolated PhD experience through the pandemic. While I didn’t find any of the advertised internships to be directly relevant to my future plans, the opportunity to arrange my own placement was very appealing.

This led to my placement in summer 2022 at the Twentieth Century Society (C20): a London-based charity seeking to preserve Britain’s post-1914 built heritage. A recent success for C20 was the listing of Channel 4 Headquarters by Richard Rogers, among ten buildings in the C20 Risk List for 2023.

What was your internship and what did you do?

The primary focus of my work at C20 was to deliver on their leisure centres campaign. I conducted research leading to ten listing applications, currently under review by Historic Environment Scotland, Historic England and Cadw.

By their nature, leisure centres aren’t often discussed in serious, scholarly accounts of architectural heritage. Working at C20, I was able to see that they represent some of the most inventive buildings of the late twentieth century, while also one of the most socially significant building types.

As well as my work on leisure centres, I supported various other cases. This included responses to Planning Applications and Listed Building Consent (requests by developers seeking to alter listed buildings).

Interior of Bell's Sports Centre
Interior of Bell’s Sports Centre in Perth by John B. Davidson (1968). The 67 metre diameter timber dome was recognised as the largest in the United Kingdom

Leisure centres are especially at risk given recent events: dwindling local authority budgets, the enduring effect of the Covid pandemic and soaring energy costs. Many centres have already closed.

What aspects of the internship did you find most rewarding?

I was pleased that my research was listened to and taken seriously. In addition to the originally shortlisted leisure centres, I was able to argue for the inclusion of two additional Scottish buildings: Perth Leisure Centre and the Clickimin Leisure Complex in Lerwick. Both are examples of the 1980s shift towards leisure centres as national tourist landmarks, but the former is sadly threatened by plans for redevelopment.

The research experience was pretty different from my usual academic process based on archives and libraries. As well as these sources, I enjoyed interrogating actual buildings: a visit to the Perth centre even included a splash in the pool, thoroughly testing the outdoor lagoon.

I used the opportunity to visit another Perth listing submission: Bell’s Sports Centre, which achieved the largest timber-dome in the United Kingdom at the time of construction. Having lived near both of these Perth buildings for the last few years, it was very rewarding to learn about their significance.

Model of Perth Leisure Pool by FaulknerBrowns Architects
Model of Perth Leisure Pool by FaulknerBrowns Architects

Has the internship influenced your future plans at all?

Cover of C20 Magazine
Cover of C20 Magazine

The experience definitely opened up the prospect of a career relating directly to the built environment. While I intend to continue in academia, the C20 experience has provided knowledge which will help me to contribute to future conversations around threats to our heritage.

Through the internship I was able to meet a wide network of people interested in architectural history, which will be valuable regardless of my specific sector. My continued contact with C20 also enabled my contribution of an article and book review to the society’s latest magazine, recently published.

What are some of the skills you have picked up or improved through the internship?

My knowledge of twentieth century architecture improved beyond my academic focus on the 1920s and 1930s. While I already had experience researching theories behind the design of buildings, I was forced to think more directly about actual built forms and their contemporary use and context.

I also have a much better understanding of the listing and planning process. Anyone can submit a building for listing or respond to planning applications, and experience of the process means that I feel confident pursuing this independently as well.

Do you have any tips for researchers looking to do an internship?

The programme was really rewarding, and I would encourage other researchers to make the most of it and approach any organisation they would like to work with. I would suggest establishing contact as early as possible and to work with them to identify a suitable project in advance.

Where can people find out more?

Close-up of slides emerging out the façade of Perth Leisure Centre
Close-up of waterslides emerging out the façade of Perth Leisure Centre

My Twitter

The Twentieth Cenury Society website and Twitter

Leisure centres campaign announcement