Peterlee is unique among the new towns in that it was requested by the people through their political representatives – though whether a majority of the people living in the surrounding colliery villages actually wanted a New Town to be built is debatable. It can be argued that the building of Peterlee was also at the expense of redevelopment of nearby colliery villages.
A deputation met with the Minister of Town and Country Planning after the Second World War to put the case for a new town in the district. The minister, John Silkin, responded by offering a new town for 30,000 residents who would be drawn from the surrounding villages in east Durham.
The Peterlee Development Corporation was established in 1948 under the direction of A.V. Williams with the Russian modernist architect Berthold Lubetkin responsible for design. Lubetkin’s original ambitious master-plan for towering blocks of flats was rejected as unsuitable, given the geology of the area which had been weakened by mining works.
Lubetkin resigned in 1950 and new designs that drew inspiration from the low-rise Garden City principles were submitted by his replacement Grenfell Baines. Recognising that the project was losing momentum A.V. Williams also appointed Victor Pasmore as consulting director of urban design. Williams believed that the artist could contribute a degree of imagination and invention that would revitalise the building limitations imposed by the development corporation.
The result of Pasmore’s work at Peterlee was a sequence of housing schemes that he described as ‘a synthesis of architect and artist in which common factors…were pooled in the interests of a common end’.
He was clear that his contribution was as an artist and that, working alongside architects Peter Daniel and Franc Dixon, both he and they would operate as specialists, pooling ideas. They developed the Sunny Blunts estate, a 300 acre site in the south-west area of the main town.
Pasmore’s contribution to the development was therefore much greater than simply designing the Apollo Pavilion. The work at Sunny Blunts bears the strong imprint of Pasmore and is related to his paintings and reliefs. In its elegance of design, human scale, and integration of buildings with the landscape, it still ranks as one of the most successful architectural developments of the period.
To view images of the original housing designs go to Sunny blunts housing 1960s
Work on the Apollo Pavilion started in 1969 and was completed in 1970.
Standing in the centre of Sunny Blunts estate, Pasmore wished it to be named after the Apollo Space Programme, a symbol of adventure, hope and optimism.