The Twentieth Century Society

Review: Houses: created by Peter Aldington

with an overview by John Pardey (RIBA Publishing, 272pp, £49.95)

Reviewed by Nicola Rutt

I had been eagerly anticipating the arrival of this book, having been to Turn End with the Society in 2010. I also have the other two books about the practice: Aldington, Craig and Collinge by Alan Powers (2009) in the Society’s Twentieth Century Architects series, and A Garden and Three Houses by Jane Brown, Richard Bryant and Peter Aldington (2010), a building study on TurnEnd, the project for which the practice is best known. I had not appreciated that Aldington had more listed buildings than any other architect in the UK, and that every house he completed has now been listed. This is particularly impressive given that architects based in rural areas tend to operate under the radar of the architectural press.

This is a well-crafted book that reflects the qualities of the houses within – one assumes that the architect has been involved in every detail. There is a quality to the paper, a weight and a roughness. There is not a huge amount of text, but it is meaningful and laid out beautifully in a fine font. The main content includes large colour photographs of finished houses and extensions, photographed by Richard Einzig and latterly Richard Bryant. There are many reproductions of drawings, of varying scales, right down to the details – all drawn by hand, providing a human quality often lacking in architectural books. Even the bright orange inlay sleeves provide a surprise pop of colour after the bright white cover.

Within the first few pages of the book is a photograph of a lamp, originally designed for the house at Askett Green (Peter Aldington’s first commission) but then presented to the owners of every completed house. This says much about the architect and his relationship and respect for his client. Peter Aldington has never talked much about his or other people’s projects (‘it would rob me of the time I need to spend understanding and making them’) and his written contributions to the book, apart from brief descriptions of the projects, are largely limited to pieces on the brief and the landscape design. It is the practice’s handling of these two areas that distinguished them from many of their contemporaries. This is summed up neatly in the listing description for Diggs Field in 2010, where it states that the practice excelled at ‘designing groups of buildings or a building for multiple use, tailored to specific roles. They achieved this through their meticulously detailed clients’ briefs, and their ability to articulate these needs with great creativity through their understanding of the craft of building and use of materials and particular attention to setting.’

Most of the book is taken up with a record of each of the practice’s houses, most completed, some unbuilt and some additions and alterations, all set out in chronological order, and allowing the reader to follow the journey from Askett Green in 1961 to the MacManus House in 1982. It ends with a piece by John Pardey which, among many other things, explains the reasons for Peter Aldington’s retirement in 1986. Press articles and listing descriptions have been inserted sparingly, providing just enough context without distracting too much from the images. Pardey’s overview sets Aldington’s work in a wider architectural context.

The book is sponsored by well-established and respected practices who have all made a positive contribution to housing in the UK in the last twenty years or so, and all influenced to varying degrees by the body of work that Aldington’s practice produced in a relatively short period of time. Peter Aldington acknowledges that he ‘hijacked the idea’ for the book from John Pardey, following the threat of the archive being removed. It reflects Aldington and his projects so well that there could be no doubt that he was behind every decision, and it is to his credit that many will treasure it.