Some people may have read that I’m leaving in July’s e-newsletter, or have seen that we’re recruiting. I’m going to be moving to Edinburgh in early September to start a PhD so I will be leaving C20 after three years as a volunteer and caseworker. Since joining the team I’ve learnt a huge amount about the varied and amazing architecture that the Society specialises in, and I’ve been grateful for the chance to explore the country, visiting lots of interesting places and meeting some inspiring people. Although it’s easy to dwell on the lost cases, I know I have contributed to the progress we have made in protecting and celebrating outstanding architecture from the past century. I hope my future research will contribute towards the same goal, as I will be working with Historic Environment Scotland and the Edinburgh College of Art to research architecture in Scotland between 1975 and 2005. At this very early stage I’m interested to learn about how Scottish national identity was interpreted through architecture at the end of the twentieth century, particularly in relation to urban regeneration and post-industrial redevelopment, but I’m also looking forward to seeing where my research takes me (geographically as well as in subject matter!). Despite the unexpected challenges and distance of recent months, the enduring camaraderie and support from staff, trustees, volunteers, members and supporters will make it very hard to say goodbye.
The Getty Foundation has announced the last tranche of its fantastic “Keeping it Modern” grants for the conservation of C20 buildings. They have made a final allocation of $2.2 million to thirteen projects including sites in Senegal, Nigeria, Chile and Kuwait, as well as Europe and North America.
The successful applicant most familiar to C20 members will almost certainly be one of my favourites: Dudley Zoo (which you can join our talk about on 10th August). More concrete testing, structural surveys, and site investigations will be carried out on the Lubetkin designed animal enclosures and facilities. This will enable new use studies and costing plans to be drawn up to restore long-term operations to the Tropical Bird House, Elephant House, Education Centre, and Queen Mary Café. Animal welfare standards have improved so that the enclosures are no longer suitable for their original inhabitants, and the early construction date means that the concrete was designed with a niave optimism and needs extensive repair..
Those of you who came on our Barry Arden-led Porto trip will be pleased to learn that Alvaro Siza’s Swimming Pools at the nearby seaside town of Leça da Palmeira, will be getting a conservation management plan, which will be particularly interesting as Siza is still very much alive and will be participating in the process. The board marked timber intervention on the rocky beach is spectacular—but its exposed location makes it very vulnerable to storm damage. I am yet to manage to visit when it’s possible to actually swim in it, but it’s definitely on my bucket list.
Last November when we were in India we saw a great deal of evidence of pretty extreme concrete problems so it’s really encouraging to see that two of the buildings we visited have got Getty grants: Charles Correa’s Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium, 1966, in Ahmedabad and the Gandhi Bhawan, by Pierre Jeanneret, 1962, at the Panjab University Chandigarh.
The stadium project aims to have a wider impact by increasing local knowledge regarding the care of exposed concrete buildings, and there are certainly many other buildings in the city which could benefit. The Gandhi Bawan is an exquisite three-winged pavilion inspired by the shape of a lotus-flower. Its reflecting pool is currently empty and it would be wonderful to see it reinstated.
In seven years Keeping It Modern will have supported a total of 77 projects in 40 different nations. I was delighted to be a project accessor for much of that time, and to see word of the grants gradually spreading around the world. As well as the direct benefit of individual projects it has done a lot to support the growth of international awareness about the need for thorough research and planning before getting stuck into conservation work. It’s also highlighted the amazing legacy of C20 buildings currently in urgent need of repair.
The Keeping it Modern website will stay up and continue to archive completed Conservation Management Plans, making it a growing source of freely available expert information and knowledge for anyone working on a similar building anywhere. The grant programme has definitely been a massive success and I am incredibly grateful for the Foundation’s generosity and imagination in devising and mplementing it. I am sure many of the recipients will be suffering from the financial impact of Covid-19 (not least Dudley) and now more than ever the combination of practical financial support and influential advocacy is something to be celebrated. Sadly Getty funds now are being redirected to other causes, but that does not mean that there is not much more still to do.
As part of our summer virtual event programme launch, we will be posting* a set of limited edition maisonette postcards by Thaddeus Zupančič to anyone who donates £10 or more towards C20 Society’s casework here.
Set of five postcards :
Read more below…
On Sunday, 23 January 1955, Margaret Willis, a sociologist in the Planning Division of the Architect’s Department of the London County Council, gave a talk titled My Job for the BBC Home Service.
Willis explained that a sociologist is a “sort of liaison officer between people like you, the housewives, and the Council’s technical men and women who make the plans in the drawing office”.
She was, though, mostly talking about the scarcity of land in “the centre of our cities” and how planners and architects “realise how important gardens are to many people and they are doing their best to provide them”. One of their ideas, she explained, was to build “a compromise between a house and a flat, it’s a four-storey building like a house on top of a house”: “People prefer this type of building to a flat because they like going upstairs to bed.”
Such “houses on top of houses” – more commonly known as maisonettes – were designed and built in London from around 1947-8. The first was Brett Manor in Brett Street, Hackney, by Edward Mills for the Manor Charitable Trustees, which was swiftly followed by Powell & Moya’s low-rises at Churchill Gardens in Pimlico; the latter were the first modernist maisonettes built or commissioned by a local London council (in this case Westminster).
Margaret Willis’s employer was not far behind. Already in the early 1950s, as Elain Harwood points out, a group at the LCC Architect’s Department, worked on “an efficient maisonette plan, which they then cast into ten-storey slabs, built at Bentham Road, Hackney, at Loughborough Junction, Lambeth, and, most impressively, the Alton West Estate, Roehampton.”
Maisonettes thus became an integral part of mixed development, “the dominant ideology for housing in the 1950s”, as Harwood calls it; “houses, flats and maisonettes” was a mantra not only for the LCC, but also for London’s metropolitan boroughs and the City.
The reorganisation of the London local government in 1965 saw the creation of the new Greater London Council and 32 new London borough councils (plus the City) which became responsible for a substantially larger part of housing projects and planning than before.
More importantly, every borough now had to have its own architect’s department.
Whilst mixed developments started losing their lustre somewhat, maisonettes remained an important – and evolving – feature in most of the housing projects well into the 1970s.
Neave Brown, working in the Camden Architect’s Department, designed two of the most remarkable post-1965 council estates in London: the Dunboyne Road Estate (a mixture of three- and two-bed maisonettes and one-bed flats, designed from 1966 and built in 1971-7); and the Rowley Way part of the Alexandra & Ainsworth Estate (block B, for instance, comprises four storeys of two- and three-bed maisonettes), designed in 1968 and built in 1972-8.
Equally remarkable is Kate Macintosh’s all-maisonette estate Dawson Height (1966-72) in Dulwich, designed when she worked for the Southwark Department of Architecture & Planning. She described it as a “Chinese puzzle of differing types to be assembled in various combinations” and it still works perfectly well.
*Please note the posting of the postcards will happen at the end of August.
The above text is an abridged version an article by Thaddeus for the Journal of Civic Architecture (Issue no. 5, page 9).
Much of C20 architecture is characterised by unique details. This series of photographs accompanied by their authors’ thoughts is a regular feature on our Instagram and celebrates them including unusual facades, striking lighting and distinctive decorative elements from around the world.
A C20 detail that I love are the dozens of evenly distributed hexagonal windows of the cylindrical Melnikov House in Moscow.
I like their symmetrical display and how they let in an extraordinary amount of brightness into this most unusually shaped home.
The house was built in 1927-9 by the avant-garde architect Konstantin Melnikov who lived there with his family but it had initially been pitched for planning permission as an innovative prototype for communal housing.
The unconventional shape of the window embodies Melnikov’s ethos as an architect who resisted traditional forms but still carefully devised innovative constructions to ingeniously make the most of space and light.
Before building this house, Melnikov worked prolifically for the Soviet government until the 1930s, notably designing a sarcophagus for Lenin’s body in 1924, and co-designing, with the artist Alexander Rodchenko, the Soviet pavilion for the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris in 1925.
Melnikov House – Дом Мельникова – is now a museum open for guided tours only which I highly recommend visiting, on a sunny day if you can!
Margherita Manca is a design historian and Communications Cfficer at the C20 Society. Her recent research has focused on C20 American industrial building architecture.
Of all the early modernisms, it is the Dutch version I find most appealing. For me, it sits somewhere between the hard German manifestations and the softer humanism of Scandinavian iterations.
One of my favourite modernist Dutch buildings is the magnificent Hilversum Town Hall (1931) by Willem Marinus Dudok.
Its exterior clearly owes a lot to Frank Lloyd Wright, but it is the restrained material opulence of the interior spaces that I find especially alluring.
The judicious application of gold, be it in textured wall coverings or mosaic clad columns, is rich, not brassy.
The timber linings and textiles are warm and sumptuous. The blue tiles in the central courtyard are the hue of a perfect summer sky. The whole ensemble reminds me of the Alhambra Palace – there is definitely a Moorish inflection to this civic composition.
Of all the details and finishes it is this light column that I especially recall. Pairs of them flank the doors to the Burgerzaal (Citizens’ Hall). Standard fluorescent lamps sit inside a perimeter of vertical louvres, whose inner faces are painted in a peach pink colour that reflects and adds a soft tone to the light emitted in an almost solar array.
There is a timelessness to the way this is put together and it stood out to me at the time and burned bright in my mind when I was asked to make this contribution.
Dudok is also a bit of a hero of mine. He was first chief planner of Hilversum, and then chief architect. I like the idea that he masterplanned where he wanted everything and then set about designing it! It’s not quite as neat as that, but his was a total creative vision as Lewis Mumford noted, “unlike many of his contemporaries, he did not attempt to narrow the province of architecture to that of the machine… the imagination of the artist himself, instead of being cramped by the material conditions to be fulfilled, was released by them.”
Richard Brook is an architect and historian whose research focuses on post-war mainstream and municipal modernism. He is the author of Manchester Modern (2017) and an advisor to The Modernist Society. His current projects include an examination of the intangible values of British post-war infrastructural landscapes.
As a ‘Blitz city’ with an industrial heritage, there was a spirit of optimism in Sheffield during the post-war years encompassed by City architect J.L. Womersley’s ambitious plans for a ‘new’ Sheffield (it was this vision poignantly revisited at the beginning of the film The Fully Monty).
In terms of Modernist architecture, there is therefore an embarrassment of riches in my hometown even if much of it remains under threat of demolition.
When I was asked to pick my favourite C20 detail my mind shifted past all the icons – the Park Hill Estate, the Arts Tower, the Moore Street electricity substation, even William Mitchell’s wonderful concrete reliefs – to a detail that I think embodied the spirit of this failed future better anywhere else: the entrance of Westfield House, occupying 87 Division Street.
I recently strolled past the building – built in 1973 and sold by Westfield in 2017 – and saw that they’d torn down the wonderful space age numbers in the entrance.
I sifted desperately through my photo archives and dug up this single image I have of them, taken in 2015.
Johny Pitts is a Sheffield-born writer, photographer, musician and broadcast journalist.
His debut book Afropean: Notes from Black Europe was published by Allen Lane last year. In its review, the Guardian said Afropean “announces the arrival of an impassioned author able to deftly navigate and illuminate a black world that for many would otherwise have remained unseen”. Afropean was a Guardian, New Statesman and BBC History Magazine Best Book of 2019 and in May this year it was awarded the Jhalak prize for the best book of the year by a writer of colour.
Johny founded and curates the award-winning online journal Afropean.com.
As a photographer, he has had work published by Cafe Royal Books and has been featured on The New York Times Lens Blog.
There’s an architectural and design marvel in Nanterre, a Paris suburb: Tours Aillaud, a group of residential buildings named after its architect, Émile Aillaud.
They are also known as Tours Nuages, the Cloud Towers, after their façade design, and were constructed in 1973-81 with the aim of “humanizing social housing”.
The enormous estate with 1,607 apartments in 18 buildings is now listed as Architecture Contemporaine Remarquable.
I like it because it rocks between modernism and postmodernism, playing with the contrasts and sizes: while some of the residential towers are of an enormous size, on the other hand, the organic cloud patterns consist of only 2 x 2 cm mosaic glass tiles, designed by Fabio Rieti.
The little detail that enchanted me during my visit in 2019 was to find the unusual water drop shape of the buildings’ windows repeated on the lampshades in the public space between the buildings where children were playing in a relaxed afternoon atmosphere.
Cordula Schulze is a linguist and editor who lives in Karlsruhe, Germany. With her camera, she’s been exploring C20 architecture in Europe and beyond. She mainly focuses on post-war modernism and brutalism.
Isle of Dogs sounds like an unlikely place to find this gorgeous detail, yet it’s there.
In a quiet residential street, hidden behind a tall brick wall stands a Grade II*-listed pumping station by John Outram, built in 1986-8.
It’s decorated by huge half-circle columns crowned by Outram’s wild take on Corinthian capital.
As the latest research confirms, ancient temples and sculptures were initially painted in vivid colours.
Outram’s use of bold colours thus unwittingly brought his reinterpretation full circle to the original.
Lukas Novotny is a London-based freelance illustrator and graphic designer. His first book, Modern London, was published in 2018. The C20 Magazine said: “Boasting over two hundred illustrations and 122 featured buildings, this illustrated guide to the capital’s modern architecture took its author more than three years to complete and it is clearly a labour of love.
Whilst a few UK interwar apartment buildings – such as the Isokon, Pullman Court and Highpoint – successfully captured the minimalist purity of the early modernist movement, others appeared a little more tempered, perhaps for the sake of marketability.
Viceroy Court is, in my view, one such example where the architectural success is more in the detail, rather than the whole.
It is a mid-1930s mansion block that sits on the north western edge of London’s Regent’s Park and was designed by the architectural firm Marshall and Tweedy.
The building has a reinforced concrete frame and the main front is faced with golden brown bricks, cast stone trims and metal framed windows.
My favourite detail is the treatment of the court’s bookends, where the slimline metal glazing optimises the views out to the park, accumulating with a semi-circular cantilevered alcove in each of the living rooms that gives a visual weightlessness to the block’s main corners.”
Andrew Cadey’s interest in freehand drawing is symbiotic with his career as an architect. His stylistic preference is for face-on architectural vignettes that interpret the everyday and often overlooked built environment. Alongside being an illustrator, Andrew co-runs an architectural design practice, Campbell Cadey in Peckham.
The Shell-Haus is an iconic building located near the Tiergarten in Berlin.
It was designed by Emil Fahrenkamp and built in 1930-31, the Weimar Republic’s last years of freedom before the Nazis came to power.
It is a beautiful example of expressionist architecture and grows both in height (from five to ten floors) and in length, following the direction of the nearby Landwehr Canal.
Its steel-frame structure is faced with travertine which serves to marry modern with traditional practices.
The most striking visual element is a swirl of seven curved corners which envelope the building like waves.
This detail is even more striking because of the curved glass of the windows, rendering the overall composition of the building completely unique.
In 2006, Roberto Conte started photographing abandoned spaces in his native Italy and focusing on architecture, from rationalist architecture to post-war modernism, brutalism and contemporary buildings.
His work has been featured in various magazines and newspapers (Domus, AD, Divisare, Repubblica and Architectural Digest) as well as books, including the ‘Atlas of Brutalist Architecture’ (2018) and ‘Soviet Asia’ (with Stefano Perego, 2019).
Conte regularly collaborates with architects, designers and artists.
He lectured at several universities in Italy and Denmark, as well as at the House of Architects in Nizhny Novgorod in Russia.
The Twentieth Century Society welcomes the news that this Chapel has been listed at Grade II as a work by an important Edwardian architect which has been enhanced by the later re-ordering and additions. Originally designed by Leonard Stokes in 1910-11, was re-fitted in 1968 by the renowned architectural practice of Weightman and Bullen, highly regarded for its post-war Roman Catholic churches in northern Britain. Their work displays a deep understanding of the changes in the liturgy that were to have such an enormous impact on church architecture in the post-war period. Their scheme includes a new square altar which is particularly effective as the Chapel features two naves, one for the nuns and one for the school children and a shared sanctuary. Weightman and Bullen’s use of a more overt display of opulence draws attention to the sanctuary as the most significant part of the building. The Society considers this ensemble to be a rare and important example of a successful re-ordering by this important architectural practice whose work deserves greater recognition.
We were saddened to hear about the death of C20 Member Stephen Marks. This is a republication of an article from one of our 2013 Magazine issues featuring images of what London might have looked like if the radical scheme for passenger distribution had gone ahead, that were sent to us by Stephen from his time in the Westminster Planning Department.
No, it’s not a film set, it’s Regent Street as it might have been . These amazing images come from a document produced by the GLC Department of Highways and Transportation in 1967 (the same year the Civic Amenities Act gave councils the duty to designate conservation areas). We were sent a copy by C20 member Stephen Marks, who took up a conservation post in Westminster’s Planning Department just as this radical scheme ‘for passenger distribution in Central London’ was being considered.
These were definitely very different times: at a five-day planning inquiry in 1972, Marks (acting for Westminster Council) helped to see off a scheme by Richard Seifert to demolish a whole block of Piccadilly. This included the now Grade II* listed bank by W Curtis Green at No 63, a building only fifty years old at the time. There were also proposals for a ‘grandiose redevelopment of Piccadilly Circus and surrounding streets, involving a new deck level, with the street at ground level reduced to function as a service access, and Eros raised onto the new deck.’
It’s no surprise that this ‘would have involved colossal loss of historic buildings and familiar townscape, and colossal expense’, and fortunately the scheme was abandoned. Where did the monorail idea come from? Was there one particular transport enthusiast seriously pushing for this sort of solution?
Someone clearly thought it was worth commissioning a report looking at examples from across the world, including at Disneyland (1959) and Seattle (built for the World’s Fair in 1962) by the German Alweg company, the Wuppertaler Schwebebahn (suspension railway) in Germany, running since 1901, the Westinghouse Expressway in Pittsburgh, and developments by the French SAFEGE consortium. But the problems were enormous (and you might say obvious): how to accommodate large foundations, how to arrange access from street level, what to do about noise, vibration, loss of light, invasion of privacy, rain dripping from the structure, oil from the vehicles… and, not least, how to fit rails with a rather large minimum radius of curvature round the tight bends of Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus.
The report is quietly damning throughout, noting that ‘the visual and acoustic effects of any new system proposed must be much more fully investigated if the vital urban character and quality are to be maintained.’
Stephen Marks stayed at Westminster and became a Planning Inspector in 1976 (he was Inspector for the Mies van der Rohe proposals for Mansion House Square), and notes that, by the time he left, ‘the attitude of the committee… had moved from allowing a proposal unless there was a good reason to prevent it, to refusing it unless there was a good reason to allow it.’ That’s some turnaround.
Much of C20 architecture is characterised by unique details. This series of photographs accompanied by their authors’ thoughts was first posted on our Instagram and celebrates them. Details include striking door handles, mesmerising lighting, distinctive windows and modern clocks from around the world.
“I’ve long been bemused by the entrance doors at the Royal Festival Hall (Robert Matthew, Leslie Martin and Peter Moro, London County Council; 1948-51).
They have a disturbing touch of whimsy, a reminder that Mid-Century Modern has one source in the romantic Regency revival of the late 1930s/40s.
This is especially true of the RFH monogram by Jesse Collins of the Society of Industrial Artists. Presumably the commission came from Robert Matthew as architect to the council, but this is by no means clear.
Although the doors swing both ways, there are doorplates only on one side, a subtle control of the direction of traffic that had its sources in Scandinavia.
The best example I know is at Gunnar Asplund’s Stockholm City Library (1924-8), where handles on opposite sides of double doors take the form of Adam and Eve.”
Elain Harwood is a senior architectural investigator with Historic England, specialising in the twentieth century. She is the author of Space, Hope and Brutalism (2015) and Chamberlin, Powell & Bon (2011). In 2019 she published Art Deco Britain and is now writing a sequel, Mid-Century Modern, featuring the Royal Festival Hall.
“Julio Vilamajó was one of Uruguay’s most important architects of the last century. Thanks to his contacts with Le Corbusier and other international modernists, Vilamajó was one of the first to introduce modern style in Uruguay during the 1920s.
Yet he has not given up on local inspiration and his buildings represent a unique synthesis of international modernism, Art Deco and local building traditions and colonial style.
Today, his own 1930 Montevideo house is open to the public [Museo Casa Vilamajó].
In its reconstructed interiors, visitors can see unique details that demonstrate Vilamajó’s decorative touch. The ceiling light in the main living area with its colourful glass beads resembles a precisely made jewel.”
Adam Štěch is an art theoretician, writer, and curator based in Prague. He is a co-founder of the creative collective OKOLO, responsible for dozens of design publications and exhibitions in the Czech Republic and abroad. His forthcoming book Modernist Architecture and Interiors (Prestel Verlag, June 2020) promises to be the definitive guide to architecture in the 20th century in all its different forms and tendencies.
“St Paul’s Lorrimore Square was designed by John Wimbleton of Woodroffe, Buchanan and Coulter, and consecrated in 1960.
It’s the most idiosyncratic C20 building close to where I live, and one I love.
It stands at the centre of the Brandon Estate, notable for being the first LCC estate where extensive rehabilitation of C19 houses was combined with bold new build.
The church is raised above parish rooms and social facilities and incorporates stone from the bombed Victorian church by J. Jarvis’s (1854-6), previously on the same site.
Both the honeycomb concrete block walls (glazed with coloured glass) and the copper clad roof are highly distinctive features.
As Joshua Mardell points out in his C20 Building of the Month [October 2010] piece, ‘the roof at St. Paul’s makes as much a theological statement as a technological one, the triangular structure representing the importance of the Trinity in Eucharistic worship.’
If it looks familiar you may be recalling it from our 2017 AGM, or you may have seen it as a key location in the excellent TV series London Spy (2015) starring Ben Whishaw and Charlotte Rampling.”
Catherine Croft is Director of the Twentieth Century Society, the author of Concrete Architecture (2004) and co-author of Concrete – Case Studies in Conservation Practice (2019).
“Every day I walk around (or under) this extraordinary piece of sculpted concrete.
This is a turret linking the glass walkways of Goldfinger’s Metro Central Heights formerly Alexander Fleming House, built 1958-64, home to the Ministry of Health at the Elephant and Castle.
It was converted into flats in 2003, it was listed in 2013, and now, for me, is an inspirational place to live with spectacular views across London.”
Richard Walker is an artist based in London. His first solo exhibition was at Minsky’s Gallery in Primrose Hill on Valentine’s Day in 1978. After many trips across the Atlantic and a developing interest in cities and architecture, Richard exhibited in America and many times in Germany. Always personal, but also accessible, his images are about locations, physicality, structures and memory. Richard’s interest in architecture has led him to be an active tour leader with the The Twentieth Century Society and his ‘Up the Elephant’ walk is a perennial favourite.
“I knew the ‘detail’ I would pick would be from the London Underground stations from the Charles Holden/Frank Pick era, between the 1920s and 1940s, but I wasn’t sure which it would be.
It could have been the travertine panelling of Piccadilly Circus, the concrete lighting and advertising stands on the outer reaches of the Piccadilly Line, the stained glass at Uxbridge, or the roundel capitals on the southern stretches of the Northern Line.
But the detail I’ve opted for can be found in each of the stations on Holden’s short late 40s extension to the Central Line (Gants Hill, pictured, Newbury Park, Wanstead, Redbridge).
Each of these has at platform level a big clock.
On it, each of the 12 hours is signified by a colourful, abstracted London Underground roundel, a motif also used on the small hand of the clock.
A branding exercise, for sure, but also an image of a benevolent bureaucracy, committed to helping Londoners travel through and understand their almost limitless, unknowable metropolis, every hour of the day.”
Owen Hatherley is a London-based writer and journalist who writes primarily on architecture, politics and culture. His two most recent books were Trans-Europe Express and The Adventures of Owen Hatherley in the Post-Soviet Space, both published in 2018. Owen’s forthcoming Red Metropolis (Repeater Books, December 2020), a polemical history of municipal socialism in London, will argue for turning London “red again”.
“This large wrought iron barrier in the Chapel of Christ in Gethsemane, Cathedral Church of St Michael, Coventry, was designed by Basil Spence and reflects artwork by many of the artists he commissioned for the Cathedral.
It’s in the form of a ring of thorns; its shape brings to mind many of Graham Sutherland’s painfully powerful paintings of the period.
There’s a rawness to it that chimes with Elisabeth Frink’s brawny eagle, and a transparent lightness that reflects John Hutton’s astonishing glass wall of angels.
Spence’s ironwork was made by the Royal Engineers, one of many links connecting war with peace throughout the building and the city beyond.
As a symbol of transcendence over pain, this thorny screen is a reminder of the power that smaller, quieter details can have in great modernist buildings.”
John Grindrod is the author of Concretopia: A Journey Around the Rebuilding of Post-War Britain (2013), Outskirts: Living on the Edge of the Green Belt (2017), and How to Love Britalism (2018), and contributed an introduction to The Town of Tomorrow: 50 Years of Thamesmead (2019).
“This is a drainpipe from a wonderful block of flats on the Via Piagentina [Edificio residenziale di via Piagentina] in Florence, designed by Leonardo Savioli and Danilo Santi, and built 1964-7.
The architects have taken the drainpipe indoors for the lowest floor, photo 2, presumably to protect it from street-level wear and tear.
Their commitment to brutalist ‘honesty’ is so great that they have added a window beneath the chunky concrete gargoyle to show you where the pipe has disappeared to.
It is robust in detail, but delicate in thinking.”
Barnabas Calder is a historian of architecture specialising in British architecture since 1945 and Senior Lecturer at the University of Liverpool. He is the author of Raw Concrete: The Beauty of Brutalism (2016) and the forthcoming Architecture and Energy: From Pre-history to Climate Crisis (Pelican, autumn 2020).
(More photos of the buildings: search “Savioli and Santi flats” on Flickr.)
Thank you to everyone who entered our competition to win a copy of Shelley Klein’s See-Through House. The winners are Jenny Berrisford and Keith Miller.
As the competition closes, we are sharing a Q&A with the author of the book:
– What was the catalyst for writing The See-Through House?
The catalyst was the death of my father. Writing the book was a way of keeping both him and my mother (who died in 2008) close to me, until I was ready to say good-bye to the house.
– What are your earliest memories of your family home, High Sunderland? When did you start to realise it was more than just a normal family home?
I have so many early memories of High Sunderland, but the encompassing one is the physical and emotional warmth of the place, and the light and colours that poured into the house from outside. I don’t believe I realized how special the house was until I reached my late teens/early twenties.
– The book is structured as if on a walk from room-to-room in High Sunderland. Can you tell us a bit about this choice?
Before I started writing the book, I knew I needed a solid structure in order to hold all the different timelines and strands together. Given the story was essentially about why my father came to build High Sunderland and what the house meant to both him and the family, it suddenly occurred to me that it also provided the perfect form on which to build the book.
– The book is full of beautiful photos of the house and your father’s work. How did you go about sourcing archive materials and researching the finer details of your father’s life?
I was very fortunate in that most of the photographs in the book come from either our family albums or from publicity shots taken throughout my childhood, and of which we owned copies. In addition, my father wrote Eye for Colour (1965) from which I was able to glean details of his life as well as the many ideas he had on design. I was also fortunate enough to have spent time with him in later life talking about his childhood memories.
– High Sunderland was central to the 60s and 70s fashion world. What effect did this have on you as a child and a teenager?
The fact that our house was part of the fashion world never really dawned on me either as a small child or a teenager. The fashion shows and photography shoots were fun to watch, but they were very much part of my parents’ working lives and therefore didn’t feel exceptional. Really, it’s only looking back that I appreciate how special the house and that time was, and how lucky I was to have grown up there.
– You quote Virginia Woolf several times in the book, is her work an inspiration to you? Were there any other authors you found particularly inspiring while you were writing The See-Through House?
Virginia Woolf has long been a favourite author of mine: Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse in particular, and the subterranean vicissitudes of her characters. While writing the book I was also re-reading a lot of D.H. Lawrence, for example The Rainbow and Women in Love. Since university I’ve had an enormous affection for these two novels, particularly the way Lawrence wrote about landscape and nature and his use of colour. Gudren and Ursula’s coloured silk stockings, for example!
– How did it feel growing up with such an artistically prolific father? Did you find this encouraged or suppressed your own creativity?
Fortunately, it encouraged me. Both my parents were very enthusiastic when any of us made things or painted or wrote something creative. It was their way of life, something I watched my father in particular do every day, in one form or another. It therefore felt natural to incorporate that way of being into my own life.
– In the book you say that, in a sense, High Sunderland will always belong to you and your family – how does this sit with you now the house has been sold?
I use a quote from Emily Dickinson at the beginning of the book. ‘One need not be a Chamber – to be Haunted/One need not be a house.’ I am haunted by High Sunderland. It’s with me wherever I go and as such I will always feel it belongs to the family, but I do hope the new owners love it as much as we did and that they are very happy there.
Thank you to those of you who tuned in to our third virtual event! If you missed Prof. Neil Jackson’s tour of Japan with photos by John East of our 2017 trip, you can re-watch it here.
If you donated £10 or more during the event, or up until Thursday 11th June, you will receive 4 greeting cards with different photographs of Japan architecture taken by John East.