The Twentieth Century Society

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Greenside’s Architects: Connell, Ward and Lucas

Greenside, originally called Bracken, was one of the later houses designed by the Connell, Ward and Lucas practice. Amyas Connell (1901-80) and Basil Ward (1902-76) were New Zealanders and, like many other expatriates who came to Britain, were figures who dominated British architecture in the 1930s. Soon after their arrival they won the Rome Prize and the Jarvis Medal respectively, which allowed them to travel in Europe. During his time in Rome, Connell was commissioned by Bernard Ashmole (Director of the British School in Rome) to build the widely acclaimed High and Over, Amersham (1929-31). Though classically inspired, it was uncompromisingly modern and therefore reviled by many when built. Ward, returning from Rangoon, helped his friend with this commission, which led to them working together on four smaller Sunhouses in the vicinity of the villa; white, flat-roofed concrete buildings which Dennis Sharp claims were ‘part of a proposal – uncompleted – for a real Modern community development’. These low cost houses together with the villa are now one of the most important surviving architectural developments of the early twentieth century.

It wasn’t until 1933 that the British man Colin Lucas (1906-88) joined them. Lucas brought with him expertise of working with reinforced concrete, giving the practice more freedom in terms of technical innovation. New construction techniques led to new building forms, something which came to dominate the work of the practice. Within the few years they worked together, between them they built around twenty houses, but each can be individually attributed.

Greenside is attributed to Colin Lucas, which makes it his second house under the umbrella of Connell, Ward and Lucas. It was commissioned by Sir William Noble, the Queen’s surgeon, but was never lived in by him because his wife hated it so much. His first house for the practice, The Dragons at Woodmancote, West Sussex, was designed between 1935 and 1936. Built of monolithic reinforced concrete, it is a cubic and sculptural form, its horizontals emphasised by the clear run of glazing around the building at ground and first floor level. Yet it seems unsophisticated in comparison to Greenside at Wentworth, designed in 1936 and built 1937. Greenside shows a command of materials and a greater understanding of their potential for creating form. The house’s north elevation is dominated by a sailing piano nobile at first floor level. The introduction of brick from ground to first floor, seen too at the better known 66 Frognal, Hampstead (1938) also designed by Lucas, cleverly helps the lower part of the building to recede, emphasising the strong horizontality of this elevation, which is dramatically cut by an off-centre tall, glazed, projecting staircase tower. Lucas creates this elevation using an incredibly simple but interesting array of volumes where the void is as important as the solid. The south elevation is equally as striking. It is much more open, being heavily fenestrated, and gives good views onto Wentworth Golf Course. Although the house is now all painted in cream, originally only the projecting door canopy and stair were this colour. The house’s external walls were painted soft green and the walls to the two bedrooms and the store on the third floor were dark brown, chosen so that the house would blend into the tree-filled landscape.

Connell, Ward and Lucas were incredibly important exponents of the International Style in Britain, heavily influencing the direction that modern architecture took in this country. They produced a large output in the few years they were together. Several of their houses featured in Henry-Russell Hitchcock’s accompanying catalogue for the exhibition ‘Modern Architecture in England’ (1937) at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which put England at the forefront of activity at this point. Of their work Hitchcock says, ‘Connell, Ward and Lucas contributed a series of houses….which are among the most characteristic examples of the time and the period’. He goes on to say that ‘one of the best is a country house at Wentworth of 1936’.

The practice folded in 1939. After the war they all went their own way. Lucas went onto join the LCC Architect’s Department’s new Housing Division in the early 50s, and was in charge of the team that built the Alton West Estate at Roehampton, staying in the division until his retirement in 1977. Connell moved to East Africa, initially to complete a short-term contact but staying well into the 70s and building widely before returning to London for health reasons. And Ward set up practice with others (Ramsey, Murray, White and Ward) and became the first Lethaby Professor at the Royal College of Art. Although the life span of their practice was short, it was incredibly influential, making what houses remain treasures that we should endeavour to preserve.

Claire Barrett