Rallying against thoughtless urbanism, outdated education or individual works, those who have worked for the AR over the years have inevitably learned to campaign
In March 1896, the year William Morris died, a group of bearded and mustachioed gentlemen in their early 40s met at London’s Charing Cross Hotel. They were Reginald Blomfield, Mervyn Macartney, Ernest Newton and Henry Wilson, the first editorial board of The Architectural Review published by Percy Hastings.
Twelve years earlier, these four architects had been founding members of the Art Workers’ Guild, carrying bright torches for Morris, Ruskin and Pugin. As such they were campaigners, although eschewing the fiery polemics of those pugnacious Victorian radicals. All four, who had once railed against the very idea of architecture as a profession, were, however, to mellow with age.
Blomfield was awarded the Royal Gold Medal for architecture, as was Newton who also served as President of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Far from forward-looking, Blomfield’s book Modernismus published in 1934 was to be a half-baked rant, according to the Spectator, ‘against anything approximately contemporary’.
As for Wilson, who edited the AR until 1900, his next commission was for the Amsterdam Avenue bronze doors of New York City’s ponderous Neo-Gothic Cathedral of St John the Divine. Macartney, a future Surveyor of St Paul’s Cathedral, took on the editorship of the AR for the next 17 years from 1904 when Dugald MacColl – painter, writer and former Spectator critic – was appointed Keeper of the Tate Gallery.
But, if the fire had been doused in the souls of these once idealistic Victorians, the AR was about to blaze. While, from 1921, Ernest Newton – who died the following year – and his son William served as joint-editors, behind the scenes the young Hubert de Cronin Hastings was making his mark. All of a sudden, or so it seems turning the pages of vintage volumes of the AR, modern European buildings appeared alongside ocean liners, opulent, if modern, interior decor and the latest in art and garden design.
Finally in 1927, ‘H de C’ was in the editor’s chair shared with Christian Berman, a young architect and industrial designer whose Swedish background opened the magazine’s doors to Scandinavian Modernism, and, very quickly, with much that was new from Europe, aided and abetted by the brilliant critic, linguist and bon viveur Philip Morton Shand who, in their own languages, was on speaking terms with Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe.
‘The magazine became a kind of collage, at once nostalgic and forward-looking, earnest and playful with, as Hastings insisted, “every page a surprise”’
Hastings, meanwhile, employed both the mercurial young John Betjeman and the altogether more serious Jim ‘Grim’ Richards as assistant editors, setting course in 1928 for what would be the AR’s complex and contrary stance on Modernism. From this time, the magazine became a kind of collage, at once nostalgic and forward-looking, earnest and playful with, as Hastings insisted, ‘every page a surprise’. His editorial team was full of surprises, too. When the Georgian Group was founded in 1937 to campaign for John Nash’s magnificent Regency-style Carlton House Terrace – threatened with butchery by the Crown Commission – Jim Richards was a founding member alongside his nemesis John Betjeman.
What they both saw, as indeed had Adolf Loos and Steen Eiler Rasmussen – the Danish architect, town planner and author of London, the Unique City (1934) – before them, were the links between Georgian grace, Englishness and Modernism. Speaking on behalf of Georgian architecture in a BBC debate held in 1938 on the threat to London’s 18th-century squares, Robert Byron, a distinguished AR contributor, said: ‘Its reserve and dislike of outward show, its reliance on the virtue and dignity of proportions only, and its rare bursts of exquisite detail, all express as no other style has ever done that indifference to self-advertisement, that quiet assumption of our own worth, and that sudden vein of lyric affection, which have given us our part in civilisation.’
Source: Tony Ray-Jones
Concisely and convincingly put, this was the bond between Betjeman and Richards and the AR’s by-now characteristic play between traditional and modern architecture, design and aesthetic values. As for Hastings, the development of photojournalism and reportage at this very same time – notably in the energetic pages of Picture Post, edited by the Hungarian film-maker and photojournalist Stefan Lorant who, in turn, had been inspired by the hugely successful 1936 re-launch of Life in the United States – egged on his own quixotic editorial judgement.
It took the experience of the Second World War, and its all but overwhelming savagery and destructiveness, to weave together these strands of thought with what would prove to be some of the most effective architectural campaigns yet fought. Western European civilisation had been very nearly destroyed. Some 50 million people had been slaughtered in six harrowing years and great cities, much-loved towns and buildings and landscapes of all eras brutally damaged and even obliterated. After such barbarity, now, if ever, was the time to fight for a world truly worth living in.
Almost instantly, the AR found its campaigning voice. This began with a cri de cœur: Britain’s war-ravaged cities must be rebuilt sensitively and intelligently. Told in haunting sequences of charcoal-like black-and-white photographs, the campaign was overlain with John Piper’s plea for architects to learn to love what he called ‘pleasing decay’.
Source: Tim Street-Porter
A superb photograph of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s Clarendon Building at the University of Oxford (completed 1715) showing the painterly, chiaroscuro effects of two centuries of weathering was among those published in the AR as a warning of how we were in danger of losing such accidental beauty in a new, postwar world of obsessive hygiene, white walls and bright fluorescent light. It was also a reminder of how the guiding spirit of William Morris hovered over the editors’ shoulders. As Morris himself had thundered, ‘the natural weathering of the surface of a building is beautiful and its loss disastrous’.
The cities of the future, then, should be painterly rather than sterile. In this spirit, Gordon Cullen, a talented and imaginative architectural draughtsman whom Hastings took on in 1946, developed Townscape, a campaign that evolved over some 30 years and was very much at the heart of what the magazine had come to stand for. At the heart of the AR, too, was The Bride of Denmark, a private pub in the basement of the Westminster offices of the Architectural Press. Conjured mostly by Hastings and Cullen, it was planned like a townscape in miniature.
Townscape itself proffered an aesthetic and practical alternative to the iconoclastic urbanism of Le Corbusier, the clinical planning of CIAM and what proved to be the overarching glumness of Britain’s postwar New Towns. What mattered so very much to Cullen and Hastings was genius loci, the spirit of place. Townscape, wrote Hastings, was ‘the art of humanising high densities after the engineers have made them hygienically possible’. Published in book form in 1961, The Concise Townscape was highly influential, reintroducing architects and planners to the Picturesque, encouraging them to work with the existing grain of streets and buildings, to make towns belong to themselves.
As Norman Foster wrote of Cullen’s drawings at the time of his death in 1994, ‘they influenced the way that generations of architects not only expressed themselves but also the very way they thought’.
Although the most earnest CIAM architects found Townscape too painterly for comfort, Cullen – who had worked in the 1930s for Raymond McGrath, whose work had included aircraft interiors for Imperial Airways and studios for the BBC’s Broadcasting House, and for Berthold Lubetkin’s Tecton – was no fogey. In 1955, though, he married Jacqueline de Chabaneix du Chambon. With their three daughters, they spent summers in Biot, an age-old Provençal hill town, its plan as tightly woven as a snail’s shell, that helped shape his vision of how we might build empathetically in tune with historic towns, and how these towns might shape those of the future.
‘As Norman Foster wrote of Cullen’s drawings, “they influenced the way that generations of architects not only expressed themselves but also the very way they thought”’
Meanwhile, Hastings’ daughter, Priscilla – an accomplished artist – married an Italian scientist. They split their year between Rome and the Monte Argentario, then a wildly romantic peninsula on the coastal hem of Tuscany. Hastings came this way to tour one captivating medieval hill town after another. Under the pseudonym of Ivor de Wolfe, and with the talented photographer Ivy de Wolfe (his wife, Hazel Hastings), ‘H de C’ published his challenging and lyrical book The Italian Townscape in 1963.
If the AR knew what sort of cities and townscapes it wanted to fight for, it was also keen to demonstrate the kind of postwar development it stood resolutely against. In 1955, it bared its editorial teeth on the subject with Outrage, an unremitting attack on Subtopia, a word of its own invention. The Outrage was ‘that the whole land surface is becoming covered by the creeping mildew that already circumscribes all of our towns … Subtopia is the annihilation of the site, the steamrollering of all individuality of place to one uniform and mediocre pattern’.
This iconoclastic issue of the AR was written by Ian Nairn, a 24-year old former RAF fighter pilot, who had seen the mildew creep out from towns and cities across England from the cockpit of his Gloster Meteor jet. Motoring from Southampton to Carlisle in his open-top Morris Minor, Nairn took note of and railed fulsomely against architectural and man-made blight and suburban sprawl in all its promiscuous manifestations.
Outrage was an overnight sensation, capturing the imagination of the British national press, the House of Commons, the Duke of Edinburgh – a force in modern design at the time – and, two years later, inspiring the creation of the Civic Trust. Typically, the shy, un-clubbable Nairn refused to join.
Nairn’s attack was followed up in 1955 and 1956 by assaults on ‘Encroachment’ led by the landscape architect Sylvia Crowe – whose poetic modern garden at the Commonwealth Institute in Kensington was uprooted recently as this eye-catching building from 1962 by RMJM was transformed into the new Design Museum – and Kenneth Browne, assistant to Gordon Cullen at the AR.
Encroachment was a subtle attack on all the ‘paraphernalia of modern civilisation’, from electricity pylons and car parks to selfishly sited houses. It called for these to be ‘sited and designed in sympathy with each particular landscape or, where nature makes this impossible, that the landscape is redesigned in sympathy with them’. A sibling campaign, Dereliction, followed hard on Encroachment’s heels, suggesting new purposes for what today we know as ‘brownfield sites’ including exhausted quarries, slag heaps and abandoned factories.
‘Manplan irritated as many architect readers of AR as it provoked and inspired. Here, the magazine twisted and turned sociology into questions and campaigns’
With Kenneth Browne as illustrator and collagist, Hastings was to follow up these campaigns 15 years later with Civilia, a provocative and Picturesque re-imagining of an abandoned gravel quarry near Nuneaton. Drawing together the strands of the campaigns he had orchestrated over a quarter of a century, Hastings dreamed up and realised, on paper, an Italian hill city for our times in England’s Midlands. It was, and remains, a beguiling idea.
A year before Civilia, eight of the AR’s annual issues had been dedicated to Manplan, a brilliantly unsettling exercise in photojournalism expressed in grainy 35mm black-and-white photography and concerned with the way we lived in Britain. Edited by the raffish journalist Tim Rock and a team of bright and imaginative young British photographers and journalists, and dazzling in terms of art direction and production, Manplan irritated as many architect readers of AR as it provoked and inspired. Here, the magazine twisted and turned sociology into questions and campaigns rooted in architecture and town planning.
Most recently, Peter Buchanan’s The Big Rethink has presented a richly holistic view of architecture and urbanism in an era of global warming and the imminent extinction of most wildlife as humans encroach ever further into natural landscapes while detaching themselves ever further from nature itself. Perhaps inevitably those who have worked for the AR over the years have learned to campaign. With Notopia, the magazine is on the attack once again. One way or another the spirit, concerns and language of these new campaigns has been inherited from a tradition dating back before Hastings and Nairn, to Morris, Ruskin and Pugin, their ghosts reflected through the plate-glass prisms of that opulent French Renaissance-style dining room in the Charing Cross Hotel 120 years ago.
Nairn’s Outrage and Counter-Attack
Outrage (16) was a fearless attack on the unbridled banality of Britain’s postwar landscape. ‘Subtopia’, wrote Nairn, ‘is the annihilation of the site, the steamrollering of all individuality of place to one uniform and mediocre pattern.’ Subtopia was ‘a mean and middle state, neither town nor country, an even spread of abandoned aerodromes and fake rusticity, wire fences, traffic roundabouts, gratuitous notice-boards, car-parks and Things in Fields’. For Nairn, Britain was being transformed into a formless, artless, witless outer-suburban sprawl. Outrage was taken up with gusto by the wider media, conservationists and Parliament.
Nairn returned to the fray with his Counter-Attack (21), suggesting some of the things that might yet redeem Subtopia and spare Britain further blight. Both Outrage and Counter-Attack were as much concerned with messy details such as undisciplined road signing, advertising and tangled overhead wires as they were with the much bigger picture of urban, suburban and rural sprawl. Catalogues of modern urban and rural detritus, the layouts of the magazines had a relentless forensic quality about them, piling detail on blight.
Nairn continued his campaign in the pages of the Observer and Sunday Times newspapers and through happily idiosyncratic programmes he made for BBC Television. He lost the empathy of many Modern architects, however, when he wrote a lengthy article – ‘Stop the Architects Now’ – for the Observer (13 February 1966). ‘The outstanding and appalling fact about modern architecture is that it is just not good enough. It is not standing up to use or climate, either in single buildings or the whole environment … At worst it is the true arrogance of man stamping over the landscape in jackboots.’
Encroachment and Dereliction
Encroachment (22) was a campaign led by the landscape architect Sylvia Crowe and the AR’s assistant Townscape editor Kenneth Browne. Its concern was with all forms of visual encroachment on landscapes. Although Encroachment was concerned with the minutiae of visual blight, it also looked at a much bigger picture as, from the 1950s, major infrastructure projects including dams and power stations proliferated. Not only were Britain’s towns and cities growing, but the demand for water, electricity and other services was spiralling upwards.
Encroachment (23) demonstrated how such major intrusions on the landscape could be made to work. This was a form of landscape art and architecture that, understood by earlier generations – think, for example, of the noble Edwardian Baroque dams of the Elan Valley supplying clean water to Birmingham – was altogether less credible in the 1950s.
The Dereliction campaign (24), by Kenneth Browne, was launched in November 1955. Its focus was directed on what are known as ‘brownfield sites’ today: redundant factories, exhausted quarries, slag heaps and other industrial detritus. In Browne’s hands, these were transformed into parklands and most noticeably lakes, waterways and marinas.
From then on, marina schemes became popular in urban redevelopment plans, from the most genteel south coast towns to such well-intentioned housing developments as the Greater London Council’s Thamesmead project of the 1960s built on reclaimed marshland by the River Thames between Woolwich and Belvedere. The GLC architect Robert Rigg, influenced by new developments in Sweden, too, believed – as did the AR – that water was a calming influence on landscapes and people.
Produced over eight issues of the AR between September 1969 and September 1970, Manplan was a survey of sorts of life in contemporary Britain and, by extension, an analysis of what architects might design and planners might plan for its growing and increasingly disparate population. Graphically, the campaign, designed for the most part by Peter Baistow – who went on to art direct the Sunday Times – and Michael Reid, was a publishing tour de force. Characteristically, the series got off to an idiosyncratic start with the first issue devoted to the theme of ‘Frustration’, although earnest discussions of angst, ennui and alienation were fashionable at the time.
Photography – grainy, 35mm black-and-white, by Ian Berry, Patrick Ward and Tony Ray-Jones – was outstanding, as was the print quality of the magazines with liberal use of the kind of saturated matt black ink that created deeply impressionable chiaroscuro effects. In the first issue, there was little to read beyond a single line of text in Rockwell Light type stepping from page to page in a seamless sequence, and extended captions. This was 1960s photojournalism and graphic design at its creative zenith, yet the majority of the AR’s readership reacted negatively. Where were all the drawings, plans, sections and reviews of individual buildings? Where was Townscape? Was this really The Architectural Review?
The AR’s cover for January 1944 (30), by the artist Kenneth Rowntree, says much about the magazine’s layered view of heritage. This cover dates five months before D-Day; until that immense and heroic Allied action was undertaken, there was no guarantee that the war with Hitler would end any time soon. One thing Britain had promised itself was a national health service. Here, Rowntree shows a gleaming white hospital of the future through the Gothic arch of a blitzed church. This, of course, is Alvar Aalto’s Paimio Sanitorium (completed in 1932), a building much feted by the AR. Rowntree’s cover was a play on a series of public posters designed two years earlier by
Abram Games under the banner ‘Your Britain – Fight for it Now’ for the Army Bureau of Current Affairs. One famous poster depicted a gleaming Finsbury Health Centre (Berthold Lubetkin/Tecton, 1938) emerging from the ruins of a London slum in which a frightened boy is evidently a victim of malnutrition. Significantly, this same poster series also featured the very different artistic style of Frank Newbould whose idealised English pastoral scenes worth fighting for included Salisbury Cathedral, Alfriston Fair and the South Downs. Ultimately, both of these visions of Britain were worth the fight, and this happily mixed message occupied pages and entire issues of the wartime AR (for example (33, 34) Windmills, September 1945). During these years, the AR devoted considerable attention to the kind of early industrial buildings the editorial team, including Nikolaus Pevsner, saw as precursors of Modern Movement design. In the AR’s mind, Modernism and Heritage were to walk together into a postwar future. This was not going to be easy, yet after decades of ‘comprehensive redevelopment’ when history was treated as bunk to be bulldozed, Heritage fought its way to the top of the architectural and planning agenda.
Townscape emerged as the AR’s longest running campaign in the late 1940s. It began with H de C Hastings’ love of the Picturesque (hardly fashionable with Modern architects at the time), Italian hill towns and a sense that the character and charm of particular towns and places within them owed as much to unselfconscious as knowing design.
The job Gordon Cullen took on with Townscape was to encourage architects to look afresh at familiar spaces and places, to see and to understand how the best-loved townscapes have been shaped over centuries. And, most importantly, Townscape was a guide to how such qualities could be brought to modern urban planning. Townscape was also a loosening of the tight corsets of Beaux-Arts planning and an almost visceral reaction to the strictures of CIAM. Although the campaign did have intellectual roots in the late-19th-century researches into the informal city planning by Camillo Sitte (City Planning According to Artistic Principles, 1889) and Hermann Maertens (Der Optische Maßstab oder die Theorie und Praxis des ästhetischen Sehens in der bilden Kunsten, 1877), critics – notably Brutalists – in the ’50s and ’60s thought Townscape saccharine. Colin Rowe described it as ‘degenerate’ and a ‘kind of visual rubbish heap’, although his own Collage City (1978) was a reaction to the inhumanity of Modern Movement planning. In any case, at the same time as the AR published Townscape (in book form in 1961), it was also championing Brutalism through the writings of its assistant editor, Reyner Banham.
In 1971, the year he was awarded the Royal Gold Medal for architecture, Hastings synthesised his ideas on architecture and urbanism in Civilia or ‘The End of Sub Urban Man’, edited by Ivor de Wolfe (Hastings) and illustrated by Kenneth Browne and Priscilla Hastings. A riposte to New Towns and Subtopian sprawl, Civilia was a meticulously detailed reinvention of an Italian hill town rising from disused quarries near Nuneaton (41)and realised in collages of new buildings culled from around the world. In the design of this car-free city of a million people (they would be parked underground), Hastings demonstrated that it was possible to build an entirely new city on a brownfield site without encroaching on surrounding countryside. Here, he brought together the AR’s earlier campaigns and obsessions.
Civilia showed that a Picturesque new city could be built in the late 20th century without an iota of historic architecture or design. Brutalist buildings were as much a part of Civilia as canals, marinas, narrow alleys, lively town squares, vistas and gardens. Here, visitors would find a visual surprise at every turn. Here, modern architecture was humanised. This was Hastings’ ultimate counter attack against Subtopia. Nothing like Civilia has ever been built – and those Nuneaton quarries remain as they were in 1971 – and yet … why not?
The Big Rethink
Modernity brought many benefits to humanity, and yet, argued Peter Buchanan in AR’s The Big Rethink (between AR January 2012 and June 2013), it has also taken us to the edge of the abyss. It has detached us from the natural world, gobbled up fossil fuels and been responsible for the extinction of many species of fauna and flora. The Big Rethink was a big-picture look at the modern world and of how we might yet live in it as content human beings, our lives rich in meaning and dignity. Buchanan argued that there is a limit to the growth and efficacy of cities. In a truly sustainable future, agriculture and the countryside will become more rather than less important. At the same time we need to green cities while making them more humane and social places.
The Big Rethink worked on a number of levels, from the broad canvas to specific reminders of how such celebrated Modern Movement buildings as Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye could only work because of cheap fossil fuels. On one level the Modern city and its attendant architecture has been like a giant petrol station, its pumps running full-time. Deeply humane, The Big Rethink was a plea to do just that: think big before we drop into an abyss of our own modern making.
Notopia (AR July 2016) brings Outrage up to date. ‘This is less a warning than a prophecy of doom. If what is called the development of our cities is allowed to multiply at the present rate, then by the end of the century our world will consist of isolated oases of glassy monuments surrounded by a limbo of shacks and beige constructions, and we will be unable to distinguish any one global city from another.’
The symptom of Notopia, a pandemic of generic buildings with no connection to one another, ‘is that the edge of Mumbai will look like the beginning of Shenzhen, and the centre of Singapore will look like downtown Dallas … surely it’s not beyond our power to address it’.