A small group of about 25 has just come to the end of a second year attending a series
of stimulating lectures on the fascinating subject of architecture. Last year (2008/9)
our lecturer, the very knowledgeable and enthusiastic Hilary Smyth, took us on a
visual tour of English building styles, beginning with a review of Italian Renaissance
architecture, which was to have such a pervasive influence on English design in the
seventeenth century and beyond. The end of the first series saw us preparing to enter
the twentieth century with its multiplicity of architectural theories and styles.
And so to the current series, in which Hilary concentrated on Continental Europe,
where many of the vital developments in twentieth-century architecture took place.
She also altered the format, taking us year by year through the period (rather than
century by century as before), so that we could appreciate not only the similarities
but also the often amazing differences in style and ethos occurring in various places
at the same time. For example, who would imagine that W.R. Lethaby’s thatch-roofed
Arts and Crafts church in Brockhampton of 1900-2 was created at the same time as
Hector Guimard’s flamboyant Art Nouveau Metro stations in Paris? Or that Sir Edwin
Lutyens’ House for the Viceroy in New Delhi (finished ca. 1931), with its combination
of British Imperial architecture and Mogul flourishes was contemporary with Le Corbusier’s
Villa Savoie outside Paris – a white box elevated on slender columns, featuring long
strip windows and an open-plan interior? And yet, it was these startling juxtapositions
that helped us realize the wonderful variety and vitality of twentieth-century architecture
at its best.
As can be gathered from these few examples, we have had the opportunity to examine
a wide range of modern styles, often developing in parallel. These include: Art Nouveau
in its individual manifestations throughout Europe; the late period of Arts and Crafts
with its emphasis on vernacular architecture; Art Deco with its clean lines and exquisite
finishes; and the International Modern Style with its revolutionary designs, materials,
and methods of construction, as exemplified in the work of the Deutsche Werkbund
and the Bauhaus. We have looked at industrial building as well as domestic, apartment
blocks as well as grand civic edifices and have even marvelled at futuristic aeroplane
hangars and sports stadia. We have seen an extraordinary diversity of images, some
breath-taking, some beautiful, some surreal. And we have begun to gain an understanding
of what makes twentieth-century architecture “tick”.
In the course of our lectures, we have also considered individual architects (and
the occasional engineer as well), including the “Big Three” of the modern period
– Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier. These three will continue
to feature in next year’s series of five lectures (fourth Sunday of Oct., Nov., Jan.,
Feb., and March from 3:00-5:00), in which Hilary intends to carry on with her survey
of twentieth-century architecture from 1939 onward.
As can be imagined, members of the group have their own particular architectural
enthusiasms -- periods, styles, architects, even theories. Therefore, in order to
allow us to share our diverse interests, the new series will have a slightly different
format. The first hour will remain as a lecture, but the period after tea break will
be open to anyone who wishes to speak about a favourite subject for ten or fifteen
minutes. There is, of course, no compulsion to contribute, and Hilary has offered
to make her slides available for illustration.
We are a friendly and relaxed group who would warmly welcome new members. We meet
at St. Robert’s Centre, which has good facilities, comfortable chairs, and plenty
of room. So do come to join us for more armchair explorations in architecture.