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Sweet Geometry: Edward Reynolds at the Architectural Association, 1956–58

  • Geraint Franklin


This article considers the position of the Anglo-Portuguese architect Edward Reynolds (1926–59) in the British avant-garde of the 1950s. In Modern Architecture: A Critical History (1980), Kenneth Frampton suggested that Reynolds's student projects at the Architectural Association in London ‘exerted a decisive influence on the development of Brutalism’. This article scrutinises that claim through the lens of Reynolds's interactions with his peers, including the so-called French House group, an informal network that included his tutors John Killick, James Gowan and Peter Smithson. Notable characteristics of Reynolds's work — chiefly the use of complex and irregular geometries to articulate patterns of activity and movement — are discussed, as are contemporary projects by other members of the group and trends such as the New Brutalism, biomimicry and the revival of pre-war strands of Modernism.



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1 Cook, Peter, ‘Responses’, Arena, 82.907 (1966), pp. 137–44 (p. 137).

2 Frampton, Kenneth, Modern Architecture: A Critical History (London, 1992), p. 267.

3 Eisenman, Peter, ‘Real and English: The Destruction of the Box’, Oppositions, 4 (May 1974), pp. 534; McKean, John, Leicester Engineering Department Building: Leicester University 1959–63, Stirling and Gowan (London, 1994), p. 25.

4 Howell, W.G. and Killick, John, ‘Obituary: Edward Reynolds’, Architectural Association Journal, 74.829 (1959), pp. 217–23.

5 In 2018, Reynolds's drawings and notebooks were deposited in the archives of the Architectural Association under the reference AA/02/02/01/03/77. Reynolds's letters and other papers cited in this essay remain in the private collection of his daughter C.L. Edmanson, and are hereafter cited as ‘Reynolds papers’.

6 Brittain-Catlin, Timothy, Bleak Houses: Disappointment and Failure in Architecture (Cambridge, MA, 2014), p. 46.

7 Kenneth Frampton, pers. comm., 13 July 2016.

8 Summerson, John, ‘Introduction’, in Dannatt, Trevor, Modern Architecture in Britain (London, 1959), pp. 1128 (p. 28); Parnell, Steven, ‘The Brutal Myth’, Thresholds, 45 (2017), pp. 152–60 (p. 152).

9 See, for example, Gowan, James, ed., Projects: Architectural Association 1946–1971 (London, 1973).

10 Banham, Reyner, ‘The New Brutalism’, Architectural Review, 118 (December 1955), pp. 355–61.

11 Charlotte Edmanson, pers. comm., 13 August 2016; exercise book of c. 1943, London, Architectural Association Archives [hereafter AAA], AA/02/02/01/03/77/01.

12 Letter from Reynolds to his parents, 8 August 1947, Reynolds papers.

13 Ward, Colin, ‘Anarchy and Architecture: A Personal Record’, in Non-Plan: Essays on Freedom, Participation and Change in Modern Architecture and Urbanism, ed. Hughes, Jonathan and Sadler, Simon (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 4451 (p. 44).

14 Letter from Reynolds to his parents, 7 December 1949, Reynolds papers.

15 Letters from Reynolds to his parents, 18 October and 8 November 1949, Reynolds papers.

16 Ibid.

17 Email from Arthur Baker to Charlotte Edmanson, 17 August 2016, Reynolds papers.

18 AAA, AA/02/02/01/03/77/02/01.

19 Michael Webb, pers. comm., 7 February 2016.

20 AAA, AA/02/02/01/03/77/02/03.

21 AAA, AA/02/02/01/03/77/02/04.

22 This graphic style was also prevalent at the AA, where Bill Howell studied from 1948 to 1950: ‘Mies was IN, Mondriaan [sic] was IN, and every drawing had to consist of three or four black lines at right angles with a tastefully placed red square stuck on’. Howell, W.G., ‘Annual Exhibition of School Work’, Architectural Association Journal, 76.845 (1960), pp. 7880 (p. 80).

23 AAA, AA/02/02/01/03/77/02/02.

24 See, for example, Smithson, Alison, ‘House in Soho, London’, Architectural Design, 23 (December 1953), p. 342; ‘The New Brutalism’, Architectural Review, 116 (April 1954), pp. 274–75; ‘The New Brutalism’, Architectural Design, 25 (January 1955), p. 1; Banham, ‘The New Brutalism’.

25 ‘Uma nova filosofia sobre arquitectura se formou e essa filosofia se transformou numa expressão que esta concentrada neste programa que eles escollieram. Os meus colegas não gostaram deste projecto e desde então me chamaram “avant-guardist”, mas felizmente há um groupo de intelectuais com quem me dou, pintores, escultores, escritors e arquitectos que pensam e vêem e intrepertam vida da mesma maneiro que eu’: letter from Reynolds to his parents, 4 July 1952, Reynolds papers.

26 Jawdat, Ellen, ‘The New Architecture in Iraq’, Architectural Design, 27 (March 1957), pp. 79108 (pp. 92–95).

27 Girouard, Mark, Big Jim (London, 1998), pp. 5960; Menin, Sarah and Kite, Stephen, An Architecture of Invitation: Colin St John Wilson (London, 2005), p. 39.

28 G.J. Whitham, ‘The Independent Group at the Institute of Contemporary Arts: Its Origins, Development and Influences 1951–1961’ (doctoral thesis, University of Kent, 1986), pp. 116–18.

29 Letter from Reynolds to his parents, 4 July 1952, Reynolds papers.

30 Baker later collaborated with Wilson on a number of London housing projects, and in the 1960s moved to New York, where he worked with James Stirling on a planning study for Manhattan West (Montreal, Canadian Centre for Architecture, AP140.S2.SS1.D34).

31 Arthur Baker, pers. comm., 20 July 2016.

32 Franklin, Geraint, Howell Killick Partridge & Amis (Swindon, 2017).

33 Partridge, John, ‘Roehampton Housing’, in Housing the Twentieth Century Nation: Twentieth Century Architecture 9, ed. Harwood, Elain and Powers, Alan (Journal of the Twentieth Century Society, 2008), pp. 115–20 (p. 115).

34 Reyner Banham, ‘Bennett's Leviathan’, New Society, 8 April 1971, pp. 594–95 (p. 594); Colin Lucas to Anne Reynolds, 7 January 1959, Reynolds papers.

35 AAA, AA/02/02/01/03/77/03/01, sheets 1–5.

36 AAA, AA/02/02/01/03/77/03/01, sheets 6–7.

37 Cullen, Gordon, The Concise Townscape (London, 1961; repr. 1986), pp. 128–29.

38 AAA, AA/02/02/01/03/77/03/01, sheet 8.

39 AAA, AA/02/02/01/03/77/03/01, sheet 9.

40 ‘Housing at Priory Lane, Roehampton, London, SW15’, Architectural Design, 29 (January 1959), pp. 7–21 (p. 19).

41 Stirling, James, ‘Ronchamp: Le Corbusier's Chapel and the Crisis of Rationalism’, Architectural Review, 119 (March 1956), pp. 160–61; Howell, W.G., ‘Intention and Poetry’, Architects’ Journal, 129.3342 (1959), p. 460.

42 Howell and Killick, ‘Obituary’, p. 218.

43 John Partridge, interview with Geraint Franklin, 4 July 2014, London, British Library Sound Archive [hereafter BLSA], National Life Stories Collection [hereafter NLSC], C1730/02/01.

44 Andrew Saint, ‘HJ Whitfield Lewis obituary’, Guardian, 27 April 2010, (accessed on 3 May 2019).

45 Patrick Zamarian, ‘“To Fend for Ourselves in Proud Isolation”: The AA School of Architecture in the Postwar Period (1945–1965)’ (doctoral thesis, University of Liverpool, 2017).

46 Howell and Killick, ‘Obituary’, p. 218.

47 Tony Eardley, pers. comm., 31 August 2018.

48 Richard Rogers, pers. comm., 9 November 2016.

49 Gowan, James, Style and Configuration (London, 1994), p. 14.

50 Partridge, Howell Killick and Amis, , ‘Attitudes to Architecture’, Arena, 82 (November 1966), pp. 95119 (p. 101).

51 Cook, ‘Responses’, p. 137.

52 John Partridge, interview with Jill Lever, 12 September 2002, BLSA, NLSC, C467/75/03. Smithson may or may not have been aware of an earlier use of the phrase by the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca in ‘Theory and Play of the Duende’, a 1933 lecture reprinted in Lorca, Federico García, In Search of Duende (New York, 1998).

53 ‘Neave Brown in Conversation with Mark Swenarton and Thomas Weaver’, AA Files, 67 (2013), pp. 75–91; ‘John Miller in Conversation with Mark Swenarton and Thomas Weaver’, AA Files, 70 (2015), pp. 124–37; ‘A Conversation with Kenneth Frampton’, October, 106 (Autumn 2003), pp. 35–36.

54 Neave Brown, interview with Geraint Franklin, 8 February 2014, BLSA, NLSC, C467/113/04.

55 Kynaston, David, Modernity Britain. Book One: Opening the Box, 1957–1959 (London, 2013).

56 Cook, ‘Responses’, p. 138.

57 An earlier fourth-year housing project of note was Patrick Hodgkinson's of 1953: Swenarton, Mark, ‘High Density without High Rise: Housing Experiments of the 1950s by Patrick Hodgkinson’, in Architecture and the Welfare State, ed. Swenarton, Mark et al. (Abingdon, 2014), pp. 237–57.

58 Gowan, Projects, p. 33.

59 Kadleigh, Sergei, High Paddington, a Town for 8,000 People (London, 1952). Howell, Killick and Partridge's response was Low Kensington, a project of 1955–56 (Franklin, HKPA, pp. 115–17).

60 Gowan, Projects, p. 42.

61 Pattrick, Michael, ‘Architectural Aspirations’, Architectural Association Journal, 73.818 (1958), pp. 147–58.

62 Hitchcock, Henry-Russell, ‘The Work of Antoni Gaudí i Cornet’, Architectural Association Journal, 74.826 (1958), pp. 8698.

63 Gowan, James, ‘Annual Exhibition of Schoolwork 1956–1961’, Architectural Association Journal, 77.855 (1961), pp. 6667 (p. 67). Although Gowan credits Khareghat, the description clearly relates to Doongaji's ashram project.

64 Rowe, Colin, ‘Annual Exhibition of School Work’, Architectural Association Journal, 75 (September/October 1959), pp. 6066 (p. 63).

65 Howell and Killick, ‘Obituary’, p. 218.

66 Rowe, ‘Annual Exhibition’, p. 61.

67 Cook, Peter, ‘Cook's Grand Tour’, Architectural Review, 1040 (1983), pp. 3243 (p. 43).

68 Rowe, ‘Annual Exhibition’, p. 63; Gowan, ‘Annual Exhibition’, p. 67.

69 In the early 1960s, Drake joined Ahrends Burton and Koralek, where he spent the remainder of his working life, having met AA graduate Peter Ahrends while working for Slater, Moberly and Uren on the design of Sanderson House. Janet Drake, pers. comm, 25 August 2016.

70 Gowan, Projects, p. 40.

71 AAA, AA/02/02/01/03/77/04/01/02, sheet 2.

72 AAA, AA/02/02/01/03/21/01/02, sheet 16.

73 AAA, AA/02/02/01/03/77/04/01/02, sheet 3.

74 AAA, AA/02/02/01/03/77/04/01/02, sheet 4, entitled ‘diagram: site, hall axis, intermediate flow’.

75 AAA, AA/02/02/01/03/21/01/02, sheet 5.

76 Stevens, Thomas, ‘A Concert Hall’, Polygon, 3 (1958), unpaginated.

77 G.K., ‘Wettbewerb Philharmonie Berlin’, Bauwelt, 28 January 1957, pp. 76–80; Gowan, Projects, p. 40.

78 Jones, Peter Blundell, Hans Scharoun (London, 1995), p. 186.

79 Ibid., p. 178.

80 Franklin, Geraint, ‘White Wall Guys: The Return of Heroic Modernism’, in The Seventies: Twentieth-Century Architecture 10, ed. Harwood, Elain and Powers, Alan (Journal of the Twentieth Century Society, 2012), pp. 89102.

81 Frampton, Modern Architecture, p. 266; Reyner Banham, ‘Mendelsohn’, Architectural Review, 116 (August 1954), pp. 84–93; Russell-Hitchcock, Henry, Architecture: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (London, 1958), p. 344 et seq.

82 Conrads, Ulrich and Sperlich, Hans G., Phantastische Architektur (Teufen, Switzerland, 1960).

83 Letters from Arthur Drexler to Anne Reynolds, 16 February and 19 July 1960, AAA, AA/02/02/01/03/77/05/01.

84 Peter Blundell Jones, ‘A Forty-Year Encounter with Hans Scharoun’ (PhD by publication, University of Sheffield, 2013), p. 47.

85 Significantly, expressionist or futurist works did not figure in Alison and Peter Smithson's ‘The Heroic Period of Modern Architecture’, Architectural Design, 35 (December 1965), pp. 590–640, although those movements were at the forefront of Banham's, Reyner Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (London, 1960).

86 Colomina, Beatriz, Clip, Stamp, Fold: The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines, 196X to 197X (Barcelona, 2010), pp. 451–52; Alison and Peter Smithson, ‘Heroic Period’.

87 ‘An Interesting Entry in the Sydney Opera House Competition’, Architect and Building News, 14 March 1957, pp. 352–55.

88 Roy Stout, interview with Geraint Franklin, 23 November 2014, BLSA, NLSC, C1730/04/02.

89 ‘An Interesting Entry’, p. 352. The opening paragraph from which this quotation is taken may have been submitted by the designers for publication.

90 Cook, ‘Responses’, p. 139.

91 Stout, interview with Franklin.

92 Cited in Alison and Smithson, Peter, The Charged Void: Architecture (New York, 2002), p. 188.

93 Cambridge, Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, CCAR/401/1/5/2/1.

94 Reynolds's sketchbook, c. 1958, AAA, AA/02/02/01/03/77/04/01/04.

95 AAA, AA/02/02/01/03/77/04/01/02, sheet 6.

96 Monique Lee, pers. comm., 15 July 2016.

97 Steadman, Philip, The Evolution of Designs: Biological Analogy in Architecture and the Applied Arts (London, 1979).

98 Saint, Andrew, Towards a Social Architecture: The Role of School Building in Post-War England (New Haven, CT, 1987), p. 31; Moffat, Isabelle, ‘“A Horror of Abstract Thought”: Postwar Britain and Hamilton's 1951 “Growth and Form” Exhibition’, October, 94 (2000), pp. 89112.

99 Partridge, interview with Jill Lever, 19 September 2002, BLSA, NLSC, C467/75/05; W.G. Howell, ‘Vertebrate Buildings: The Architecture of Structured Space’, RIBA Journal, 77 (March 1970), pp. 100–08; HKPA, ‘Attitudes to Architecture’, pp. 100–01.

100 Partridge interview, 19 September 2002, London, BLSA, NLSC, C467/75/05; McKean, Leicester, p. 25; Richard Raines, pers. comm., 18 August 2016.

101 Smithsons, The Charged Void, p. 188.

102 John Outram, pers. comm., 2 August 2016; Michael Webb, pers. comm., 7 February 2016.

103 Polygon, 3 (1958), unpaginated. Outram, however, claims that he coined the term (Colomina, Clip, Stamp, Fold, p. 452).

104 Jones, Peter Blundell, Hugo Häring: The Organic Versus the Geometric (Stuttgart, 1999), p. 160.

105 Cook, ‘Responses’, p. 138.

106 Pevsner, Nikolaus, ‘Modern Architecture and the Historian or the Return of Historicism’, RIBA Journal, 68 (April 1961), pp. 230–40 (p. 231).

107 Gowan, Projects, p. 38.

108 Jencks, Charles, ‘Pop–Non Pop 2’, Architectural Association Quarterly, 1.2 (1969), pp. 5674 (p. 62).

109 ‘Darwin College Cambridge, in-office design studies’ [1965], London, RIBA Drawings & Archive Collections, HKPA practice archive (uncatalogued), roll 24.1.

110 In the late 1950s, the company operated about fifty depots and was engaged in an expansion programme. Its name was chosen by Leverhulme., LordA Name They Live up to: “Speedy Prompt Delivery”’, Transport World, 123 (1958), pp. 1213.

111 Reyner Banham, ‘The Style for the Job’, New Statesman, 14 February 1964, p. 261.

112 Richards, J.M., The Functional Tradition in Early Industrial Buildings (London, 1958). For their measured drawing studies, the AA students Robert Maguire and Peter Matthews surveyed the Iron Bridge at Coalbrookdale in 1950, while Stephen Rosenberg and Brian Smith chose the Dungeness High Lighthouse (1953), and Fenella Clemens, Jeremy Dixon and Christopher Woodward chose the Great Laxey Wheel on the Isle of Man (1959): Gowan, Projects, pp. 18, 24, 47.

113 Buchanan, Peter, ‘Big Jim's Legacy’, Architecture Interieure Créé, 250 (October 1992), pp. 166–67 (p. 166).

114 Kenneth Frampton, pers. comm., 13 July 2016.

115 Ellis Woodman, ‘Things are Much Simpler than Architects Make Them Out to Be’, Building Design, 23 May 2008, pp. 12–13.

116 Girouard, Big Jim, p. 71. For Newby as collaborator, see Yeomans, David, ‘The Design of the Snowdon Aviary and the Nature of Collaboration’, Architectural History, 61 (2018), pp. 235–57.

117 AAA, admissions register.

118 Howell and Killick, ‘Obituary’, p. 218; C.L. Edmanson, pers. comm., 13 August 2016.

119 The couple were visiting their friend Estrid Bannister-Good, a Danish journalist and a consultant to Allen Lane of Penguin Books. Lane had a holiday cottage at Rosscarbery Bay, designed by an acquaintance of Reynolds, the AA graduate Edward Samuel. Harling, Robert, ed., House and Garden Book of Cottages (London, 1963), pp. 124–25.

120 Letter from Reynolds to his parents, 11 February 1958, Reynolds papers.

121 AAA, AA/02/02/01/03/77/04/02/01, sketch entitled ‘Mill Cove 58’.

122 AAA, AA/02/02/01/03/77/04/02/01, sheet 2.

123 Reynolds's sketchbook, c. 1958, AAA, AA/02/02/01/03/77/04/01/04. A prototype of the cabine hôtelière mobile was exhibited at Paris in November 1956. Alison and Smithson, Peter, ‘The Appliance House’, Architectural Design, 28 (April 1958), pp. 177–78.

124 Crinson, Mark, ‘“A House which Grows”: Stirling and Gowan, the Smithsons, and Consumer Society’, in Neo-Avant-Garde and Postmodern: Postwar Architecture in Britain and Beyond, ed. Crinson, Mark and Zimmerman, Claire (New Haven, CT, 2010), pp. 177–99.

125 Smithson, Peter, ‘The Slow Growth of Another Sensibility: Architecture as Townbuilding’, in A Continuing Experiment: Learning and Teaching at the Architectural Association, ed. Gowan, James (London, 1975), pp. 5563 (p. 58).

126 Chalk, Warren, cited in Simon Sadler, Archigram: Architecture Without Architecture (Cambridge, MA, 2005), p. 32. According to John Outram, Douglas Stephen used the term ‘casbah crumble’ in the late 1950s (pers. comm., 13 October 2015).

127 Sadler, Archigram, p. 32.

128 Cited in Gowan, Projects, p. 31.

129 Powers, Alan, ‘Flying Angels and Solid Walls’, AA Files, 64 (2012), pp. 4858 (p. 50).

130 Peter Jamieson, interview with Geraint Franklin, 10 September 2015, BLSA, NLSC, C1730/13/01; Roy Stout, interview with Geraint Franklin, 23 November 2014, BLSA, NLSC, C1730/04/02; Frank Linden, pers. comm., 18 August 2016.

131 Rowe, ‘Annual Exhibition’, p. 63. He may have had in mind a group of three AA students whom he dubbed the ‘Christian Weirdies’, whose attitude to the Modern movement has been interpreted in terms of dissent or nonconformity (Powers, ‘Flying Angels’, pp. 56–57).

132 Howell and Killick, ‘Obituary’, p. 218.

133 Stevens, ‘A Concert Hall’, unpaginated.

134 Howell and Killick, ‘Obituary’, p. 218.

135 Ibid.

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Sweet Geometry: Edward Reynolds at the Architectural Association, 1956–58

  • Geraint Franklin


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