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Vulgar Modernism: J. M. Richards, Modernism and the Vernacular in British Architecture

  • Jessica Kelly

Extract

In 1946 J. M. Richards, editor of the Architectural Review (AR) and self-proclaimed champion of modernism, published a book entitled The Castles on the Ground (Fig. 1). This book, written while working for the Ministry of Information (Mol) in Cairo during the war, was a study of British suburban architecture and contained long, romantic descriptions of the suburban house and garden. Richards described the suburb as a place in which ‘everything is in its place’ and where ‘the abruptness, the barbarities of the world are far away’. For this reason The Castles on the Ground is most often remembered as a retreat from pre-war modernism, into nostalgia for mock-Tudor houses and privet hedges. The writer and critic Reyner Banham, who worked with Richards at the AR in the 1950s, described the book as a ‘blank betrayal of everything that Modern Architecture was supposed to stand for’. More recently, however, it has been rediscovered and reassessed for its contribution to mid-twentieth-century debates about the relationship between modern architects and the British public. These reassessments get closer to Richards’s original aim for the book. He was not concerned with the style of suburban architecture for its own sake, but with the question of why the style was so popular and what it meant for the role of modern architects in Britain and their relationship to the ‘man in the street’.

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Notes

1 Richards, J. M., The Castles on the Ground, 2nd edn (London, 1973), p. 13.

2 Richards, J. M., Memoirs of an Unjust Fella (London, 1980), p. 188.

3 Banham, Reyner, New Brutalism (London, 1966), p. 13.

4 See Powers, Alan, Britain: Modern Architectures in History (London, 2007); and Erten, Erdem, ‘The Hollow Victory of Modern Architecture and the Quest for the Vernacular: J. M. Richards and “the Functional Tradition”’, in Built from Below: British Architecture and The Vernacular, ed. Guillery, Peter (London, 2011), pp. 145–68.

5 This phrase ‘the man in the street’ is used repeatedly in Richards’s 1940 book: Richards, J. M., Introduction to Modem Architecture (London, 1940).

6 Richards, , Castles on the Ground, p. 19.

7 See for example Whyte, William, ‘The Englishness of English Architecture: Modernism and the Making of a National International Style’, The journal of British Studies, vol. 48 no. 2 (2009), pp. 441–65.

8 Shand, Philip Morton, ‘Scenario for Human Drama’, The Architectural Review (July, 1934), pp. 915.

9 Pevsner, Nikolaus, Pioneers of the Modern Movement: From William Morris to Walter Gropius(London, 1936).

10 Williams, Raymond, Culture and Society, 1780–1950, 3rd edn (London, 1963; first published: London, 1958),p. 17 .

11 See Erten, , ‘The Hollow Victory’, p. 150.

12 Richards, , Castles on the Ground, p. 57.

13 Richards, J. M., ‘Criticism’, The Architectural Review (January, 1941), pp. 132–36 (p. 132).

14 See for example Darling, Elizabeth, Reforming Britain: Narratives of Modernity Before Reconstruction (London,2007), p. 3.

15 Williams, Richard J., The Anxious City: British Urbanism in the Late 20th Century (Oxford, 2004).

16 Williams, , The Anxious City, p. 34.

17 Zurich, Institute of History and Theory of Architecture, GTA Archives, Haefeli, Moser, Steiger Papers, J. M. Richards, ‘Architectural Expression’, CIAM 6 Congress (September, 1946). Reading (Berks), BBC Written Archive, J. M. Richards, ‘Vision and Design: English Architectural Taste — 2’, on BBC Far Eastern Service (July 1946).

18 Gold, John, The Experience of Modernism: Modern Architects and the Future City, 1928-1953 (London, 1997), pp. 1213.

19 Morphet, Richard, in Binyon, Helen, Eric Ravilious: Memoir of an Artist (edn Cambridge, 2007), p. 8.

20 Goldhagen, Sarah Williams, ‘Something to Talk About: Modernism, Discourse, Style’, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 64.2 (June 2005), pp. 144–67 (p. 161).

21 See Erten, , ‘The Hollow Victory’; Powers, Britain; and Andrew Higgott, Mediating Modernism: Architectural Cultures in Britain (London, 2006).

22 Richards, , Memoirs, p. 43.

23 Interview with Gloag, John, in Lasdun, Susan, ‘H. de C Reviewed’, The Architectural Review (September, 1996), pp. 6874 (p. 69).

24 The Editors, ‘The First Half Century’, The Architectural Review (January, 1947), pp. 150–65.

25 Richards, , Memoirs, p. 117.

26 The Origins of Modern Critical Thought: German Aesthetic and Literary Criticism From Lessing to Hegel, ed. Simpson, David (Cambridge, 1988), p. 357.

27 Chermayeff, Serge, ‘A New Spirit and Idealism’, The Architects’ Journal (November, 1931), pp.619–20 (p. 619).

28 Breuer, Marcel, ‘Where do we Stand?’, The Architectural Review (April, 1935), pp. 134–40 (p. 136).

29 Richards, J. M., ‘Towards a Rational Aesthetic’, The Architectural Review (December 1935), pp. 211–20 (p. 211)

30 Mumford, Lewis, Technics and Civilisation (New York, 1934); as quoted in Richards, ‘Towards a Rational Aesthetic’, p. 211.

31 Richards, , ‘Rational Aesthetic’, p. 216.

32 Bearer, Karen Anne, Irene Rice Pereira: Her Paintings and Philosophy (Texas, 1993), p. 15.

33 Pevsner, Nikolaus, ‘Early and High Baroque’ in Games, Steven, Pevsner the Early Life: Germany and Art (London, 2011), p. 182.

34 Richards, J. M., The Functional Tradition in Early Industrial Buildings(London, 1958), p. 14.

35 Piper, John, ‘Nautical Style’, The Architectural Review (January, 1938), pp. 114 . London, Tate Archive, TGA 200410/3/2/17, John and Myfanwy Piper Papers, Myfanwy Piper, ‘Writing About Jim’.

36 Lewes, East Sussex Records Office, Peggy Angus Archive, letter dated May 1937.

37 Piper, John, ‘Fully Licensed’, The Architectural Review (March, 1940), pp. 87101.

38 See for example Erten, , ‘The Hollow Victory’, p. 150.

39 Richards, J. M., ‘The Condition of Architecture and the Principle of Anonymity’, Circle: International Survey of Constructive Art, ed. by Martin, J. L., Nicholson, Ben and Gabo, Naum (London, 1937), pp. 184–91 (p. 185).

40 Richards, , ‘The Condition of Architecture and the Principle of Anonymity’, p. 185.

41 Bristol, The Penguin Archive, DM1843/15/4, Letters to Richards from Allan Lane, 1938.

42 Richards, , An Introduction to Modern Architecture, p. 79.

43 Hegel, G. W. F., preface to Philosophy of Right, trans. Dyde, S. W. (edn New York, 2005), p. xviii.

44 Ibid., p.xix.

45 Richards, , Castles on the Ground, p. 20.

46 Los Angeles, Getty Research Library, Nikolaus Pevsner Papers, ‘The Elements of Contemporary Architecture in Britain - Historicism and Traditionalism’, 1939.

47 Ibid., letter from Richards to Pevsner dated October 1939.

48 Lewes, East Sussex Records Office, Peggy Angus Archive, letter from Richards to Peggy Angus, April 1936.

49 Richards, , Memoirs, p. 36.

50 See Seddon, Jill, ‘The Architect and the “Arch Pedant”: Sadie Speight, Nikolaus Pevsner and “Design Review”’, The Journal of Design History, 20.1 (2007), pp. 2941.

51 Richards, , Memoirs, p. 96.

52 Ibid., p. 96.

53 Richards, , Memoirs, p. 101 , giving 1932 as the date that they first rented Brick House; Binyon, , Eric Ravilious, p. 58

54 Ibid.

55 It was at Furlongs that Eric Ravilious met Helen Binyon and they began an affair that lasted until 1938: Binyon, , Eric Ravilious, p. 64.

56 Lewes, East Sussex Records Office, Peggy Angus Archive, Peggy Angus Archive, letter from Richards to Peggy Angus, undated.

57 Ibid., Report of the County Archivist (April 2006–March 2007), p. 7.

58 Ibid., Peggy Angus Archive, letter from Richards to Peggy Angus, undated.

59 Ibid.

60 Spalding, Frances, John and Myfanwy: a life in art (Oxford, 2009), p. 72

61 Binyon, Eric Ravilious, p. 60 : letter from Charlotte Bawden to Gwyneth Lloyd-Thomas, 1932.

62 Richards, , Memoirs, p. 101.

63 Jones, Barbara, The Unsophisticated Arts (London, 1951).

64 James Russell at http://jamesrussellontheweb.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/the-unsophisticated-genius-of- barbara.html (accessed 31 April 2015).

65 Harrod, Tanya, ‘Peggy Angus Obituary’, The Independent, 2 November, 1982, p. 78.

66 Binyon, , Eric Ravilious, p. 66.

67 Martin, Leslie, ‘The State of TransitionCircle, pp. 108218 (p. 217).

68 For more details see Gold, The Experience of Modernism.

69 MARS the Pictoral Record’, The Architectural Review (March, 1938), pp. 99112 (p. 109).

70 Ibid.

71 Gold, , The Experience of Modernism, p. 125.

72 London, Royal Institute of British Architects Archive, SAG/92/1/(2/2), Godfrey Samuel Papers, letter from Richards to MARS group, 26 November 1936.

73 Richards, J. M., ‘Architecture and The Public’, The Architectural Review (May, 1937), pp. 200–05 (P. 203)

74 Richards, , An Introduction to Modern Architecture, pp. 1011.

75 Ibid., p. 11.

76 Richards, J. M., ‘Criticism’, The Architectural Review(June, 1941), pp. 132–36 (p. 132).

77 Richards, , Introduction to Modern Architecture, p. 12.

78 Richards, , ‘Criticism’ (June, 1941), p.132.

79 Richards, J. M., ‘Criticism’, The Architectural Review (February, 1940), pp. 6670 (p. 67).

80 Richards, , ‘Criticism’, The Architectural Review (June, 1941), p. 132.

81 Richards, , Castles on the Ground, p. 20.

82 Richards, , Memoirs, p. 158.

83 Ibid., p. 160.

84 Zurich, Institute of History and Theory of Architecture, GTA Archives, Haefeli, Moser, Steiger Papers, J. M. Richards, Report on MARS Group: war and post-war (1947).

85 Williams, , The Anxious City, p. 32.

86 Sussex, Mass Observation Archive, (1/6/D), ‘Liking/disliking own home’, p. 30.

87 Reading (Berks), BBC Written Archive, Richards, , ‘Vision and Design: English Architectural Taste — 2’, pp. 25.

88 Zurich, Institute of History and Theory of Architecture, GTA Archives, General Secretariat Papers, Minutes from Meeting of CIRPAC in London (July 1946), p. 2.

89 Ibid., Letter from Sigfried Giedion to Hartland-Thomas (25 July 1946).

90 Ibid.

91 Ibid., General Secretariat Papers, Notes of Discussion at MARS Group Meeting (undated).

92 Ibid., Haefeli, Moser, Steiger Papers, Richards, , ‘Architectural Expression’, p. 1.

93 Ibid., pp. 2-3.

94 Eliot, T. S., Notes Toward a Definition of Culture (edn London 1962), p. 36.

95 Ibid., p. 44.

96 Ibid., p. 37.

97 London, Tate Archive, TGA 955/1/1/10, ICA Papers, ‘Minutes of the Second Meeting of the Organising Committee’ (20 February 1946).

98 Ibid., TGA 955/1/1/10, ICA Papers, ICA Statement of Policy and Aims.

99 Richards, J. M., ‘The Next Step’, The Architectural Review (March, 1950), pp. 164–69 (p. 165).

100 Ibid., p. 168.

101 Ibid., p. 165.

102 Ibid.

103 Hugh Casson first appeared on the MARS members list in March 1945.

104 Banham, Reyner, ‘Stocktaking, 5’, The Architectural Review (June, 1960), pp. 380–92 (p. 381).

105 Richards, J. M., ‘Hats Off — Watney Lettering’, The Architectural Review (November, 1960), pp. 376–80; idem, Criticism: Stockholm, New Commercial Centre’, The Architectural Review(August, 1961), pp. 105–07; idem, Report From Romania’, The Architectural Review (September, 1965), pp. 189–99; idem, The Painted Churches of Moldavia’, The Architectural Review (March, 1966), pp. 183–90.

106 Richards, J. M., ‘Gourna: a lesson in basic architecture’, The Architectural Review (February, 1970), pp. 1022.

107 Banham, Reyner, ‘Criticism: Pirelli Building Milan’, The Architectural Review (March, 1961), pp. 195–98; idem, The obsolescent airport’, The Architectural Review (October, 1962), pp. 252–58; idem, Speed the Citizen, urban rapid transit and the future of cities’, The Architectural Review (August, 1964), pp. 103–10; idem, Towards a million-volt light and sound culture’, The Architectural Review (May, 1967), pp. 331–38.

108 Banham, Reyner, ‘On Trial: 5’, The Architectural Review(July, 1962), pp. 4249 (p. 43).

109 Ibid., p. 45.

110 Stocktaking 1’, in The Architectural Review (February, 1960), pp. 9398 ; ‘Stocktaking 2’, in idem (March, 1960), pp. 183–90; ‘Stocktaking 3’, in idem (April, 1960), pp. 253–60; ‘Stocktaking 4’, in idem (May, 1960), pp. 352–61; ‘Stocktaking, 5’, in idem (June, 1960), pp. 381–91.

111 Banham, Reyner, in ‘Stocktaking 5’, The Architectural Review (June, 1960), pp. 384–94 (p. 386).

112 Banham described these efforts at ‘education’ as nothing more than attempts ‘to equip the working classes with middle-class responses’; see Banham, Reyner, ‘The Atavism of a Short Distance Mini Cyclist’, Living Arts , no. 3 (1963), pp. 9197 (p. 87).

113 Banham, , ‘Zoom Wave Hits Architecture’, New Society (3 March 1966), pp. 6469.

114 Banham, The Atavism of a Short Distance Mini Cyclist’, p. 87.

115 London, BBC Video Archive, Donat, John, ‘American Architecture’ (aired November, 1969).

116 This was three years before the book Learning from Las Vegas was published.

117 Richards, J. M., ‘RIBA Discourse: The Hollow Victory’, The Journal of the RIBA (May, 1972), pp. 189–99(P.197).

118 Ibid., p. 194.

119 Richards, , Castles on the Ground, p. 10.

120 Ibid., p. 9

121 Taylor, Nicholas, The Village in the City (London, 1973) p. 21.

122 Ibid., p. 19.

123 Ibid., p. 220.

124 Zurich, Institute of History and Theory of Architecture, GTA Archives, General Secretariat Papers, Letter from Sigfried Giedion to Hartland-Thomas.

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Vulgar Modernism: J. M. Richards, Modernism and the Vernacular in British Architecture

  • Jessica Kelly

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