ADAM KOSSOWSKI STAINED GLASS

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Relic Chapel, St Simon Stock

We went to the Aylesford Friars to see Adam Kossowski’s ceramic reliefs in the chapels, not expecting to find that he had also designed stained glass. The Carmelites returned to Aylesford in 1949 and his windows, made in the 1950s, are abstract, complementing his narrative ceramics and not distracting from their story with representation.

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St Anne Chapel
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Relic Chapel, St Simon Stock
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Relic Chapel, St Simon Stock
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Relic Chapel, St Simon Stock

 

EAST KENT BUILDINGS

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A walk from Deal to St Margaret’s Bay, via Kingsdown and St Margaret’s-at-Cliffe, took in a variety of building styles, vernacular and polite.

Flint and brick is characteristic.

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I liked the fretted fascia on this house.

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Oldestairs House in Oldstairs Road, Kingsdown. Red-brick, roughcast and tile hanging. Large, Edwardian and intrusive.

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Kingsdown Cottage, one of a pair of Arts-and-Crafts houses on the outskirts of St-Margaret’s-at-Cliffe, with its roughcast walls, high chimneys and steep-pitched roof, recalls Voysey’s High Gaut in the same village (which we didn’t get to see), but I couldn’t find out anything about it.

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Tin shacks pop up everywhere for chapels and clubs. I thought the St Margaret’s Bowls Club looked homely.

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Portal House, a Kent County Council special school, is well described by its architects, KSS: “The double pitched roof concept for the new building draws on the local Kent vernacular, and the use of humble traditional materials with simple modern detailing gives the building a quiet but distinct contemporary identity.”

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The star of our walk was Ness Point, a bold, orginal design by Tonkin Liu, with curving white walls that echo the White Cliffs. There are plans and more photos, including interior photos, at Design Curial.

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MACKINTOSH AND MODERNISM

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Charles Rennie Mackintosh: The Hill House. (Undiscovered Scotland)

Mackintosh’s innovative architecture and his link to continental design and modernism made me consider again why the English Arts and Crafts movement, after revolutionising design in the late 19th century, ran into a dead end in the 20th.

The movement created several initiatives that had more to do with social change than design, such as The Home Arts and Industries Association, Haselmere Peasant Arts Industries and the Clarion Guild of Handicraft. They tended to be backward-looking, utopian and to encourage the participation of the poor in the crafts, but they did not contribute to product design or the manufacture of of well-made goods at a reasonable price and they fostered amateurism. Lewis F. Day told a government inquiry into the Royal College of Art that, in his opinion, W. R. Lethaby, the professor of design, paid too little attention to the requirements of industry and that the Arts and Crafts Movement had drawn the College towards “the more or less amateurish pursuit of the Handicrafts.” After William Morris’s death, the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, the principal arts and crafts body, lost its way and repeated what it had done before, and by the First World War its leaders were elderly. Roger Fry said they “represented to perfection the hideous muddle headed sentimentality of the English – wanting to mix moral feeling in with everything.” I think it’s that mixing in of moral feeling that was the reason it was overtaken by design in in Europe and America.

Although the Bauhaus was at first inspired by arts and crafts ideals, it gradually abandoned them and turned to industrial design. Lethaby, whom Day may have judged too harshly, co-founded the Design and Industries Association with others who were concerned that the growth of the arts and crafts had “been arrested for the last ten years in the country of its birth.” They believed that “The principles of the movement are now more consistently and logically studied in Germany and America”.

Mackintosh also absorbed arts and crafts ideas and went beyond them. The Hill House, for example, (top) has Scottish vernacular features and uses local materials, and some of the decoration was executed by Mackintosh and his wife Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh. But he never thought that every designer should execute his own designs, that everything should be made by hand or that art was a moral crusade, and however much The Hill House resonates with Scottish precedent, its form is radical and anticipates modernism in its bold, abstract shapes.

LOUIS VUITTON FOUNDATION

In Paris we visited the Louis Vuitton Foundation to see the large collection of works that had been brought over from MoMA for the exhibition “Etre Moderne”. From its earliest days, MoMA has collected popular art, and here were photos by Walker Evans, Lisette Model and Alfred Steiglitz. Steamboat Willie, the first Micky Mouse film, was made partly at the suggestion of MoMA staff, and was on show.

No surprise, then, to see an early Fender Stratocaster displayed near to Warhol’s soup cans. Originally aimed at country musicians in the 1950s, the Stratocaster was quickly taken up by rock guitarists and has been made in the millions, virtually unchanged, over the last seventy years. A multiple? A readymade? Like Warhol’s soup cans, an icon.

SPAN HOUSE

I’d heard of Span houses but I’d never visited one and didn’t know much about them until I visited a friend yesterday who’d recently moved into one. Eric Lyons, Geoffrey Townsend and Leslie Bilsby’s Span development company built thirty estates between 1948 and 1984, to which they applied Modernist principles and interesting ideas about living. The houses are modest but they maximize light and space and dissolve the boundary between inside and outside.

Span thought about landscaping, the arrangement of the houses and ways of enhancing the interaction between people living on the estates. In an age of extreme individualism, these ideas appear socialistic and Utopian, but the houses are practical, they’re much in demand and the people who live in them like them and are proud of them. Here is a mixture of pictures, some from The Modern House.

Photo: The Modern House
Photo: The Modern House
Photo: The Modern House
Photo: The Modern House

HIGH & OVER AND THE SUN HOUSES, AMERSHAM

We went to see High & Over and the Sun Houses in Amersham, modernist houses at the far end of Metroland in the stockbroker belt of Buckinghamshire. These four uncompromising buildings were the work of Amyas Connell, the New Zealand born architect who is credited with introducing the International Style to British domestic architecture. They were completed in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Connell and his Amersham development are well described by the Amersham Museum and I won’t repeat what they have written.

Some of the gardens have sculptures.

I thought the recent development of  the street, Highover Park, with more ordinary houses works well.

Connell’s admiration of Le Corbusier is established, but I was struck by the similarities between the Sun Houses and Loos’s Villa Müller in Prague, built at the same time – not only by the cube-shaped buildings, the fenestration and the white stucco, but also by the hilly site and the necessarily sloping gardens.

The situation of Connell’s houses is more striking than that of Villa Müller because the surroundings in Amersham have not been so extensively developed as those of Villa Müller, which is now in a Prague suburb, and despite the 1960s and 1970s houses around High & Over, the setting of Highover Park is still rural with splendid views over the Chilterns.

Is the ownership of Minis compulsory for owners of the Sun Houses? These (below) are even colour matched with the window frames.

Pathé News made an informative film, “The House of a Dream” in 1931 about High & Over, showing the interior as it was then – simpler and more austere than the interior of Villa Müller.