These houses are next to one another in a street I visited in Letchworth Garden City today. They were built in the inter-war years in the vernacular, Arts and Crafts tradition established by Raymond Parker and Richard Unwin, and although they’re unique they appear familiar because the Letchworth style dominated suburban England between the wars. Jonathan Meades, in a scathing opinion piece on Letchworth (below), described this kind of architecture as a trip down false-memory lane.
I think it was Colin Ward who pointed out that the design of Letchworth seemed to realise the world invented by Kate Greenaway (below). Its characteristics are whitewashed roughcast walls, gables, dormer windows, hanging tiles, timber boarding, low-slung roofs, casements and mullions.
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.
I liked the fretted fascia on this house.
Oldestairs House in Oldstairs Road, Kingsdown. Red-brick, roughcast and tile hanging. Large, Edwardian and intrusive.
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.
Tin shacks pop up everywhere for chapels and clubs. I thought the St Margaret’s Bowls Club looked homely.
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.”
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.
You can keep your Kews, Wisleys, Munsteads and Great Dixters. My favourite garden is at the end of my street.
It belongs to an elderly neighbour who has tended it and loved it for years, without design manuals, Homes and Gardens magazine or TV makeover programmes. It’s his own, personal, DIY garden, made without spending much money, just as he likes it, with any old bits and pieces that came to hand. He can’t get around so well now, but he still potters and keeps it tidy. It’s unique and wonderful.
Borders are kept in check by bits of Dexion and cement walls studded with pebbles. A few tiles he found were made into a short length of paving. Concrete animals, gnomes and caryatids live under shrubs. A bit of irrigation has been built into his own Manneken Pis.
The fig tree is the statement plant. Windfall apples are too many to be picked up and pattern the path like stars. A shady bench under the trees reminds me of an Italian courtyard garden.
Of course, this is all too posh and high flown. It’s just one man’s private garden. But as it’s on a corner, it’s also public, and I stop and admire it every time I go by.
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.
I wrote about Károly Kós’s buildings in the Budapest Zoo, and earlier about his work on the Wekerle housing estate on the outskirts of the city, mentioning his use of Transylvanian vernacular styles. Like his contemporary Bartók, Kós made studies of the folk art of the region in the early 20th century and several of his illustrations were re-published with a text by András Székely (Kós Károly, Corvina, Budapest, 1979).
Illustration from The Song of King Attila (Atila kiráról szóló ének), 1923
Belfry and entrance to the churchyard at Mezőcsávás (Cenanasul-de-Campie)
The drawings show how closely he based the zoo buildings on folk styles, but they are more than a record of folk architecture and they are beautiful in their own right, ink drawings and linocuts, characteristic of the the period and reminiscent of the graphic art of The Beggarstaffs.