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Foreign Exchange: Overseas Architects Working in Britain

Fiona Mckay

The Twentieth Century Society – C20 Society for short - is an advocacy group that “exists to safeguard the heritage of architecture and design in Britain from 1914 onwards”. Its website also lists its prime objectives as “conservation, to protect the buildings and design that characterise the Twentieth Century in Britain, and education, to extend our knowledge and appreciation of them”.

As the Society’s objective to promote education closely aligns with the AIA’s Continuing Education commitment, the AIA UK Chapter established a link from our website to C20’s to open up their extensive calendar of events in London and other regions of the UK to our membership and to visiting architects.

From our website’s “Links” section there is a direct link not only to C20, but also to other UK groups and societies that offer educational opportunities – the Building Centre, the Royal Society of Arts, the London School of Economics, the Victorian Society, the City Corporation of London and the London Architectural Diary. Additional links could easily be added to this resource if UK Chapter members advise on the benefits.

Unfortunately, Continuing Education credits for such events are only available on a self-reporting basis. Therefore, when a chance run through the C20 events listing discovered a Spring Lecture series that seemed particularly appropriate for our membership -“Foreign Exchange: Overseas Architects Working in Britain” - an effort was made to turn the series into an official AIA UK event so that 1.5 Continuing Education Credits could be earned per lecture.

The C20 Society proved amenable to the idea and the series organiser, Alan Powers - a leading teacher, researcher and prolific writer specialising in architecture and design who has been long associated with the C20 Society - has announced the AIA UK chapter’s sponsorship of the series at the close of each lecture.

4 Feb - National Gallery Sainsbury Wing by Venturi and Scott Brown

Opened in a blaze of publicity and mixed reviews in 1992, the extension of the National Gallery came at the end of a long and tortuous process by which assumptions about style and patronage in architecture were questioned. The lecture was given by Alan Powers, who placed the Sainsbury Wing in a longer story of American buildings in London and the classical revival and Post- Modernist movements of the 1980s.

11 Feb - St Catherine’s College, Oxford by Arne Jacobsen

The selection of a leading Danish architect to design a new Oxford college in 1959 was recognition of the high level of admirations given to Danish architecture and design at the time. Geoffrey Tyack, a Fellow of Oxford University and Director of the Stanford University Programme at Oxford described the selection process and the reception of the college buildings by the public.

18 Feb - New Ways, Northampton by Peter Behrens

The house was commissioned by W.J. Bassett-Lowke in 1925 and is sometimes credited with starting modern architecture in Britain. It was a remarkable and unexpected choice of a major figure from pre-1914 Germany, from a patron who had previously commissioned C. R. Mackintosh’s last major works. The lecture was given by architectural journalist Louise Campbell.

19 Feb – Lutyens in the City of London

Although Lutyens could hardly be described as a foreign architect, the AIA has extended its association with the C20 Society to include this comprehensive survey of his important work in London as the lecture was held in the same timeframe as the Foreign Exchange series. Dr Mervin Miller who gave the lecture not only has 37 years involvement in built environment conservation, but is also a charted architect and town planner.

25 Feb - Gane Pavilion, Bristol by Marcel Breuer

Marcel Breuer said that the two most important buildings in his career were UNESCO in Paris and the small temporary pavilion at the Royal West of England showground, designed in partnership with F.R.S Yorke in 1936. The speaker was Max Gane, the grandson of Crofton Gane whose company manufactured some of Breuer’s furniture and who also commissioned a transformation of his own house in Bristol.

3 Mar - Byker and other work by Ralph Erskine

Ralph Erskine was born and educated in Britain, but remained in Sweden at the outbreak of war in 1939, where he established a thriving practice before receiving several major commissions in Britain from the mid-1960s onwards. The speaker was, Elain Harwood, the senior architectural investigator for Historic England and author of “Space, Hope and Brutalism: English Architecture 1945-1975”. She interviewed Erskine in his last years and was able to put his most famous English project, the Byker Estate in Newcastle, in context with some of his lesser know work.

10 March - Holland House, Bury Street by H. P. Berlage

In 1916, in what was then a narrow street in the City of London, a novel building for a Dutch shipping company was completed to designs by the major Dutch architect, H. P. Berlage. It was then largely ignored for 50 years until the area was opened up by new construction. Herman van Berkeijk of Technical University of Delft explored the background to the commission and its place in Berlage’s career.

The C20 speakers have all been particularly good – always knowledgeable, frequently opinionated, often humorous and generally very willing to be interactive. The C20 Society must be congratulated on the success of its educational initiatives, given that the lectures all drew sizeable audiences of well over 50 attendees, including a majority of non-architects who held a surprising enthusiasm for the subject matter.

AIA UK will take a view on future events to see if the formal sponsorship for them can be initiated in a similar way. In the meantime, members are encouraged to check the website “Links” for other exciting educational opportunities.

Author: Lorraine King AIA

 

 

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