All posts by Jessica Aberle

Royal Festival Hall

London County Council. Royal Festival Hall. London: Max Parrish, 1951.

For this week’s entry, it was the retention of the book jacket that piqued my curiosity rather than the subject matter. The spine of the jacket was delightfully simple and bold. And perhaps one should not judge a book by its cover, but the Royal Festival Hall did not disappoint. The actual building was commissioned for the Festival of Britain in 1951, designed by Robert Matthew (1906-1975) and J. L. Martin (1908-2000). The official guide was written by Clough Williams-Ellis (1883-1975).

Williams-Ellis begins his account of the building with a discussion of the style and design:

Yet undoubtedly the building is a challenging one, which means that it is bound to make sincere enemies as well as friends. But enmity can be paraphrased as ‘a misunderstanding’ and there will surely be many who will not at first take kindly to a monumental building so devoid of all the familiar and traditional trapping of a ‘monument’, so frankly nothing but glass where it is convenient to be, so brisk in its changes of scale; in short, so little like anything to which we are  accustomed, and, above all, so utterly different from the concert halls and opera houses that we ever saw and with which we have come to associate ‘music’. (pg. 13-14)

He praises the subtlety, the spatial harmonies, view points and vistas, the lighting effects, and the ability of the architects to overcome the numerous challenges construction imposed. As the building was commissioned for the Festival of Britain, they had a strict deadline; moreover, they had to address the challenges of postwar Britain- a scarcity of labor and materials. The site was small, and the building intended to house a variety of purposes- from concerts to rehearsal space to exhibitions and galas. In a state of continuous design, the architects met these challenges and created a concert hall that placed a premium on the experience of listening to music. Ellis-Williams discusses how Matthew and Martin designed the spaces and systems to address issues of noise, acoustics, lighting, ventilation and heating, the movement of the crowds, and finally the desire to create spaces for an enjoyable experience.

While the Royal Festival Hall may retain a bit of the “to see and be seen”, Ellis-Williams makes clear that many of the design decisions of the Hall were connected to the quality of sound. Gone from the designs are the gilt and shine of the Paris Opera House. It is all clean lines and simplicity. And Ellis-Williams’s final thoughts are a lament for the luxury. He writes:

I will confess a nostalgic weakness myself for the shadowed privacy of the traditional box as the very symbol of gilded and softly upholstered luxury- an appropriate bower for the necessary digestive interlude between dinner at the old Romano’s and supper at the Grand Babylon, with transport of course by private hansom. And even from the pit I liked simply to behold these cosily glowing little booths with their fully jeweled and often decorative tenants, high-life tableaux vivants about whose members one might speculate agreeably as did Henry James’s Hyacinth Robinson in The Princess Casamassima. In short, I am of the fleshly Walter Sickert school in this mater of theatre decor, for scarlet and gold as against beige austerity, for sparkling chandeliers against florescent tubes, for an exuberant fancy even, rather than a too reasonable or reproachful restraint.

For me, at least, any concert or indeed any public performance of any kind is definitely something in the way of a treat, a gala occasion, a ‘night out’, and to be perfectly happy I do need the architecture to conform to and reflect, and so enhance my festival mood. (81-82)

A House for the Suburbs

Thomas Morris. A House for the Suburbs; Socially and Architecturally Sketched. London: All Booksellers, 1860.

The spine of this book simply proclaimed, A House for the Suburbs., and drew my attention. I expected to open the cover and find mid-century modern; however, I discovered this:

According to Thomas Morris: Thanks to the modern Genius of Speed and the Science of Rail, a wholesome future is in store for us. (pg. 1) The ease and speed of traveling between London and its environs has made it possible to live outside the city and reap the benefits of suburban living- gardens and improved health. He describes the suburbs of London and moves on to a discussion of the social expectations of suburban life: picnics, dinner parties, and book club.

Morris than transitions into a discussion of the architectural history of houses. He proclaims:

Very distinct is modern society from that of former periods; very superior our condition in regard to the security of property and person; and altogether unprecedented our rapidity of location; -yet the character of our dwellings is, or ought to be, equally distinguishable from those of any previous age.

He concludes with a discussion on “The Suburban House exemplified,” which includes the topics of style, material, and spaces.

The spaces identified by letters represent the house while the numbered the places of work and farm.
The spaces identified by letters represent the house while the numbered the places of work and farm.

House Building in 1946

Elizabeth B. Mock. If You Want to Build a House. Illustrated by Robert C. Osborn. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1946.

Elizabeth Bauer Mock (1911-1998) joined the staff at MoMA in 1937 and  presided over the Department of Architecture and Industrial Design between 1942-1946. According to MoMA, “…through her efforts and those of her sister, Catherine Bauer, the department became an advocate in the fields of urban planning and housing in the 1930s and 1940s.” (MoMA, “Modern Women”). She developed the exhibition, “If You Want to Build a House” and published the associated book of the same title in 1946.

Mock opens with this advice:

If you are going to take the trouble to build, rather than do the easy thing and buy a ready-made home, it is probably because you want something which in every sense will be your own. You won’t get that through imitation. The very word implies a sacrifice of integrity, therefore of individuality. Much more is involved than a choice of external style, for true individuality obviously is more than skin deep. It isn’t applied from without. It grows from within. 

Don’t think of your house as an impersonal shelter of so-and-so many rooms, tucked behind a conventional false-front, but as an outgrowth and expression of the best conceivable pattern of your life. Since the satisfaction of the solution will largely depend upon your awareness of your own needs, you should make your own program. An architect is only secondarily a psychiatrist. Houses are complex organisms and a good one is the joint creation of an alert, enlightened client and an able, sympathetic architect. (pg. 5)

She offers advice on size, the organization and function of spaces, light, open concepts, material, furniture, and site & gardens. She relies heavily on the works of Frank Lloyd Wright as well as Gropius, Breuer, Mies, and Neutra amongst others to illustrate her recommendations. The guide also includes several cartoons by Robert C. Osborn which also help to clarify Mock’s arguments for a well designed home.

MoMA. “Modern Women: A Partial History.” Accessed May 22, 2014:

First Planning Report, Glasgow

Robert Bruce. The First Planning Report to Highways and the Planning Committee of the Corporation of the City of Glasgow. 2 vols. Glasgow, 1945.

Robert Bruce in his planning report identifies the roadways as the most important issue to address in the redevelopment of Glasgow.  He establishes a 50 year plan to be achieved in three stages. At the time of the report, the Glaswegian roads functioned as all-purpose to include pedestrian, local, and through traffic; this lack of specification was the crux of the problem. According to Bruce: In such a wide range of road users it is clear that the interest of each is inimical to the interests of the others and that this conflict is at the root of the whole trouble causing injury, inconvenience, delay, nerve strain, and, to an appalling extent, death. (pg.14). Bruce argues that the inconveniences, stresses, and injuries will be mitigated through the reclassification of roads as arterial, sub-arterial, and local, through the construction of new roads, and through the alignment of all transportation services whether public or private and whether road, rail, sea, or air. He further suggests that planning needs to occur at a regional, not a local level.

Bruce faces two critical challenges in his redevelopment and reclassification of the roadways in Glasgow: financial and public opinion. He suggests that they will have to alter the belief of business owners that it is better to be on a major thoroughfare rather than a quiet, local road. He writes:

One of the greatest difficulties in connection with planning proposals will be to rid from the minds of the general public the idea that shops, theatres, picture houses, restaurants, etc., should all be facing main roads. What modern town planing sets out to do so it dissociates all such places from roads carrying through traffic and site them in quiet roads free from through traffic and which my be used in safety and in comfort by pedestrians. (pg. 23)

While Bruce’s major focus is transportation through and around Glasgow, he does address issues of housing, green spaces, and public amenities. He concludes his report with a discussion of conurbation and creation of satellite towns.

The City of Glasgow, 1960

A. G. Jury. The Survey Report of the City of Glasgow Development Plan Quinquennial Review, 1960. Glasgow: The Architectural and Planning Department, 1960.

Despite living in and numerous trips to Glasgow, I am less familiar with the city’s modern history and development. I was not sure how meaningful the planning report of 1960 would be to me; however, a cursory glance intrigued me as I spotted the names of areas and streets that were all too familiar: Govan, the Botanic Gardens, Sauchiehall Street, Argyle Street, Great Western Road, and the Gorbals.

The report assesses land use, population, industry & employment, education, housing, and traffic & communication issues, projecting them forward to 1980. It further identifies 29 areas requiring redevelopment. According to the report, the primary challenge would be to accommodate a large percentage of the population within the city itself:

From the foregoing paragraphs, the overall position is that if modern standards are adopted, even at minimum level, the demands for additional houses, schools, factories and playing fields cannot be met within the City. Redevelopment, the replacement of old buildings by new ones, so far from offering the possibility of saving land, actually generates additional demands. ( Chapter 15, page 3)

According to the report, 100,000 families would be affected by the redevelopment of the 29 areas. The overspill, consisting of approximately 60,000 families or 200,000 people, would have to be removed from the city. (Chapter 14, pg 3). At the time of the report, agreements were in place and other negotiations in progress with cities and towns across Scotland to accept the overspill Glaswegians and industries into their districts. The report also proposes the creation of four new towns. (Chapter 14)

The report has left with  me with more questions than answers. How much of the plan was implemented, and was it deemed successful? More than 50 years on, what were the lasting affects of the plan in terms of the city’s continued development? I am, however, most curious to know how it affected the people, who were displaced. Life in some of those towns would have been drastically different than what they knew in Glasgow. I want to know their narratives and how they created place in a new town.

Medieval Landscapes

With an eye to National Landscape Architecture Month, I selected several works from the Architecture and Planning Library, which examine medieval landscapes and gardens.

Anne Jennings and Sylvia Landsberg provide introductions to medieval gardens and gardening. Their works are highly illustrated, relying on medieval manuscripts. Both authors also offer practical information or “How To’s” for the modern gardener interested in creating medieval inspired gardens of their own.

Anne Jennings. Medieval Gardens. London: English Heritage, 2004.

Sylvia Landsberg. The Medieval Garden. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003.

My interests, however, lie not in the medieval garden but rather within the intentional construction of a larger landscape- those that extend beyond the castle or cloister walls. I am concerned with the site of building as it reflects a conscious choice to create relationships– to the built environment such as a castle to abbey, to natural features such as mountains and rivers, and to places of significance whether it be historical, familial, or political boundaries. I am interested in view points and issues of approach, of what can be seen or not seen. Castle Rising, Norfolk is an excellent example of a castle’s relationship to the surrounding landscape, as examined by Robert Liddiard. Other interesting expressions of these relationships can be found at the Sutton Hoo Burial or Knowlton Church and Earthworks.  Knowlton consists of a twelfth-century Norman church built at the center of a henge. For those interested in these types issues, you might find these works insightful:

Tadhg O’Keeffe. Ireland’s Round Towers: Buildings, Rituals and Landscapes of the Early Irish Church. Tempus: Stroud, 2004.

Oliver H. Creighton. Designs Upon the Land: Elite Landscapes of the Middle Ages. The Boydell Press: Woodbridge, 2009.

Robert Liddiard. Castles in Context: Power, Symbolism, and Landscape, 1066-1500. Macclesfield: Windgather Press, 2005. (PCL)

Richard Bradley. An Archaeology of Natural Places. New York: Routledge, 2000. (PCL)

The Arts Connected with Building

T. Raffles Davison, ed. The Arts Connected with Building: Lectures on Craftsmanship and Design delivered at Carpenters Hall, London Wall, for the Worshipful Company of Carpenters. London: B. T. Batsford, 1909.

Carpenters Company hosted a lectures series which included the architects, Robert Weir Schultz (1860-1951), C. F. A. Voysey (1857-1941), E. Guy Dawber, (1861-1938), F. W. Troup (1859-1941), Charles Spooner (1862-1938) & M. H. Baillie Scott (1865-1945), the furniture maker Arthur Romney Green (1872-1945), sculptor Laurence A. Turner (1864-1957), and the ironworker J. Starkie Gardner (1840-1930) at Carpenters Hall on London Wall in 1909. Carpenters Company, which traces its history back to 1271 as medieval trade guild, published the series. According to Thomas Raffles Davison (1853-1937) the intention of the lectures was to inspire and encourage good craftsmanship within design. He writes:

The world is full of beautiful examples of well-applied art, only a small part of which many of us, can ever hope to see, but the principles and aims which have guided their production are open to us all. It is a good ambition to mould materials into forms of enduring beauty, and the development of artistic individuality is one of the most beneficent forces in the world.

In the following pages are examples, not only of fine old work, but of excellent modern work as well. The Arts and Crafts movement has done something definite to stir in people a belief as to the value of beautiful craftsmanship, but it probably also to some extent obscured the first essential of general design, good distribution of parts and proportions, and proper reticence of detail….What we want to see nowadays revived is that sort of simple but expressive work which may get into the hands of comparatively poor people. And there is no reason whatever why people with small incomes should not be able to indulge in beautiful craftsmanship. Good wrought ironwork, woodwork, plasterwork, and beadwork ought all to be available from workshops where craftsmen might enjoy their work by putting some of their own individuality into it. (Introduction)

From M. H. Baillie Scott’s lecture, “Ideals in Building, False and True”:

Now let us consider the old barn. A thing of beauty within ad without, not only from the tone and colour which time has given, but in all essentials of its structure. As a new building it would be no less full of charm, and yet it does not pretend to any architectural style. It is merely a piece of building, and not an expensive building either. Great posts and beams, roughly wrought, support its roof, and the whole structure is full of suggestions of infinite things. If we must worship under roofs, why cannot we have such roofs as these to worship under? How strange is the whole conception of modern ecclesiastical art! Why should there be a special  brand of art for ecclesiastical purposes? Why should we be only Gothic when we go to church? The real Goths were Gothic all the time: home and church were alike. How different has now become the modern villa and the modern church, and how alike in their lack of all that constitutes beauty in a building! (145-146)

This image was associated with the text of the quote above.



Saracenic and Norman Remains in Sicily

Henry Gally Knight. Saracenic and Norman Remains, to illustrate the Normans in Sicily, by Henry Gally Knight, esq. London: J. Murray, 1840.

For reasons unknown to me, I wanted to share a work of Norman Sicily today from the collections. Perhaps I am missing Italy and the Normans. I remembered a folio of antiquarian photographs on the architecture of Norman Sicily in my graduate library; however, the author and title are now unknown to me.  I hoped to stumble across the work in Special Collections here. I could have searched the catalog for Normans and Sicily, of course; however, I do love the serendipity of the find that library shelves afford. While looking for my intended folio, I happened across a couple of works that will be future entries and I found the work of Henry Gally Knight, which was unknown to me prior.

Henry Gally Knight (1786-1846) traveled to Normandy and Italy in the 1830s to document the architectural remains of the Normans, which resulted in several publications: An Architectural Tour in Normandy (1836); Saracenic and Norman Remains (1840); and The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Italy (1842-1844). (W.W. Wroth, “Knight, Henry Gally (1786-1846)”).

Saracenic and Norman Remains is light on text; however Knight identifies an important trait about Norman architecture:

It may be said, that Architecture flourished wherever the Normans ruled. In the construction of these buildings the Normans adopted the style, and employed the workmen, of the conquered country, but not without imparting to the fabric a character of their own. (Preface)

His intention for the documentation and publication of the plates of the architecture of Norman Sicily was to provide evidence for the pointed arch. He argues that the pointed arch was a characteristic of the architecture produced by the Normans in Sicily prior to its use in later medieval architecture and a feature adopted from Islamic architecture.  He concludes, “The old hypothesis of the Crusades, as the origin of the introduction of the pointed style in Continental Europe appears, after all, to be entitled to more attention than any other suggestion.” (Preface)  The origin of and the use of the pointed arch in Medieval architecture is of course a rather complex issue and a debate that I do not wish to enter into here.  I hope rather that you take a moment to enjoy the complexity and beauty of the architecture of Norman Sicily, which is often neglected in survey courses.

W. W. Wroth, ‘Knight, Henry Gally (1786–1846)’, rev. Jane Harding, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2013 [, accessed 20 March 2014]

The Daily Mail

Daily Mail Ideal Labour-Saving Home. London: Associated Newspapers, 1920.  Bungalow Book: Reproductions of the Best Designs Entered for the Daily Mail Architects Competition for Labour-Saving Bungalows, 1922. London: Associated Newspapers, 1922.  Ideal Houses Book: Reproductions of the Best Designs Entered in the Daily Mail Architects’ Competition, 1927. London: Associated Newspapers, 1927.

Today I discovered three publications issued by the Daily Mail between 1920-1927 that reflect the ideal standards for modern homes, focusing on efficiency, convenience, and comfort. The introductions/prefaces suggest that the middle class and homeowners of post-World War I Britain needed guidance to establish cost efficient and well planned homes. The Daily Mail thus offered a competition for architects to submit their designs for the modern house and additionally held exhibitions in 1922 and 1927 in order to educate their reading public.

The 1920 catalog is markedly different from the later two. In addition to the house plans from the competition, the catalog also offers advice to the modern homemaker. The essays include the cost saving benefits of a well designed and  well equipped house with all the modern conveniences; the ideal equipment needed to set up a home; instructions to interpret the architectural drawings printed within the publication; and lastly postcards that offer tips and tricks from their readers. The Household Appliances Committee of the Design and Industries Association offers this advice in their essay, “The Equipment of the Ideal Labour-Saving Home”:

The decoration of a small room should be its cleanliness, the colouring of the walls and necessary textiles, the paint or stain of the woodwork, and the brightness of the everyday crockery on the dresser. Lessened and cheered by such surroundings, housework becomes more a pleasure than a drudgery. Every superfluous article should be looked upon as a dangerous nuisance, the cause of unnecessary irritation. (The Equipment of the Ideal Labour-Saving Home. A Report by the Household Appliances Committee of the Design and Industries Association. pg.43)

The essays largely disappear in the 1922 and 1927 publications to focus on the competition drawings and advertisements. One of the significant changes between 1920 and 1927 entries is that the spaces for the live-in maids and staff largely disappear, with a stronger focus instead on cost and necessity. The judges of the 1927 restricted the architects to design houses for either  1,500 (Class A) or 850 (Class B). According to the 1927 Introduction:

The object of the competition is two-fold. First to obtain the best possible plans combining beauty and utility. Secondly, to obtain plans which would give the best possible value for money commensurate, with good materials and workmanship. Experience with previous competitions showed that architects as a rule, were prone to attempt to provide more in the plans of house than was practically possible for the expenditure to which they limited. It was for this reason that the cost n both sections were definitely laid down. (Introduction, pg. 27).

While the plans and elevations provide insight into the ideal layout of middle class houses in Britain during the twenties and the essays provide guidance in establishing a modern household, the advertisements are equalling enlightening. Many of the ads address women, stressing modern conveniences and comforts.





The Scenery of London

G. E. Mitton. The Scenery of London, painted by Herbert M. Marshall, R. W. S., described by G. E. Mitton. London: A. & C. Black, 1905.

I must admit that it was the graphic decoration of the spine of the book with its bold green and stylized trees that caught my eye. I was further delighted by the name of the chapter on which I happened to open: “The Colour of London”. Recently, I have been trying to develop an assignment for students that not only asks them to engage with the material intellectually but also invites wonder and love for the objects, buildings, and cities we study.  Mitton and Marshall speak to that love of place and are inspired by it. And more importantly, they provide a window into London at the turn of the twentieth century. Mitton, through her description, and Marshall, through his watercolors, share their experiences with and impressions of London:

London is not one homogeneous whole, alike in all her parts, but rather a glittering piece of mosaic work, consisting of innumerable facets, each separate in itself yet united with the rest, and forming together a wondrous and intricate pattern. There are mud-coloured lines and dark patches as well as ruby points: seen from one angle the total result is grey confusion, seen from another the radiant points so scintillate as to conceal the darker parts. Both visions are true, both are equally London, yet neither is the whole truth, for neither of mud nor of rubies is the great city made. (Mitton, 3).

Asphalting in the Strand


The atmosphere of London is a soft ashen grey that refines all outlines, and forbids all crude black patches. This is seen best on a clear frosty morning, when the sun is apparently scarce twenty yards above the horizon, when the zenith is clear blue, pale, but deepening every moment, and the sides of great dome drop downwards to ashen grey. Stand in an open space like that at Hyde Park Corner, and look across to the leafless trees in the Green Park. Around and about the interlacing boughs the shadows are all of tender shades of grey, so soft, so artistic, that they melt and fade imperceptibly into one another, while the vistas hold the greyness as if it were a tangible substance. This surprising atmosphere is often overlooked, for it is so inseparable from the object it unfolds, that is not easily noticed. (Mitton, 19-20)

The India Office from the Horse Guards’ Parade
Charing Cross Station from the River


It is outside on the grass, under the trees, or by the river’s edge that we love to linger. About the whole place there is an air of sleepy quiet. Perhaps the voices of the officers drilling soldiers in the moat rise sharply; the ruble of great dray over the cobble stones comes softened by the distance; the shrill scream of a tug in the river cuts the air like a knife; but these are times which only serve to measure the general sense of stillness. (Mitton, 76)

Tower of London