Coventry Cathedral: Art and Architecture in Post-War Britain

By Louise Campbell | Go to book overview

4
Modernism and Tradition: The Genesis of Spence's Competition Design

BASIL Spence was a product of the new system of full-time architectural education introduced in Britain after the First World War, entering Edinburgh College of Art in 1925 and leaving in 1931, his penultimate year spent in an architect's office. His skill as draughtsman was rewarded with numerous prizes, giving him the means to travel, drawing and measuring buildings in Scotland, England, and France (Plate 47).1 But for the sudden death of Sir Robert Lorimer--the most eminent contemporary Scottish architect--in 1929, it seems likely that Spence, one of the best students of his generation, might have spent his year 'out' in Lorimer's Edinburgh office. Instead, Spence came to London with William Kininmonth in 1929, where they worked in Lutyens's office, occasionally attending the London University Evening Atelier run by A. E. Richardson. After a further year at Edinburgh College of Art, where Spence won the Rowand Anderson scholarship, awarded by the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland for an outstanding performance in his final year, he and Kininmonth formed a partnership. During this time they designed houses in Edinburgh for Dr John King (Plate 48) and for Kininmonth himself--precocious modern houses which reveal their interest in Gunnar Asplund's buildings for the 1930 Stockholm Exhibition, and also in the work of Thomas Tait, the designer of Silver End industrial village in Essex of 1927-8.2

During the 1930s, Scottish architects appeared torn between the desire to create a recognizably 'Scottish' architecture with roots in the past and their interest in a new architectural idiom, efficient and international, appropriate to a modern nation. This conundrum was keenly felt at the Edinburgh College of Art whose Principal, John Begg, attempted to sustain the craft traditions encouraged by Lorimer while the lecturers E. A. A. Rowse, 'an internationalist in outlook and a believer in planning, in social theory, in research, science and "Taylorist" managerial efficiency,' and John Summerson, who arrived as junior lecturer in 1930, began to

____________________
1
Incorporated Prize 1928; RIBA Recognized Schools Silver Medal 1931; Arthur Cates Prize 1932; Pugin Prize 1933. Some of the sketches and measured drawings he produced were published in RIAS Quarterly, 37 ( 1931) and 44-5 ( 1933).
2
John King was the Kininmonth family's doctor and had visited the Weissenhof Siedlung in Stuttgart. L. Wodehouse, "'Old Guard, Avant-Garde'", Building Design ( 23 Feb. 1979), 28, points out that the use of a semicircular window bay in both the King and Kininmonth houses ( 1932-3) predates the appearance of this feature in English modernist buildings.

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Coventry Cathedral: Art and Architecture in Post-War Britain
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS v
  • Contents vii
  • List of Color Plates ix
  • LIST OF BLACK AND WHITE PLATES xi
  • Abbreviations xix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I. Architecture and Politics 5
  • 1 The Cathedral and the City: The Blitz, Civic Ideology And Reconstruction 7
  • 2 The Cathedral Project 1940-1947 22
  • 3 'towards a New Cathedral'? 37
  • Part II. The Creative Process 69
  • 4 Modernism and Tradition: The Genesis of Spence's Competition Design 71
  • 5 The Competition Design Refined, 1951-1954 81
  • 6 The Architect and the Artist 102
  • Part III. Design into Building 131
  • 7 The Licence to Build, 1954 133
  • 8 The Turning-Point, 1954-1956 141
  • 9 The Design Recast, 1956-1958 148
  • Pa IV. For and Function 193
  • 10 The Modern Church 195
  • 11 Provost and Architect 206
  • 12 The Cathedral Completed, 1960-1962 216
  • 13 The Cathedral and the Post-War World: Austerity and Triumphalism 243
  • Conclusion 254
  • APPENDIX: DONATIONS 276
  • Bibliography 278
  • Index 283
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