Coventry Cathedral: Art and Architecture in Post-War Britain

By Louise Campbell | Go to book overview

6
The Architect and the Artist

SPENCE'S competition report specified a tapestry 'designed by a great contemporary artist' stained-glass windows, and sculpture in the nave recesses. He considered these essential to create the desired effect of richness (the 'cathedral-like' effect recommended by the Harlech Commission) inside his plain, relatively small cathedral, and included them within his estimate of building costs.1 Fearing that they might in time be trimmed from the budget, Spence commissioned designs for tapestry, nave windows, and engraved glass for the west window very early, and a remarkable attempt to co-ordinate these with the design of the building followed. The choice of sculpture for the cathedral proved more difficult and was postponed until 1957.

Why was Spence so keen to include artists? In 1958, he spoke of the collaboration with the painter and the sculptor in terms of personal enjoyment, and also of the duty of the architect to provide major commissions for artists.2 But in 1951, Spence's attitude was different. As an architect known in England chiefly for exhibition work, faced with the task of building a cathedral, he looked initially to a well-established artist for help. The relationship was not therefore at this stage one of equals, nor were distinctions between the role of architect, artist, and designer blurred, as they sometimes became at the Festival of Britain.

Spence's approach recalls the late nineteenth-century interest in the unity of the arts. Lorimer's war memorial had provided one model of this attempted integration of art and architecture. The problem with such an approach was that Spence did not yet possess the experience and authority to overrule his artists, as Lorimer did when their designs threatened the integrity of his building. But it seemed preferable to simply providing an architectural shell for later embellishment--a risky policy, vulnerable to changes in taste.3 The safest way to

____________________
1
Coventry was 270' long compared with Guildford's 365'. The cost was estimated at £801,103 16s. 4d. according to his Competition Report.
2
"'Architecture and the Other Arts': a discussion held at the RIBA on 7 Jan.", RIBA Journal ( Feb. 1958), 117-22.
3
Ibid. 117. Spence would have known Lorimer's St Peter's Edinburgh, a simple church built to a low budget, with funds set aside for commissioning works by contemporary artists. These, selected by the incumbent, Canon John Gray, and the architect, included an altar-piece by Frank Brangwyn, and paintings by Glyn Philpot, Malcolm Drummond, and John Duncan. Unfortunately, most of these works have since been dispersed. See B. Sewell, In the DorianMode: A Life of John Gray 1866-1934

-102-

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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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