The Modern Church
IN November 1958, Spence was installed as President of the RIBA. As he indicated in his inaugural address, the profession was in some disarray.1 It had barely recovered from the lifting of restraints on private building four years before, and was divided--in terms of experience, outlook, and stylistic allegiance--between those who had worked as architects before the war, and a younger generation (described by Banham as 'a generation of battle- hardened and unusually mature students') forced by the outbreak of war to defer entering practice.2 The speech is also revealing about Spence's own position. Spence identified himself with the 'missing generation' of architects decimated by the First World War--a comment which hints at his own difficulty in adapting to a world whose requirements were quite different from those for which he had been trained in the 1920s. Interestingly, Alison Smithson acknowledged the 1950s as a time of conflict between generations, and recalled her own impatience and sense of frustration as she and her contemporaries attempted to break into a profession dominated by their elders.3 Spence's address appears to have been designed to reconcile those two generations, and an even younger one of architects born in the 1930s, with a vision of the future: an architecture which would combine the fine workmanship and respect for tradition which he believed characterized British architecture with an element of daring and self-confidence.
The sterling crisis and devaluation of 1949 had severely limited foreign travel during the early 1950s. As these restrictions eased, it became possible to spend time in Europe and see what had been built since the war. The Coventry commission and Spence's presidency brought numerous foreign invitations; inevitably, these provided him with different perspectives on____________________