Tuesday, May 29, 2012

LUTYENS – ‘DEAD-END KID’



 In the 1960’s, Lutyens was never spoken of other than by some snide reference that mocked his traditional, quaint approach to architecture. He was simply dismissed, laughed at. Everyone else knew better. Lutyens was left as one mired in the past that had been discarded. Modernism had passed him by, believing that he had no idea of what was happening in the real world. It placed him in a cocoon of his own dementia, in a curious dreamland of his own making.

It was Venturi who first spoke of Lutyens’s work in a positive manner, decoding his puns – his complexities and contradictions. So it is difficult to understand this neglect today. Indeed, it is unbelievable. Was it truly so? Do our memories play tricks on us? It was not until this passage on Lutyens in an old Pelican original, Victorian Architecture by Robert Furneaux Jordan, was read that this attitude was recalled. It is clearly expressed in this piece published in 1966, that also records the bold arrogance of those who believed in the International Style.

Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944), like so many famous architects, had little formal training. Early in life, through the Lytton family, he married into a charmed circle of wealth and taste. He then created an epilogue to five centuries of country-house building. Those famous dream houses – built around the turn of the century – Munstead Wood, Deanery Garden, Papillon Hall and all the rest – with Gertrude Jekyll’s even more dreamlike gardens, will remain a most curious monument, not to a culture – for they are clean outside their time – but to one man. Like a dream they are unreal, and like a dream they have left not a wrack behind. They were Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House. They were a gesture from a world where there were still impeccable maids in the Servants’ Hall, glossy hunters in those boxes, and Peter Pan in the nursery wing. It was all lily ponds, lavender walks and pot-pourri in a Surrey garden. It was also an architecture where the high-pitched roofs, textured stone and tiny casements served mainly to conceal, ever so charmingly, the whole apparatus of conspicuous waste. It all died, as it should have died, in August 1914. Lutyens himself outlived it: with the Cenotaph, the grand manner of New Delhi and the pretentious nonsense of Liverpool’s Roman Catholic cathedral, he declined virtually into being no more than a species of Architect Laureate. He was greater than his contemporaries of the same school, but like them he was a dead-end kid.

Twenty years before Lutyens’s death Le Corbusier and Lloyd Wright and Gropius and the founding fathers of the Garden Cities were already doing their best work . . . and he was probably unaware of their existence. Before the end of the Queen’s reign he had made it clear that he was a creative genius . . . of sorts. Then he slowly suffocated himself with old traditions, stifled himself with a refusal to face realities of the twentieth century. He belonged, in fact, neither to the last century nor to this.
Robert Furneaux Jordan, Victorian Architecture, Pelican Books, Harmondsworth, England, 1966, p.p.234 – 237.

Maybe this means that his work was timeless? It has certainly fared better than modernism.

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