Saturday, November 27, 2010

Upper Lawn Pavillion

Solar Pavilion, or Upper Lawn Pavillion , as it was originally called, was built in Wiltshire by the architectural partnership Alison and Peter Smithson as their own weekend retreat from 1959 to 1962.

English architects Alison Smithson (22 June 1928 – 16 August 1993) and Peter Smithson (18 September 1923 – 3 March 2003) together formed an architectural partnership, and are often associated with the New Brutalism
The Smithsons
The implementation and theories of Brutalist architecture are a fascinating subject.  Brutalism has been heavily criticized since the 1980s.  Much of the criticism comes not only from the designs of the buildings, but also from the fact that concrete façades do not age well in damp, cloudy maritime climates such as those of northwestern Europe. In these climates, the concrete becomes streaked with water stains and sometimes with moss and lichens, and rust leaches from the steel reinforcing bars. 

The Smithson's are considered the principal advocates in England for this now loathed building style.  In looking at this simple retreat, despite all of the architectural mumbo jumbo written in praise of it, I personally think that it is hideous.  What it represents to me is the gross implementation of an abstract architectural theory (that has no respect for tradition, history or nature) purely for the need to be different and avant-garde.  It doesn't jibe with the landscape or the wall on which it rests.  It is completely alien and makes no attempt whatsoever to integrate with the tried and true methods of building construction that the local people have embraced for generations.
While the application of Brutalism in certain urban scenarios may have had some merit at one point in time, it has absolutely no place in this landscape. How could anyone look at this building and say that it was right?  It is wrong, deliberately or not, and despite the intellectualization of its merits, I wouldn't buy it for a cent.  When I drove up to it, I thought that it was a prefabricated aluminum shed of some sort.  It just looks horrible. 

Theodore Dalrymple, a British author, physican, and political commentator, has written for City Journal that brutalist structures represent an artifact of European philosophical totalitarianism, a "spiritual, intellectual, and moral deformity." He called the buildings "cold-hearted", "inhuman", "hideous", and "monstrous". After feeling Park Hill in Sheffield, I would agree that there is definitely a monstrous element there.  Perhaps the Smithson's were aliens. 


Dylan said...

I completely disagree with your post!

In terms of respect for nature the Smithsons made sure to source local materials and heavily enforced a theory of their own, in all of their buildings, of 'as is'. Meaning they leave the materials exactly as they were when they found them.

They have been completely sympathetic to the heritage values of the ground level making sure not to imitate and ruin the existing fabric of the old building.

I think this building is a beautiful and smart adaption to an otherwise derelict site.

Stephen Barker said...

Actually there appears to be a growing appreciation for Brutalism, with a new book being published by Yale this autumn. Not all of the buildings were good but what period of Architectural History is perfect? I would suggest that some of the problems with the buildings could be a result of poor maintenance in the past. That said concrete has many useful properties but it has its limitations in a climate such as Britain.

As for the house in the photo I would like to see the other side of the wall.