Timothy Brittain-Catlin

I sat next to Timothy Brittain-Catlin last week at an event to celebrate the 100th. birthday of his cousin, Leonard Manasseh.   I had previously only known him as a reviewer in The World of Interiors, but I have since been lent a copy of his book, Bleak Houses:  disappointment and failure in architecture.   It covers the history of architecture since Pugin and the way in which in each generation a small number of aggressive modernising architects have tended to elbow out others who have therefore subsequently been regarded as failures and lost to history.   His first example is George Basevi, the architect of the Fitzwilliam Museum, who failed to adapt to the new Puginesque Gothic and fell to his death from the roof of Ely Cathedral.   Before the first world war, Horace Field, one half of Field and Bunney, who published an excellent book on Domestic Architecture of the XVII and XVII Centuries, went on to be chief architect for Lloyds Bank, but is now forgotten.   In the 30s, he cites Seely and Paget, grand social architects who were responsible for Eltham Palace, but do not  appear in any standard narrative.   After the war, his examples, less convincing, are Hugh Casson, who won’t have been forgotten and certainly wasn’t a failure, and Raymond Erith, who will almost certainly be remembered as an austere classicist outside the mainstream.   It’s a very clever book, making one think about the way architectural history is written.

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