Designs on Democracy

I have been reading Neal Shasore’s admirably detailed account of architecture between the wars, Designs on Democracy: Architecture & the Public in Interwar London. He is studious in making clear that his account is strictly historical and should not be read as in any way celebratory of the more cautious, neo-Georgian, pro-Swedish approach of so many of the architects of the 1920s and 1930s, who were interested in values of civility and deferential to the inherited environment (‘These are not buildings or personalities with which it has been easy to empathise’). And yet, even though Pevsner’s Pioneers of the Modern Movement was first published in 1936 (strangely only listed in the bibliography in its later, revised edition), Pevsner’s views, so hostile to any form of revivalism, have coloured so much of later scholarship that it is a relief to find the architecture of the period studied on its own terms.

It is clear that there was plenty of reformist zeal, knowledge of what was going on in Germany and desire for civic improvement long before the Bauhaus émigrés arrived. And there are even people who it ought to be possible to admire: Laurence Weaver, the former Architectural Editor of Country Life; F.R. Yerbury, who was Secretary of the Architectural Association and already deeply knowledgeable about the work of Le Corbusier in the 1920s; Grey Wornum, the architect of the RIBA; not to forget P. Morton Shand, the lover of fine wine, pomologist, importer of furniture by Alvar Aalto, friend of John Betjeman and grandfather of the Queen.


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