The Cotman Collection | 11

Cotmania. Vol. VII. 1931-2

Archive: SDK Sydney Decimus Kitson Archive
Reference Number: SDK/1/2/1/7
Page: 4 verso

  • Description

    Kitson's address at the opening of an exhibition of drawings at Winchester, 1931

    Article from the Hampshire Chronicle, 25 July 1931, on Kitson's address at the opening of an exhibition of drawings at Winchester

    Date: 1931

  • Transcription


    Mr. Kitson is well known in Yorkshire by reason of his extensive practice in that county, and as the Hon. Secretary of the Royal Institute of British Architects he commands the respect and esteem of a very wide circle of friends in the profession. His secretarial duties keeps him busily engaged on behalf of the Royal Institute, and the Hampshire Association were more than pleased at being able to secure him for their Winchester Exhibition opening.
    Mr. Kitson's address was as follows: —
    I propose to say something to-day on a subject in which everyone is profoundly—although often subconsciously—interested, the trend of architectural taste. Always much of the best thought and skill of mankind has been put into building. Often—just as much in the past as to-day—a great deal of carelessness and clumsiness has been permitted. It is as well that the hovels in which the Athenians lived while they were building the Pantheon [sic] are unrecorded and unknown. Some of the amateur efforts at housing whieh are being made by the same generation which is building new Delhi and Liverpool Cathedral will share the same fate as that of the Athenian slums. Yet the best buildings of the world are significant of more than the brains of the individuals who designed them. They also stand for the outlook and psychological character of the races and generations who had them built. This outlook has dictated the form and style of these buildings; they are the things which satisfied the sense and delighted the eyes of succeeding civilisations. It would be possible to argue that architecture is the most important—because the most permanent and insistent—of all manifestations of human culture. But I don't want to be dogmatic in order to stress this point. A closely contested debate might be held on the following subject—"Which was the greater, the influence of William of Wykeham, or that of his contemporary, Chaucer, on the development of English culture?" I suppose the result of the voting would be decided by whether there was a larger number of poets or of architects present at the debate. The architects could point out how Gothic building was evolved to chronicle the domination of the monastic orders, and how it had afterwards elaborated itself to serve the purposes of chivalry and display; how, owing to wars and pestilences the labour market was disorganised and a collapse seemed imminent when William of Wykeham and his craftsmen simplified design and fertilised Gothic architecture for another century. Such a service to the community places him at no very great distance, perhaps, from the father of English poetry. The Renaissance followed as a challenge to the divine sight of the Church—and the Renaissance style was the language in which that challenge was expressed. That style and that challenge had spent their force by the end of the 18th century. The French Revolution failed to supply a motive power sufficiently elemental to produce a new and vital architectural style. And so a century of revivals followed—all equally earnest and all equally insufficient. Meanwhile the forces of democracy were organising. A little less than a hundred years ago Greville noted with relief in his diary that a large mob—amounting to at least 500 persons—of a new society, called "Trades Unionists," had made a demonstration in London, "without bloodshed." And, he added in astonishment, "they were all respectably dressed." The leaven worked throughout the century. Then followed the Great War. and the creation of the Russian Soviet state. In this country the transference of wealth from the few to the many is being rapidly effected by means of a taxation so prodigious that it is sapping the motives for individual effort. And now there is the challenge to something which has been held for hundreds of years to be a divine right—the right of property. About a month ago the summary of a speech was published in "The Times" in which the speaker said that he considered that we were in the midst of a renaissance deeper and more momentous than any of the earlier revolutions or renaissances from which modern civilisation has sprung. "Present-day democracy and liberty," he added, "would have been utterly inconceivable in the mediæval world." As far as it is possible to forecast the future, it seems reasonable to assume that the economic and political forces and ideas, which have arisen during the years following the Great War, will seethe and mould themselves for a hundred years to come. When—and not till when—new ideas cool down sufficiently, they mould themselves into new architectural forms. How will architecture respond and record—as it always has recorded in the past—the dominant spiritual, economic and political ideas of the time? An architect is bound more than any other artist to work in the current taste of his day. His livelihood depends upon it. Sir Christopher Wren used to say that an architect "must work in the gust of his time." Old Carr of York, an architect who made a large fortune by faithfully following the taste of the 18th century, wrote to one of his clients, " I merely claim to arrange the conveniences with some degree of art." It seems to me that never, since the early days of the Renaissance in Italy, was there a more difficult and a more thrilling time for the young architect. Older men, brought up amid a sequence of revivals, followed the fashion of the day; and if they were men of ability (as so many of them were) they produced work which was often better than their models. But they lived on to see the revival which they had mastered displaced by another whose language they had to learn and whose significance they only half believed in. The young architect to-day will have the task and the opportunity of moulding the vital and elemental ideas which have been thrown up in recent years like lava from a volcano, into a living style of architecture. A modern school of thought, which flourishes more abroad than in England, would have us rely only on functionalism; they would mechanize the most human of the arts, and they would use solely newly invented materials—however crude and however hideous—solely because they are new. The study of history supports the belief that architecture cannot be bounded by such narrow limits, hut rather that it is the chronicle of the spiritual and economic forces of the time. Another school of thought would have us follow traditions and draw from the buildings of the past all the inspiration which is required in designing the buildings of the present. It seems to me that this school fails to take into account the fundamental, economic and political changes which are taking place at the present time. The other day in Dublin, Sir Banister Fletcher told the Irish students that there was enough inspiration in the 18th century buildings of their capital city to last them for a century. Admirable as some of these buildings are and "impeccable"—that I believe is the correct adjective—as is the taste displayed in them; yet these buildings are the chronicle of an alien domination, and they were largely the work of English architects. It is difficult to believe that after recent events and following the setting up of a national Government, the Irish Free State will derive from those aloof, aristocratic buildings an architectural formula to express their new ideals. More probably the Irish national spirit will look elsewhere for its inspiration. There

Kitson's address at the opening of an exhibition of drawings at Winchester, 1931