The Cotman Collection | 12

Cotmania. Vol. VII. 1931-2

Archive: SDK Sydney Decimus Kitson Archive
Reference Number: SDK/1/2/1/7
Page: 5 recto

  • Description

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

    Continuation from 4v

    Date: 1931

  • Transcription

    are evidences that it is already doing so. I noticed recently in Belfast a bank designed by a Dublin architect upon very modern and "untraditional" lines. Yet it grew up from the ground on its corner site, inevitably. sensibly and without fuss or frills. When banks begin to abandon the classical costume, which they have used for so long in order to impress the public with their wealth and stability, then one feels that times are changing indeed. A month or more ago an article appeared in "Country Life" by Sir Edwin Lutyens on modern architecture. Such a pronouncement, by a master of his craft, who has rarely, if ever, before made a public confession of his faith, is of the greatest possible interest to us all. The note which he strikes is a sad one. It might almost be called a lament on the passing of the architecture of humanism. With many of his criticisms and regrets one is bound to agree. The fact however must be faced that the architecture of humanism, expressed in the old aristocratic clothing of the 18th century. is no longer real or representative of the spirit of to-day. If one analyses it, without allowing one's life-long predelictions to weigh in its favour it will be found that this type of the architecture of humanism is in the nature of a resurrection. At the height of the Gothic revival Ruskin and Sir Gilbert Scott believed that soon all buildings, from railway stations to country cottages, would be built in the Gothic manner. Faith waned when the public refused to be persuaded that mediæval thought and mediæval conditions obtained in the 19th century. And so another revival followed. This last was a scholarly revival, led by men who argued that although the Gothic revival had numbed the English renaissance tradition, yet it had not killed it. Let them revitalise that tradition; enrich it with everything that modern skill and resourcefulness could supply, and all would be well. And all would be well if we could put back the economic and political clock for 150 years, and—only then—if all buildings could be designed by men with an instinct as sure and a touch as magic as Sir Edwin Lutyens possesses. This classical revival did, indeed, reflect some of the social conditions of 30 years ago, when wealth was in the hands of the lords of industry—the successors of the territorial magnates of the 18th century. New Delhi did—while it was being built—symbolise magnificently the English rule. Time will show whether or not it is to become an historical monument, and nothing more. In this article in "Country Life" the writer goes on to give reasons for his dislike of much of the more advanced work o£ to-day, and he illustrates his remarks by photographs of certain modern buildings. But he says nothing about the best of them, nothing about the Headquarters of the Underground Railway in St. James's Park—a building which, one suspects, has earned its designer the distinction of being chosen as the architect of London University. Nothing of the Horticultural Society's new building in Vincent Square; and nothing of that stately new hotel Dorchester House, in Park Lane. Instead he pokes kindly fun at those buildings which he selects for illustrations. He tells us that Bechstein's Hall suggests to him only that Mr. Bechstein is fond of asparagus. It would be equally irrelevant and equally inadequate to say that Gamage's new West-end store suggests only that Mr. Gamage has considerably overbuilt himself. The spirit of the architecture of humanism must always survive because architecture ministers to human beings and not to machines. It must be confessed with sadness, however, that its trappings are now sadly out of date. Mr. Goodhart-Rendel said here last year, and said finely that architecture was the Rhetoric of Building. Rhetoric however has passed away from the House of Commons and from public life. It seems best therefore—until this new and greatest of all economic revolutions has become articulate—that the architect should content himself with seemly and convenient building, and leave rhetoric severely alone. I will end by telling you about a small modern house which I saw a few weeks ago. The house had been recently built by a young architect for himself and his bride. He was fortunate since he had inherited a few thousand pounds which he decided to spend on his new home. He is a man of quick average intelligence, but he lays claim to no more than that. He was 14 years old when the War was over, and so he belongs entirely to the post-war generation. On leaving school at the age of 18, he spent half his time of training in an architects office, and the other half at the local School of Art. He had not the museum mind, but he played football for his county. The house which he has built for himself is symmetrical and well-balanced—without a scrap of ornament outside or in. The rooms are happily proportioned, and the doors, fire-places and windows are in the right places. He has even violated lay traditions by remembering the staircase and 0the cupboards. The former. I may say, is spacious and easy and the latter are ample. He designed all the furniture and carpets, and watched over the making of them by local craftsmen. The result seemed to me to be entirely satisfactory. There was no parade of knowledge, no pretence no "period" (horrid word) decoration. It was just the sort of place in which to live a clean, healthy and care-free life. It seemed also to express the determination of the owner to take part in life as he found it without regrets for the past or fears for the future.
    A hearty vote of thanks was accorded him at the conclusion by Prof. GLEADOWE, who spoke in warm terms of Mr. Kitson's talk. He heartily endorsed the wisdom and sanity of his extremely able address, and, speaking as one whose educational background in these matters was, perhaps, different from that of most of the members, he thought that Mr. Kitson had covered in a delightful and informative way the difficult ground of architecture. It was an admirably framed address, and although all too short it was clearly the work of a skilful man giving of his best (applause).

    [note added by Kitson]
    The Hampshire Chronicle, July 25, 1931.

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