Back Issues Shand brought the best of continental Modernism to an Arts and Crafts Britain, writes Steve Parnell
James Stirling’s father-in-law was the colourful Philip Morton Shand. To illustrate the circles that Shand moved in, his granddaughter is Camilla Parker-Bowles.
Shand, fluent in French and German, was a friend of Aalto, Behrens, Le Corbusier and Gropius. He translated the latter two’s work for publication in British journals in the 1930s, bringing the best of continental Modernism to an Arts and Crafts Britain.
Gropius gave a speech entitled ‘The Formal and Technical Problems of Modern Architecture and Planning’ at the Design and Industries Association on 16 May, 1934, on the occasion of an exhibition of his work at the RIBA Galleries. Shand translated this speech, and published it a few days later in the RIBA Journal of 19 May, 1934.
In the talk, Gropius anticipates Pevsner by identifying the pioneers of the Modern Movement. He talks about space in the Modernist manner that precedes Giedion (‘the very nature of architecture makes it dependent on the mastery of space’) and outlines technological advances such as prefabrication and roof gardens that promise to transform architecture in a way that would have made Banham proud.
Later in the Journal, previous RIBA president Raymond Unwin is quoted as saying, ‘The German people loved working under a theory. Englishmen were not easily persuaded to a theory, were naturally suspicious of it, and afraid of ridicule should they show any great devotion to any particular theory.’ The tone is polite, but cautious in contrast to Gropius’ direct-talking.
The preceding year, the Nazis had closed down the Bauhaus. Gropius was hedging his bets and perhaps looking to work in Britain. However, Britain demonstrated the same kind of commitment then, as now, to employing the world’s leading architects, and after a brief partnership with Maxwell Fry, Gropius left for the US.