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BOOK

REVIEW

Owen Jones: Design, Ornament, Architecture and Theory in an Age of Transition By Carol A Hrvol Flores.Rizzoli, 2006. 276pp.£42.50

'Why not carve owers on our buildings? Why not use concrete panels imprinted with pictures of aeroplanes and insects? Why not coat a skyscraper with Islamic motifs?' These were questions that Alain de Botton asked in his overhyped but stimulating tract The Architecture of Happiness.

Decoration in architecture is currently undergoing a renaissance - witness recent work by, for example, Caruso St John, Jean Nouvel and Herzog & de Meuron, who have pursued the idea of it as something that should be integrated into architecture rather than treated as an optional add-on. 'All ornament should consist of enrichment of the essential construction of a building, ' Pugin insisted in The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture.

Pugin's anti-picturesque rationalism was a formative inuence on the design reform movement that embraced gures such as Henry Cole, Christopher Dresser, John Ruskin and William Morris, and was one of the sources of the Arts and Crafts movement (and, through the Bauhaus, of the philosophy of the Modern Movement). Among these protagonists, Owen Jones (1809-1874) has been relatively neglected, though it is more than 30 years since Nikolaus Pevsner remarked that the absence of a book on him was 'a serious gap in the historiography of Victorian design'. Dresser, an unapologetic follower of Jones, was the subject of a recent exhibition at the V&A - a mark of recognition not yet accorded to Jones himself.

Despite the paucity of surviving works and archival sources, Carol Flores has nally lled that gap with a substantial critical account of Jones' work as designer, architect and theorist. It's a nely produced volume which illustrates his graphic, decorative and architectural work.

Jones' The Grammar of Ornament (1856) is well known, as is his role in the internal decoration of the 1851 Crystal Palace, contributing greatly to the popular and critical success of the project. Several of his wallpaper designs continue in production today. Jones' work as an architect is, however, little known, partly because his major buildings - including St James' Hall on Regent Street and Osler's store, 'a fairyland of crystal fascinations' - have been destroyed.

His entries into a number of major competitions, including the St Pancras Hotel and the rebuilding of the National Gallery, were unplaced. As a designer in iron and glass, however, Jones could be startlingly radical. The unrealised scheme for the 1857 Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition building shows a structure so rational, economical and direct in its diagram - a single arch uniting roof and walls - that it seems to look forward to High-Tech designs of the 1970s (see picture).

Jones won the competition for the project, only to see the decision set aside and a local practice appointed to construct something altogether less distinguished - a familiar story.

Kenneth Powell is an architectural journalist

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