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CRITIC'S CHOICE

One benefit of belonging to the Twentieth Century Society (C20 Society) is to receive occasionally the volumes in its Twentieth Century Architecture series: themed collections of usually erudite essays that are well illustrated and referenced.

The latest, British Modern: Architecture and Design in the 1930s (£18.50) has just arrived, with Connell and Ward's White House, Haslemere, on its cover. It stems, belatedly, from the Modern Britain 1929-1939 exhibition at the Design Museum (AJ 04.02.99), for which the society's Alan Powers acted as a curator, and it draws on conference papers given then.

A highlight of the collection is a previously unpublished essay by Nikolaus Pevsner, 'The Modern Movement in Britain', which was meant to appear in a special issue of the Architectural Review that fell by the wayside with the Second World War. If up till then our embrace of Modernism had been cautious - 'a tendency here not to go too far' - Pevsner saw no reason for it not to ourish. 'Since simplicity, uniformity, rectangularity, abrogation of ornament have been specifically English in the past, a movement dependent so much on these cannot be un-English as such.'

Other contributors include Robert Elwall on architectural photography in the 1930s (to which the AR's Dell and Wainwright were central), Barnabas Calder on the early career of Denys Lasdun, and John Allan, with an illuminating piece on Berthold Lubetkin. Examining in particular the inuence of icons and Oriental carpets on Lubetkin, Allan portrays an architect who was never narrowly functionalist. Instead he valued 'visual enrichment' and sought to make Modernism multi-dimensional, feeding off the past creatively rather than proclaiming a rupture. That's much in tune with what seems to be one of C20 Society's objectives: to look in an open, pluralistic way at the architecture of the last century, free from rigid preconceptions.

There's still time to catch the last two lectures in the society's current series on public housing. Neave Brown, of Alexandra Road fame, speaks at 70 Cowcross Street, London EC1, at 18.30 tonight, and Peter Carolin (on Scandinavian connections) on 8 March ( www. c20society. org. uk).

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