[THIS WEEK] The Smithsons’ writings cover a very English view of life, writes James Pallister
Mrs Tiggy-Winkle’s crowded laundry, Jeremy Fisher’s lily pad and Mr Brock’s sett are all dearly remembered places from my childhood, but it came as a surprise to see them crop up in an very rewarding anthology of writings on Alison and Peter Smithson. Alison Smithson wrote a piece in the December 1967 issue of Architectural Design called ‘Beatrix Potter’s Places,’ dedicated to the hutches and hideaways created by the Lake District’s famous author and illustrator. In M. Christine Boyer’s essay ‘Why do Architects Write?’ she points out that the pair’s writings should be seen alongside such ‘ordinariness’ and ‘everyday characterisations of Englishness’ outlined so strikingly by George Orwell in England, Your England (1941), in which he wrote ‘All the culture that is most truly native, centres around things, which even when they are communal, are not official – the pub, the football match, the back garden, the fireside and the “nice cup of tea”’.
The essays have mostly been published before, in the AJ, AD, The AA Files, etc – and come from an esteemed pedigree: Reyner Banham, Philip Johnson, Kenneth Frampton and Alan Powers. There’s ground covered in recent books Neo Avant-Garde and Postmodern: Postwar Architecture in Britain and Beyond (AJ 10.02.11) and Robin Hood Gardens Re-Visions (AJ 03.02.11).
It’s bookended by a touching introduction by Simon Smithson on his parents’ reading and writing habits; as well as the architectural reference books, Maigret was a favourite and Alison was a keen letter writer, corresponding with her three children weekly on densely written postcards. Toward the end of the book, there’s a useful timeline and bibliography. It would be handy to have had an index too, but as Peter Rabbit’s mother would no doubt have pointed out to him, one can’t have everything.
Read Alison and Peter Smithson: A Critical Anthology, edited by Max Risselada, Poligrafa, April 2011, £49.95