By continuing to use the site you agree to our Privacy & Cookies policy

EXHIBITION

REVIEW

Elegant Variation: The Architecture of H T Cadbury-Brown The Royal Academy, Piccadilly, London W1, until 21 January

'One of the characteristics of architecture, ' Jim CadburyBrown wrote half a century ago, 'is that it reects so much more than the visual taste of the period in which it occurs.'

This overdue, elegant and, indeed, enthralling exhibition of Cadbury-Brown's work over the past six decades (he is now 93) is full of insights into the cultural and intellectual milieu of the Modern Movement - that extraordinary fusion of home-grown Arts and Crafts ideas (and prejudices) and more exotic inuences.

As with others of his generation, Cadbury-Brown's career, effectively launched by a year in Ernö Goldfinger's office, was disrupted by the war. After six years in the army, he began to pick up the pieces and was recruited by Hugh Casson for the Festival of Britain design team. The Festival generated suspicion and hostility from a younger generation scornful of its apparent sentimentality and parochialism but, as Alan Powers remarks in his catalogue essay, Cadbury-Brown's Festival 'wigwams' were 'singularly pure in form and legibility'. As President of the AA, CadburyBrown brought Mies, one of the idols of the new generation, to lecture at the school, while the little-known Ashmount School, Islington (1955-57), is an early example of frankly Miesian architecture in England.

Ashmount is smoother and sleeker than the (possibly overlauded) school at Hunstanton, designed by Alison and Peter Smithson, apostles of the New Brutalism. CadburyBrown's architecture always reected his taste for the picturesque and sense of history and place, but his most significant work, the new Royal College of Art (RCA) (completed in 1964), embodied a new spirit - 'troubled, asking, questioning, scrutinising' as Ian Nairn put it - in tune with Team 10. Its brooding presence, expressed in dark brick and concrete, is as much part of the London scene as the adjacent Albert Hall.

The RCA and other substantial educational and public projects gave CadburyBrown the resources (though he never ran a large office) to build the house at Aldeburgh where he now lives in retirement. Designed in collaboration with his American-born wife Betty (who died in 2002), it is a classic low-rise fusion of architecture and landscape.

Cadbury-Brown has roots in East Anglia, where his father had farmed, and it is tempting to compare his work, essentially modern and cosmopolitan but rooted in tradition, with that of the presiding genius of Aldeburgh, Benjamin Britten, for whom he designed a studio and worked on unrealised plans for an opera house in the town.

After Britten's death, Cadbury-Brown produced designs for a memorial to the composer to be erected on the beach at Aldeburgh: a vertical beam of timber designed to whistle when the wind blew, with echoes of Peter Grimes.

Undemonstrative, yet rich in meaning, the project epitomises Cadbury-Brown's approach to architecture as something that enriches human life.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment.

The searchable digital buildings archive with drawings from more than 1,500 projects

AJ newsletters