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Professionalism and a sense of place


Tayler & Green, Architects 1938-1973: The Spirit of Place in Modern Housing At the Prince of Wales's Institute, 14 Gloucester Gate, London NW1 until 8 May. At the riba Architecture Gallery, 6 King's Parade, Cambridge from 6 June to 4 July.

There was not much architecture being created in provincial England in 1950. But in rural Norfolk, that most conservative of places, the Smithsons' school was under construction in the north-west of the county while, in the opposite corner, Tayler & Green were building their rural housing. The definition of 'modern architecture' had to be broadened to embrace these two extremes.

The development of Tayler & Green as architects is fascinating, and it can be followed clearly in this exhibition - a long-overdue acknowledgement of the quality of their work. The story starts with the Dukes Head Yard house, built in Highgate in 1939 soon after they left the Architectural Association. It is clearly a high Modern house and its inclusion in later editions ofF R S Yorke's The Modern House put Tayler & Green in the pantheon of the English Moderns.

Then wartime housing necessitated stringency, and brought familiarity with more traditional ways of building and of living. This was followed by their housing for Loddon Rural District Council which, during the decade after the war, was truly miraculous - progressing from semi-detached, to terraces, to mixed development as they gained the confidence of their clients.

The early post-war houses were painted brick, with jolly colours used with great sensitivity, but after a few years the availability of good facing bricks brought a change. As the 1950s progressed, decorative elements such as diapered brickwork and arched openings appear more and more - at first with charm but, as time went by, prettiness took over. Indeed their last housing scheme, the appropriately named Camp Road, Norwich, 1971, verges on the kitsch. It is an interesting, consistent progression and you can take your pick as to where you see the high point. For me it is around 1950.

Whatever the mood, the breadth of professional expertise is astonishing. Landscape is clearly a major interest and much of the quality of the rural schemes comes from their sympathy with the land and sensitivity to plants. At the other end of the scale they designed furniture, and clearly relished being involved with interiors, still using a table and sofa they designed in the 1930s.

John Winter is an architect in London

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