TO STAKE A PATRIOTIC CLAIM ON ARCHITECTURAL MODESTY IS HIGHLY PRESUMPTUOUS
In this month's Architectural Review, the AR's diarist Peter Cook writes: 'I watch amused as our sister magazine, The Architects' Journal, nails its colours to the mast of the English ficontemplative-whisper-modesty-brickfl school.'
Right on cue, this week's AJ focuses on Studio Downie's building for the Cass Foundation: a thoughtful, unassuming work which, while not actually made from brick, in spirit at least, clearly comes under the category of 'contemplative-whisper-modesty-brick'.
Andrew Mead, in his review of the building, explicitly locates it within the English landscape tradition; not the ostentatious drive to command the landscape favoured by the more bombastic of our ancestors, but its more subtle counterpart, the search for an architecture that takes its cues from the specifics of the surrounding landscape. It is an argument that supports Cook's characterisation of this particular genre as 'English' but casts doubt on his dismissive assertion that it may serve a purpose, but only 'in the great tradition of minor European regionalist pockets'.
The quest for quiet elegance, for an understated symbiosis with nature, is rooted in English history. It harks back to a period when English architecture was at its least parochial: when it was pioneering an approach that was to have a profound inuence not only in Europe but throughout the world. The same sensibility is evident in, say, Gunnar Asplund's woodland cemetery in Stockholm, or Alvar Aalto's careful reading of the Finnish landscape, or lvaro Siza's Matosinhos swimming pool. If each of these can be described as belonging to a 'regionalist pocket', together they form part of a distinct approach which has proved to be universal in its appeal and has stood the test of time. To stake a patriotic claim on this particular brand of architectural modesty is presumptuous in the extreme; it owes as much to Asplund or Aalto or Siza as it does to Uvedale Price.