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Eric de Mare 1910-2002

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NEWS: The former AJ editor, who died last week, was the last survivor of a generation which helped shape the work of architects in Britain after the Second World War, writes Andrew Higgott

Along with James Richards, John Piper and John Betjeman, not to mention Hubert de Cronin Hastings, the Architectural Press' influential owner-editor, Eric de Mare was a major contributor to the development of a new aesthetic.

It took a look across to Scandinavia - the 'new empiricism' was The Architectural Review's description - as well as a re-evaluation of local British traditions in architecture. Like these other writers, he worked extensively for the architectural press, including the AR as well as The Architects' Journal, of which he was editor for a period in the 1940s.

Of Swedish background, Eric de Mare began his training as an architect at the Architectural Association School in 1928, subsequently working in Sweden until returning to London in the late '30s. He wrote the first book in English on Gunnar Asplund's work in 1955, but most of his subject matter was essentially British. Books such as Bridges of Britain (1954), London's Riverside (1958) and, rather later, The Nautical style (1973) are among some 20 books which celebrate British work of the past and place it in a living tradition.

However, his work as a journalist, and as a writer and editor of books, was not the main reason for his significance in the architectural world. As a photographer, de Mare influenced a generation of architects. More than any polemic, his pictures helped to create a new language which expanded the possibilities of architectural design in postwar Britain. Most architects, after all, respond to the visual more than the intellectual, and de Mare was well aware of the power of the architectural photograph.

He wrote in Gerald Woods' 1972 book Art without Boundaries: 'The photographer is perhaps the best architectural critic, for by felicitous framing and selection he can communicate direct and powerful comments both in praise and protest: he can also discover and reveal architecture where none was intended.'

This aspect of de Mare's work began with a special issue of the AR on canals, published in July 1949. His aim here was the exploration of the vernacular, of the anonymous architecture which made up a significant part of the urban and rural landscape.

Introducing the journal with its collection of photographs, all taken by himself, he wrote: 'There is a continuous thread running parallel with the historical styles but owing little or nothing to them. It might be called a timeless tradition of functionalism. . .

its constituent elements are geometry unadorned, and it owes its effects to the forthright, spare and logical use of materials.'

Following the success of his work on canal structures, also published as a book by the Architectural Press in 1950, he was commissioned by AR editor James Richards to travel throughout England on the trail of early industrial buildings.

This was pioneering work - de Mare photographed textile mills, docks, warehouses, breweries - the whole range of surviving industrial architecture from the 18th and 19th centuries.

The end result was a powerful body of work, which was published as a special issue of the AR in July 1957. The buildings found and carefully framed by de Mare had a consistency, vigour and energy rarely evident in architecture. Some, such as the naval and civil dock buildings, had a raw scale and power uncompromised by aesthetic considerations. Materials were used with an honesty and fitness for purpose which seemed invigorating: constituent parts of a building formed their own strong and uncompromised volumes. As a whole, this collection of architectural forms was unselfconscious but effective - inspiring and far more convincing than most work then being built in Britain and elsewhere.

The journal was re-issued in an expanded book the following year. The Functional Tradition soon became a celebrated publication, catching the imagination of those involved in the search for form.

One such architect was James Stirling, who wrote in acknowledgement of its influence - the 'new brutalism' with its concern for raw materials and the clarity of structural elements had much in common with the work presented by de Mare. Furthermore, some of his structures look remarkably like prototypes from which High-Tech forms might later emerge.

At the Architectural Press, de Mare found a fertile ground for furthering his architectural commitment, and the people - notably Piper, Richards and Hastings - helped to develop his ideas and aesthetic. He disapproved of much post-war architecture, the 'horror' of streaked concrete and the predisposition to philosophy and polemic rather than working detail. But it is for de Mare's provision of new material for the functionalist language of architecture that he will be most remembered.

In 1990, de Mare's 80th birthday was marked by Michael Hopkins and Partners' donation to the Architectural Association Foundation of a substantial part of his collection of negatives.

The AA then celebrated his career with a retrospective exhibition of his photographs and an accompanying book, which served to open the eyes of a new generation of architects interested in the enduring questions of building which he had done much to illuminate.

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