Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Men and their machines Automobiles by Architects By Ivan Margolius. John Wiley, 2000. 160pp. £27.50

  • Comment

Architecture and cars, as Ivan Margolius points out in his introduction, go together. Think of that memorably embarrassing ad, 'Britische Architekt', as Stirling's bubble-gum pink handrails at the Staatsgalerie come into view. Ad agencies for Renault and Rover respectively sought to place their new ranges against slick, fashionable architecture to give them an extra dimension of prestige and an air of permanence in a market steeped in planned obsolescence. Even the current Bauhaus exhibition at the Design Museum has a car in a glass case outside, the sponsor trying to squeeze a little cachet out of its association with the museum's fashionable sub- Corbusier functionalism.

Looking at the relationship from the other direction, it is impossible to imagine Le Corbusier's own perspectives of his bourgeois villas or worker housing schemes without the presence of those little 1920s cars which make the drawings so cute. In fact Corbusier thought that houses should be more like cars, and in Vers une Architecturein 1923 he compared the perfection of a Humber to a Greek temple and a Delage to the Parthenon. Rolls Royce, of course, with their monumental grille design, had got there first.

In this superbly entertaining book, Ivan Margolius attempts to shed light on the mutual attraction between architects and the cars and how each tries to feed off the other. In a way the book undersells itself because those sexy cars are only really the tag to make you read on. Also featured are wonderful creations like Werner Graeff's improbable stab at a De Stijl motorbike, Marcel Breuer's chaise lounge (sic) on wheels, Norman Foster's yacht, Walter Gropius' diesel locomotive, and even the Hansom cab - Josef Aloysius Hansom was, apparently, an architect and editor of Building.

This is no criticism; what Margolius has really done is to study architects' fascination with speed and locomotion. Beginning with the Futurists, obsessed with speed and technology as the vehicles of art's salvation, and taking us through to the tongue-in-cheek High-Tech visions of Archigram, the book is a fantastically readable romp through often risible, sometimes genuinely innovative, creations. This is what happens when architects get sick of foundations.

The main section of the book looks at a list of architects and their vehicle designs, which range from napkin scrawls to production models. There are anecdotes about Frank Lloyd Wright and his increasingly bizarre proposals (which include a 'Road Machine' which looks like a four-wheeled snail); Corbusier (who apparently drove around in a bashed-up Voisin with smashed windows and a crunchy gear-box with no second); and serious, popular designs including Boulanger's 2cv and Carlo Mollino's gorgeous racing models.

In fact the curving contours of these Italian racers brings us to the subject of sex, inevitable when talking about cars. It will surprise no- one that all the designers here are men.

Edwin Heathcote is an architect in London

  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.