Hubert de Cronin Hastings’ neologisms were idealistic but ultimately futile, says Steve Parnell
Under the direction of Hubert de Cronin Hastings from 1927, the Architectural Review developed a reputation as a campaigning journal. Bringing the modern movement to Britain in the 1930s and expressing disenchantment at the mess made of the country up until de Cronin Hastings’ retirement in 1973, the AR tirelessly attempted to educate its readership on urban aesthetics.
De Cronin Hastings’ ideas were as prolific as his neologisms. ‘Sharawaggi’ was adapted from a Chinese term meaning irregular gardening, and was applied to town planning. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t catch on. More successful was ‘Townscape’, the first of numerous ‘…scape’ neologisms now common in architectural writing. Ian Nairn was the author of an AR special issue in June 1955 named ‘Subtopia’, which was the beginning of the magazine’s long-standing ‘Outrage’ column. The word ‘subtopia’ was derogatorily defined as ‘making an ideal of suburbia’, explaining that ‘its symptom will be… that the end of Southampton will look like the beginning of Carlisle’. Nairn travelled in as direct a line as possible from Southampton to Carlisle, documenting his disgust. He prophesied: ‘Both will consist of a limbo of shacks, bogus rusticities, wire and aerodromes, set in some fir-poled fields.’ He wasn’t far wrong.
De Cronin Hastings finished his time at the AR with a series of articles called ‘Manplan’, culminating in a special issue in June 1971 called ‘Civilia: The End of Sub Urban Man, a Challenge to Semidetsia’, under the pseudonym Ivor de Wofle. ‘Semidetsia’ referred to a land of semi-detached houses. But no matter how many attempts de Cronin Hastings made to promote his personal utopia of a picturesque movement comprising modern buildings, maintaining the clear separation between the countryside and the city, his architectural project was perennially doomed to failure, as the fields of identical speculative housing estates across the country now prove. He did, however, receive the RIBA Gold Medal in 1971.