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Review: Manser Houses by Peter Murray

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James McLachlan finds a book which demonstrates more than just a body of work

In his foreword to Manser Houses, critic Edwin Heathcoate describes the portfolio of homes designed by former RIBA president Michael Manser as, ‘the zenith of British mid-century cool’. Inspired by Mies and Johnson, Manser certainly challenged the nostalgic precept that the ideal home meant pitched roofs, brick and stucco. Rapidly constructed steel-framed structures with large windows formed the architect’s early vision for housing. And whereas Modernism’s strict rationality could be suffocating, Manser’s work, impeccably highlighted in this book, demonstrates how this can be humanised with natural materials. The craftsman’s hand is prominent in the abundance of timber used throughout his work. A healthy preoccupation with light and transparency is also evident – most of the 23 homes feature full-height glazing overlooking courtyards or lawns.


The book is structured simply, with an essay by Manser’s long-time friend Peter Murray contextualising the work with the odd anecdote thrown in for colour. Each house is presented in historical sequence from 1960 to 2014, with a concise description of form and materials in addition to scaled plans of layouts and site locations.


Inevitably, Manser has outlived some of his work. The family home, Golden Grove, was demolished about 12 years ago. More remarkable is how robust many of these schemes have proven to be. Cliffhanger House, for example, was built in a matter of weeks and is still standing today while Capel Manor and Forest Lodge are Grade-II listed.


Completed last year, the Yachtsman’s House, designed by Manser’s son Jonathan, adheres to the Manser architectural principles. However, it also reminds the reader that this publication documents more than just a body of work, but the passing of the torch from father to son. 

Manser Houses by Peter Murray with a foreword by Edwin Heathcoate, published July 2015 by Clip Kit. Hardback, 102 pages. RRP £25


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