On HKPA…

Model of 1960 development plan for St Anne's College, Oxford
Model of 1960 development plan for St Anne’s College, Oxford. Photograph © Geraint Franklin

My new study of Howell Killick Partridge & Amis will be published by Historic England in 2017. It is part of the Twentieth Century Architects series, published in collaboration with the Twentieth Century Society and the Royal Institute of British Architects.

As I research the book, I’ll be adding all sorts of bits and pieces here.

If you’re interested in my project, do get in touch and follow me on twitter and this blog. Better still, help to make publication possible with a donation! Each author in the series is required to seek external funding of £5,000 to make the title commercially viable for the publisher.

All support is gratefully received, but for donations of £100 or over, you’ll receive a signed copy of the book and a special mention in the Acknowledgements section. For further details please get in touch.

Thanks for reading,

Geraint Franklin

When Bill met Jane

Jane Jacobs’s centenary provides a good excuse to re-publish this little-known piece by Bill Howell. Her was vice president of the Royal Institute of British Architects when on 7 February 1967 Jacobs delivered a talk called ‘Failure and Future of Planning’ at Portland Place, and had earlier taken her on a tour of London terraces. The text of her talk was published in the RIBA Journal (March 1967, pp.95-100).

Howell’s response is of intrinsic interest as it shows how far he had come since the Saint-Dié-des-Wandsworth of his LCC days. (Although it’s not quite as simple as that; more on HKPA’s urbanism in my forthcoming book). And Howell gets in mentions of two of his favourite London places: Portobello Road (where he would sometimes run in to fellow-collector Jim Stirling) and the Soane Museum. Reproduced courtesy of the splendid Hugh Pearman of RIBAJ; full reference: W.G. Howell, ‘Thoughts after the Jane Jacobs’s Lecture’, RIBA Journal, Vol. 74, April 1967, p. 135.

Thoughts after the Jane Jacobs’s lecture, by W. G. Howell

We all hoped that the Jane Jacobs’s evening would provoke some controversy, and it certainly did. The more public part of this has consisted mainly of planners and economists, squeaking because their professional corns have been trodden on, and of architectural journalists who didn’t get what they went for.

I think the more serious part of the debate is still going on, in offices up and down the country and in the consciences of the many architects, planners, economists and politicians who have begun to have doubts about our present articles of faith . To many of these the Jane Jacobs visit must have acted as a ray of hope, though they may have many, and strong, reservations.

‘It couldn’t happen here’

One of the reservations most often heard is that everything Jane Jacobs writes and says is really all about the United States, and has nothing to do with us. I recall that a few years ago, to many people’s surprise, we asked Alistair Cooke to give our annual discourse. ‘What relevance could this be to British architects? ‘ it was said. Well, he told us of the Gadarene movement of population to Florida and California, before the term ‘drift’ was heard over here, and he told us , before Colin Buchanan had alerted most of us, of the nearing paralysis of urban traffic. He ended by saying that, unpalatable as it might be to us, he was forced to point out that there was almost no human folly perpetrated in the USA that we didn’t succeed in copying in some form within a decade.

This it-couldn’t-happen-here line often manifests itself in disbelief that anyone could start a serious book on cities with a chapter entitled Safety on the sidewalk. This is held by many to be no problem in these well-ordered parts. People don’t, we are told, beat up old gentlemen or molest little girls in our towns. Really? The latter is practically a British speciality, and the former type of urban occurrence is increasing alarmingly in dead city-centres or deserted suburban roads at night.

The police, not in my experience a particularly hysterical group, and no more dirty-minded or cynical than their experience makes inevitable, have for years fretted about the increasing areas of pedestrian alleyways, garage cul-de-sacs and backaccesses in modern layouts, lacking any social supervision and beyond the resources of the police to patrol. Architects have usually dismissed this as very anti-utopian and reactionary, but anyone who continues to think we can ignore the necessity of social supervision of spaces between buildings in modern cities is, I believe, in ostrich-ville.

Planning – Jacobs’s fashion

Another recurring charge, which Lord Kennet repeated at the meeting, was that Jane Jacobs was anti-planning, and could only mean that we should pack it all in and go back to laissez-faire. She denied this vociferously at the time and I later heard her say to a planner that, though it might come as a shock to welfare-state Britons, she believed in even more controls than we’ve got here but of an entirely different kind. After her lecture in Cambridge I asked her what sort of development controls she would like to see, assuming some sort of bye-law control of the making of noxious fumes, smells and noises, and the generation of more traffic than the road pattern could sustain. Her answer was that, as development control always seeks to facilitate the sort of social and economic patterns that society wants and, if society woke up to the fact that what is wanted in a city is diversity, planning would actually limit the amount of any one use in a given area; which is, of course, the precise opposite of what we do now. Control by the Jacobs’s rules would really be anti-zoning control, to prevent over-separation of uses, and there would be control against too large areas coming under the bulldozer at any given time, so as to prevent the erosion of economic diversity which results from an overwhelming load of new buildings: where do the marginal (but often seminal) activities go, which can only afford to exist in buildings whose capital cost has long been paid off?

Redevelopment schemes would have to justify, by cost-benefit analysis techniques, that total destruction was in the interests of the community (as opposed merely to the building owner). We cannot afford the waste of national resources involved in knocking down buildings with good life in them and which in any case may be housing social and economic activities which would not survive transplantation. But perhaps most shocking of all to those of us brought up in the planning ethos of the forties and fifties, change of use within the above framework would always be permitted, because change of use means that down in the economy something is stirring. It is sometimes claimed that zoning control protects the value of domestic freeholds by preventing ‘unsuitable’ uses infiltrating residential areas. Even if this is a justifiable aim of planning, the economics are questionable because, when growing uses invade a residential area (as they do despite planning), the residential values go up, because enterprises with economic vitality are after the accommodation.

Building for changing cities

If we must face (and welcome and not regret) that parts of towns, like our buildings, will not go on being used for their original purpose, we must either plan for very quick replacement of buildings or for real in-built adaptability. The first of these we must accept, is really impossible – you can’t design a building that will stand for 15 years that won’t stand for 60 and, let’s face it, we are never in our foreseeable economic future going to be able to afford to treat buildings like Kleenex. So we ought to be planning buildings that can change to accommodate the changing needs of society (provided that is, that legislation allows for change rather than insisting on static conformity as at present). Now this is an old architectural chestnut – the adaptable building bit. The sad thing is that apart from very expensive office partitions, most of which let too much noise through, we seem totally In· capable of making any contribution to this vital problem. Are any of our flats really capable of becoming offices, or, if you think this too wicked a thought, could you make a modern office block into acceptable flats? Could you make a block of four-storey maisonettes into a school of architecture, or a school of architecture into a hall of residence? I ask these questions just in order to remind you that we have one building form in this country which does all these things really rather well, and it was devised 250 years ago namely the urban terrace house. I took Jane Jacobs across London from World’s End to the Caledonian Road to look at the amazing adaptability of this extraordinary building type. They make superb houses; they divide into flats and maisonettes; they make excellent shops and the sort of offices most of us prefer to work in. At Portobello Road they make arcades for stall-holders and the Soane Museum is carved out of three of them. So is the AA.

The reason for this is that they constitute a structural system of vertical load-bearing fire-barriers which it is fairly easy to cut pretty large holes in. Next there are frequent, identifiable and civilized entrance points and vertical access at every bay. Also, they presented a balance in their imagery between the individual and the larger unit that makes them comprehensible as single occupancies without their being so fragmented that when grouped to form say, an hotel, the group lacks cohesion. The elevational system of hole-in-wall gives a lot of choice as to where you can bring partitions up to the exterior wall. Alas, the technology of the day couldn’t offer fire-resisting floors which would have cut down their flexibility only marginally. At all events the imagery of the cell in relation to the block, and the entrance in relation to the cell, seems to me to be the basic architectural problem of adaptable buildings. .

I’m not for the moment advocating covering London with souped-up Georgian terraces but, surely, we ought to be able to devise systems of support, fire divisions, access ductways and exterior skin which could offer something as good as a row· house dreamed up two-and-a-half centuries ago. If we architects can’t evolve prototype solutions for really adaptable buildings, then any hope that towns can adapt and change (which is another way of saying ‘live’) is utterly lost and Jane Jacobs will have preached in vain. That, for her sake and ours, we could ill afford.

At Her Majesty’s Pleasure

aa95_05475.tif
Gatehouse, HMP Birmingham © Historic England, James O. Davies

Andy Foster, who’s researching the forthcoming Pevsner volume covering Birmingham and the Black Country,  got in touch about this building last week and I thought a blog post would be in order.

So this is HKPA’s gatehouse for HMP Birmingham. The prison opened in 1849 to the designs of the Birmingham architect Daniel R. Hill. HKPA were commissioned to design a high-security complex to manage entry, admissions and discharge from the prison. Paddy Lawlor’s design, completed in 1987, echoes the strong turrets of the Victorian gatehouse it replaced:

HKPA gatehouse
Gatehouse, HMP Birmingham. © Historic England, James O. Davies

photo1+400dpi+Prison+Winson+Green+Road

This is  HKPA at their most Post-Modern, but has all the super-charged gutsiness and anthropomorphism of their early work. Late 1990s photographs by James O. Davies for English Heritage’s monograph on prisons.

aa95_05479.tif
From the north east. © Historic England, James O. Davies
aa95_05477.tif
From the north west. © Historic England, James O. Davies

 

 

 

Survival of the fittest: HKPA’s ideas competition for Darwin College

Studying the drawings at HKPA’s archive last summer, I noticed this label on ‘roll 24’:

IMG_8415.JPG

These, I discovered, are the drawings for HKPA’s in-house ideas competition for their additions to Darwin College, Cambridge (designed 1965-6, built 1967-8). It’s slightly ironic that while these have survived, the practice’s main set of drawings for the job appear to be missing (although Darwin retain a full set).

The base drawings – showing existing buildings – are dated 4 March 1965, so I suppose the competition was held a little after that date. Bill Howell mentioned an ‘office competition’ when presenting a revised scheme to the College in May. Most of the entrants had a go at the challenge of slotting a new dining hall into a narrow gap between the Hermitage (left on the photo below) and Newnam Terrace (right), ensuring privacy and security for those in the garden while maintaining visual connections between Newnham Road and the Backs. Here’s what got built:

Newnham Terrace

But not everyone took the brief so seriously:

 

IMG_8400_

IMG_8404_

The HKP Churchill Competition entry crossed with Ron Herron’s walking city! Another anonymous entrant tried their hand at a Gothic decorated shed (minus shed):

IMG_8363_

The competition was mentioned in Jill Lever’s 2002 interview with John Partridge for the National Life Stories Collection. [Lever ran HKPA’s practice library when they were based in 4 Fitzroy Square, and the interview is well worth a listen]:

 Jill Lever: The office was fun at that time […] there was a one-day competition, wasn’t there, when everyone was invited.

John Partridge: ‘that was for Darwin College, we had the job of the new dining hall at Darwin as well as redoing a bit of the Hermitage and a small bit of students’ accommodation. It wasn’t quite turning the corner […] but it was a problem of how to put a dining hall there and to get through to the garden which then went down to the side water of the Cam, and we discussed this and decided to have an office competition. I know I did one that was sort of rectangular with roof lighting. Did it in a morning, wasn’t very good! Everybody did one, I think, well most people, there were one or two who wouldn’t; even the secretaries did. It was great fun.

 

 

 

Acland Burghley

HKPA’s comprehensive school for the LCC at Tuffnell Park, North London was listed at Grade II yesterday. Here’s how it looked in April 1968..

1968_04
The drawbridge-like entrance approach.
1968_05
The concrete walls of the hall (left) with the ‘amphitheatre’ and teaching blocks beyond.
1968_03
Boxed-out ‘acoustic windows’ and canted service panels
1968_02
The multiangular assembly hall
1968_01
Straight-on view of administration block.

Sir Christopher Zeeman (1925–2016)

I was sad to hear of the recent death of Sir Christopher Zeeman, the mastermind behind the Warwick Mathematics Research Centre Houses, and I’ve just read Ian Stewart’s Guardian‘s obituary. I wrote about HKPA’s Grade II*-listed maths houses recently in Brick Bulletin (PDF link), and the forthcoming HKPA book has more detail. Sir Christopher’s own account is well worth a read also (PDF link).

Christopher Zeeman and Bill Howell were of similar ages and backgrounds (public school, RAF, Gonville & Caius) and client and architect really seem to have hit it off. In memory of Sir Christopher, and with the kind permission of Elaine Greaves Coelho, here’s a photograph of the two gamely planting a White Chestnut at the centre of the group in March 1969 (Howell is on the right), with Warwick Vice-Chancellor Jack Butterworth looking on.

Warwick MRC houses Tree planting

 

 

 

John Killick at home

 

Killick 1
The long living-room has white walls and a greeny-grey ceiling. On the right, a door has been moved back in its frame and shelved; note how a picture hangs on the outside of the shelves. An Anglepoise in the unit lights a large photograph of Everest. The gay ceiling light was a Festival of Britain design

I was intrigued to discover this article in the November 1953 issue of  House & Garden, placed immediately before profiles of houses by Bill & Jill Howell and Pat Crooke. Less is known about John Killick (1924-71) than his partners – in part because his career was cut short by MS – but he was a significant intellectual force in their work at the LCC and in the early partnerships with Bill Howell and John Partridge. Killick is today best known as a fourth year tutor at the Architectural Association.

I’m not sure exactly where this flat was*, but an obituary by Hugh Morris, a friend from AA days, notes that ‘his transformation of his mother’s flat was total and symbolic’, and Stephen Macfarlane recalls working on a group project at his parent’s flat in Battersea, quite near the power station; perhaps it was in one of the tall, late-C19 mansion flats around Battersea Park. I like the way the flat is presented as a collection of refined objects, and would love to know more about the fantastic conical lamps (described as a Festival of Britain design). Bill Howell and Stanley Amis both had similar lamps in their South Hill Park houses. This piece is reproduced by kind permission of House & Garden GF

 [* Flat 97, York Mansions, Prince Of Wales Drive, London SW11 4BN, according to The Times, 8.8.1959]

Killick 2
How not to be intimidated by dados. An Egyptian hanging is on a panel of scarlet in the hall, and below the rail, the panel is mustard ; in front stands a charming antique piece, bought for the fascinating shadows it casts- its original function vague; left , is an aspidistra

 Conversion by Decoration

Sometimes one hears the remark “Well, with all these modern houses, or with old ones full of character, it’s easy to do successful and exciting interiors”. Forced by the housing shortage into a clinch with Mock Tudor, boisterous Edwardian, or barrack-like Victorian, one is apt to be crushed into submission by dadoes, monumental fireplaces, and echoing halls. “It’s hopeless”, one hears, and the house has won again, hands down.

A notable case of courage in the face of fearful Edwardiana is this superbly simple flat which the architect, John Killick, has rescued from the shell of one of the first blocks of flats to be built in London, of enormously forbidding and gloomy exterior. He has effected the transformation in the simplest and cheapest way; for instance, large and ponderous mantelpieces have been obliterated by wall-width curtaining. This is an idea especially worth remembering, since leases for these flats usually specify that you must leave everything as you find it, and it is expensive to remove, make good, and finally replace fixtures of this type. Unfortunate features, like lincrusta dados, have been retained, painted white, and given interest and excitement with panels of pure bright colour . Walls are nearly all white, like the large curtains, and against this pure background the contrasting shapes of modern and antique furniture, rich woods, and a few spots of bright colour, are seen to their best advantage, and the very high ceilings are lowered visually by being painted grey.

This flat is not only a direct and simple solution to a problem home; it shows the out-of-the-ordinary look you can obtain by the use of objects and furnishings that are just a bit different. So don’t be downhearted, fight your lincrusta and dark oak; it’s easier than you think, and so exciting and rewarding when you win the battle.

 

Killick 3
Regency armchairs and a large table sit happily against white walls and curtain, and mix with modern Gensen [sic] cutlery and Wedgwood plates. Linoleum in this room is black, and the carpet brown, and another Festival light makes a bright splash of colour. Among Lucie Rie’s pottery is a coffee jug made for left-handed people . The long shelf of unplaned mahogany gives a horizontal look to the high room
Killick 4
Inside one of the bedrooms which is entered by a brightly painted Persimmon door, heavy old mahogany pieces are lightened by the white walls, and by the fabric patterned with Dandelion Clocks which Lucienne Day designed for Heals. John Killick, reflected in a mirror, stands in front of a pin-up board. The white walls help to enlarge the small room
Killick 5
The fireplace end of the living room is floored in brown haircord, with Persian rugs on sanded and oiled boards at the piano end. The Michael O’Connell printed hanging disguises a door; the curved sofa was designed by Dennis Lennon. One Victorian buttoned chair is upholstered in black gaberdine, one in orange flannel