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.
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]
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.