Discover the history of architecture through the RIBA’s collection of 2,000 periodical titles. Today, the British Architectural Library looks at what happened in architecture in 1912 and makes comparisons with the events of 2012:

Richard Norman Shaw (Source: The Architectural Review, December 1912, p.300)

Richard Norman Shaw (Source: The Architectural Review, December 1912, p.300)

Richard Norman Shaw (7 May 1831 – 17 November 1912)

This year we remember the recent loss of great talents like Oscar Niemeyer, in 1912 (when Niemeyer would have been a child) the subject of long obituaries in architectural journals was Norman Shaw. Shaw was a prolific architect and designer of commercial premises, grand country houses like Cragside in Northumberland and smaller homes such as 170 Queen’s Gate and Lowther Lodge. The Architectural Review lamented his passing and pondered his influence on future architecture, noting that a “sense of beauty pervaded everything he carried out” (1).

170 Queen's Gate, Kensington, London. Architect: Richard Norman Shaw. (© RIBA Library Photographs Collection)

170 Queen’s Gate, Kensington, London. Architect: Richard Norman Shaw. (© RIBA Library Photographs Collection)

The new capital of the Raj
Architecture was a means by which the colonial administration could assert its presence. In 1912 the style of the proposed government buildings in New Delhi, was still being discussed only a few months after the capital of British India had been transferred there from Calcutta. There was a debate about whether it would be in English Renaissance style – increasingly popular in Britain – or a purer Classical one, and if some degree of local Indian influence should be tolerated. It was both an ideological and artistic battle. On the very last day of 1912, The Architects’ & Builders’ Journal raised the point that if the British did not possess the will to impose its own style of building (and, by extension, their civilisation and laws) without submission to local non-European tastes, should the British be there at all? (2)

Perspective of County Hall under construction, Lambeth, London, 1920s (© RIBA Library Drawings and Archives Collections)

Perspective of County Hall under construction, Lambeth, London, 1920s (© RIBA Library Drawings and Archives Collections)

Local government
Imperialism was not the only force shaping Edwardian architecture. The expansion of local government continued in the opening years of the 20th century, provided opportunities for architects. The foundation stone of Ralph Knott’s London County Hall was laid on 9 March 1912, while that summer marked the completion in Birmingham of the extension to the city’s council house to designs by H. V. Ashley and W. Newman. This was soon followed by the opening of Glamorgan County Hall in Cardiff, designed by T. A. Moodie and E. V. Harris.

Birmingham Council House extension (central bridge and the wing on the right), housing most of the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (Photograph by Wilson Yau, 2010).

Birmingham Council House extension (central bridge and the wing on the right), housing most of the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (Photograph by Wilson Yau, 2010).

New buildings – now celebrating their 100th birthdays
A major event of 2012 was the completion of the Shard, one of the tallest structures in Europe. Although Europe in 1912 possessed few tall buildings to rival those across the Atlantic, the rebuilding work to St Mark’s Campanile in Venice was completed that year. It is interesting to note that just as in 2012 (see the Stirling Prize), new British buildings in 1912 were not restricted to any particular category and were spread across the country. Amongst “some notable buildings of the year’ listed in The Architects’ & Builders” Journal included churches, hotels, department stores, hospitals and education institutions (3):

  • Wesleyan Hall (Methodist Central Hall), Westminster
    by Lanchester and Rickards
  • Midland Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool
    by R. Frank Atkinson
  • Whiteley’s, department store, Bayswater, London
    by John Belcher and J. J. Joass
  • Bristol Royal Infirmary extension
    by Percy Adams and Charles Holden
  • Polytechnic (now University of Westminster), Regent Street, London
    by Frank T. Verity and George A. Mitchell

 

University of Westminster, 309 Regent Street (Photograph by Wilson Yau, 2012)

University of Westminster, 309 Regent Street (Photograph by Wilson Yau, 2012)

The Shard, view from Borough Market

The Shard, view from Borough Market (Photograph by Wilson Yau, 2012)

Protests

In 2012 there were vocal protests, but also support, for the idea of expanding the capacity of Heathrow airport with a new runway and the proposal for a high speed train link between Birmingham and London. 1912 saw criticisms against plans – both later abandoned – for an underground tramway under St Paul’s Cathedral in London and the remodelling of a significant part of the southern portico of St George’s Hall in Liverpool to accommodate a memorial by Sir Gascombe John to King Edward VII. Gascombe’s idea was described by The Architects’ & Builders’ Journal as “a deplorable scheme” and there were fears that a tunnel under St Paul’s would undermine the structural integrity of the cathedral (4).

Preston Bus Station, Lancashire, 1970. Photographer: Peter Baistow. (© Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection)

Preston Bus Station, Lancashire, 1970. Photographer: Peter Baistow. (© Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection)

Under threat

As in all years there is the inevitable roster of building under threat. The Architect & Contract Reporter, looking back at the events of 1912, reported on the campaign to rescue the façade of the old Town Hall of Manchester from demolition.   The enlargement of the first Aswan Dam across the Nile (5) led to floodwaters threatening the ancient temples at Philae, a situation made worse when a second dam was completed. Consequently, the monuments suffered from significant water damage throughout most of the 20th century, leading to a major UNESCO rescue effort in the 1960s. Far away from Egypt and the building methods of the pharaohs, Preston Bus Station was designed by BDP and built within the lifetime of that rescue. Now, at the end of 2012, it is this Brutalist building facing the prospect of destruction.

Challenges

We know of the terrible world-changing events that were to come soon after 1912. That is not to say the architects working a century ago at the close of 1912 did not experience difficulties. Social and technological changes were underway, the registration of architects was being widely debated and the building trades were feeling the effects of a general depression in the economy. The last years of the Edwardian era were yielding challenges not too unfamiliar to us now, but that did not stop them from leaving us a legacy of fine buildings and streetscapes.

 

References:

  1. The Architectural Review. Dec 1912, vol.32, p.306
  2. The Architects’ & Builders’ Journal. 31 December 1912, vol. 36, p.699
  3. The Architects’ & Builders’ Journal.  31 December 1912, vol. 36, p.697
  4. The Architects’ & Builders’ Journal. 31 December 1912, vol. 36, p.699
  5. The Architect & Contract Reporter. 10 January 1913, vol.89, p.28

 

About Wilson Yau
I work for the British Architectural Library at the RIBA as part of a team to share news, images and information online about the activities of the Library and the fascinating items we have in our architectural collections – it contains over four million items, so there's plenty to see! If you’re curious about what we do at the Library and with the collections, or want to discover the latest about our education programmes, public events and exhibitions at the RIBA, please visit www.architecture.com

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1 Comment
  1. Anna Sullivan

    January 3, 2013

    The Edwardian is a very interesting and often overlooked period of our history. In Architecture there was a great variety of style that Architects could work in and technological innovations to be incorporated sensitively. The great speed of social change that characterizes that time is still with us and the issues that motivated individuals are very similar.
    We benefit from buildings of Then to this day, built to be robust they will continue to provide the shelter for which they were intended. The traditional approach to building and the highest aspirations for design inherited from preceding centuries were subsequently set aside and I feel despite what has been gained since we are the poorer for what has been lost, and I am not convinced there is the same degree of freedom of style as Then where anything even suggestive of a cornice moulding is decried as “pastiche”, I fancy the term is improperly applied when there has been timidity or insincerity of intent.
    Let us celebrate the legacy of artistic inquiry of our forebears and learn from their discoveries. They should not be forgotten for the lustre of stainless steel.

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