“A foreign critic said not long ago that the domestic architecture of Great Britain to-day is not only a finer thing than that of any other country, but better than any period of history.”
Houses and gardens by E.L. Lutyens
Lawrence Weaver, 1913, p.vii
Published a hundred years ago, the first edition of Lawrence Weaver’s book came at an important junction. Up until then, Edwin Landseer Lutyens was more widely known for designing the country houses which had met with such approval from Weaver. After 1913, Lutyens received fewer commissions for houses, instead work came from designing war memorials, offices and the most grandiose architectural project ever conceived by the British Empire – New Delhi. In the RIBA’s collections, held in the British Architectural Library, there is ample evidence of Lutyens’s work from around this period in early 1913.
There are letters and drawings of preliminary designs for New Delhi, including the Viceroy’s House (now the Rashtrapati Bhavan), dating from this period. Having spent the winter there, Lutyens left India in March 1913 for Britain (Ridley: 2002, p.227) and in the spring of that year, he opened a new office in Apple Tree Yard near St James’s Square, London, specifically to deal with the commission for New Delhi (Richardson: 1994, p.17). Obviously, back then architects had deadlines too, but in this case it was created by the 4 o’clock deadline for working drawings to catch the next boat to India (Richardson: 1994, p.18). The start of the year also saw his design for a new Municipal Art Gallery on a bridge over the River Liffey, Dublin, become public, only for the plan to be abandoned soon after.
As well as through major collaborations with garden designer Gertrude Jekyll, it was the magazine Country Life that played a role in promoting Lutyens and his country houses in his early career. Country Life covered Lutyens’s Marshcourt, Hampshire, several times and in an article - also written by Weaver - in its 19 April 1913 edition declared that “Mr. Lutyens never fails us” (1). The RIBA owns a copy of the The city and country builder’s, and workman’s treasury of designs by Batty Langley from 1740, a book illustrated with measured examples of classical architecture. Inside the cover are the signatures of Lutyens and Jekyll, with the address of the office in Apple Tree Yard. It reveals the past ownership of this book and a possible source of what Weaver described in the issue of Country Life of 4 January 1913 as Lutyens’s “inexhaustible invention” (2). The closeness between Lutyens and this lifestyle title continued after the architect’s death in 1944. One of its editors, Christopher Hussey, co-wrote the major three-volume work The architecture of Sir Edwin Lutyens which was published in 1950.
Reputations are fragile. Later, the style of Lutyens, when Modernism was in the ascendant, was increasingly seen as outdated, while he himself expressed a dislike for the movement. In Lutyens and the Modern Movement, Allan Greenberg highlighted the praise Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright had for Lutyens and his work. Some of the greatest built accomplishments of these three architectural giants are contemporary with each other. In recent decades Lutyens’s reputation has recovered and the surviving 2,000 drawings along with the archives and books from his office represents one of the most important holdings in the RIBA’s collections.
Lecture: 12 February 2013
Lutyens’s reputation and his work in London will be the subject of a lecture at the RIBA. The Milo Lecture: Lutyens in the City of London will be at 66 Portland Place, London, on 12 February 2013, 6.30-8pm.
Tickets £15-18. Booking is essential.
- Johnson, H., 19 April 1913. Marshcourt, Hampshire. Country Life, vol.33, p.26
- Weaver, L., 4 January 1913. Great Dixter, Sussex. Country Life, vol.33, p.571
- Greenberg, A., , 2007. Lutyens and the Modern Movement. London: Papadakis.
- Langley, B., 1740. The city and country builder’s, and workman’s treasury of designs… London: printed by J. Ilive, for Thomas Langley.
- Richardson, M., 1994. Sketches by Edwin Lutyens. London: Academy Editions in collaboration with the Royal Institute of British Architects.
- Ridley, J., The architect and his wife : a life of Edwin Lutyens. London : Chatto & Windus, 2002.
- Weaver, L., 1913. Houses and gardens by E.L. Lutyens. London: Country Life.