ARCHITECTS FIGHT SPECULATIVE BUILDER
The slubberdegullions and the aristocrats of the small house are on show 'n photograph and plan—at an exhibition at 66, Portland Place, W.I, arranged by the Royal Institute of British Architects in order to awake the public conscience to the fact that the slubberdeguilions far outnumber the aristocrats, yet are in most cases as expensive to maintain as the aristocrats. The exhibition will, after its London session, tour the country.
It is about time someone started a campaign against the Speculative Builder.
" Come Gentle Bombs "
The newspapers are not troubled overmuch by the spoliation of the English country, by the brutal onslaught of well-fed individualism upon the liberties and delights of the community, and, after all, there are more serious things for the newspapers to become concerned about — the Italian peasant has no vote, and someone murdered someone else upon a divan, and, of course, advertisements, quite a few of which describe gay new estates of baronial halls (with tiled bathroom and separate W.C.) also every labour saving device.
In ten years 2,000,000 houses have been built in England. " What a chance has been missed," sighed Miss Ellen Wilkinson, who helped J. B. Priestley to open R.I.B.A.'s exhibition; and whenever I go walking in the Home Counties, or drive along the great characterless by-pass roads, 11 echo the fervent, concluding sentence of her speech : " If we have to endure another war, which will mean the bombing of London. we can only hope that the bombs will fall in the right places."
John Betjeman expressed the same sentiment a little more vividly when he wrote:
" Come. gentle bombs, and fall on Slough, It isn't fit for humans now, There isn't grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over death."
They Like the Pseudo-Tudor
If I were really ferocious I would make it quite clear that my idea of " the right places " are the charming country manors to which the successful Speculative Builder retires when the mess he has made on the outskirts of some big town has brought him sufficient money.
Yet the Speculative Builder has a better excuse for his sins than mere money making. When you point wrathfully at a particularly fatuous waste of pseudo-Tudor villas he replies: " Well, they like 'em that way."
Quite a large number of people have a taste for the pseudo-Tudor, and a larger number are more concerned with the design of the bathroom wall than the quality of the brick or the wood in their house, so that in pandering to their preferences the Speculative Builder is only taking an easy means of making money. Bathroortiles
are easier to provide than quality in materials and workmanship; and Tudor façades don't cost much when you buy them by the thousand.
" Get Back to the Community Idea "
But if a part of the public taste is vapid, and foolish, it can be educated to something better That fact was emphasised by J. B. Priestley, who said when Miss Wilkinson had done her semi-detached bit in the opening ceremony : " We must combat the suburban Englishman's liking for bungalows; but we must combat it by education, not by compulsion. 1 would rather be a free man living in a slum than be compelled at pistol mouth to live in a garden city . . . I think we should build more crescents, rows and squares.
" We must get back to the idea of the community. It has been the greatest mistake of governments of this century to allow London to become the size it is today. Not only is it the most vulnerable city on earth, but the most impersonal and inhuman also. We 'mat decentralise. We want new communities created, new compact cultural entities."
New communities . . . In that seems the only permanent solution to the hideousness of the grey slums within our cities, and to the hideousness of the pink strips of villas down the sides of the arterial roads on the outskirts of our cities. Temporarily the only effective answer to the urgency of slum clearance seems to be the highly efficient blocks of flats.
But for the English, houses alone have the signs of durability, tradition, privacy. The English are not at ease in their flats. But if they dislike flats, and want each his own small house, there seems no other reason than lack of foresight, or lack of planning that they should have their small houses strung out in endless rows along t' main highways, or scattered without purpose across pasture land.
Everything But Small Houses
It should be possible to build new centres of living on the model of Letchworth or Welwyn, perhaps not necessarily so big as those two garden cities, but keeping their fundamental idea of community, of the reasonable ordering of individualism for the common good.
As suggested already in the CATHOLIC HERALD Work-for-All Scher.-.e an enormous amount could be done in reducing unemployment by a really vigorous and wellplanned work of slum clearance; and the establishing of new communities of small houses honestly built and simply designed seems the only permanent way of excising the scab of slum from our cities.
The R.1.B.A. exhibition certainly showed in photographs what is needed and what is not needed in the way of small houses. Most of the examples of what is needed unfortunately came from abroad, and the reluctance of the English people to consider the possibility of a well-designed, efficient and beautiful small house worthy of being the twentieth century successor to the great English traditions of domestic architecture, was painfully apparent in the supplementary exhibition of architectural plans.
. Schools of architecture from all over England and Scotland put on view records of their work, plans for churches, memorial halls, country houses, golf club houses, railway stations, chapels, factories, almshouses, hostels, service stations—but not one of a small house.