Here is a short post Alex did for the Modernist Estates website. They ask people to explain 5 modernist projects that they admire.....
You can see the full article (with pictures) at
1. The Grange School Hartford Nr Northwich – A place to learn
This was my first school. When I was 4 it seemed enormous. To a small boy there were towering slender white columns protecting our external pay area, a timber lattice entrance frame with an elegant curve making a safe place to wait for our parents at the end of the day . There was lots of glass for our class rooms.
It was a prototype dating from 1938 but it feels like it dated from the 1950’s. This shows how far the architects, Leslie Martin and Sadie Speight, were ahead of the game. Although the school is very basic as it was intended for efficient roll out to other locations. The design includes some of the characteristics to be found in the design for the Festival Hall some years later. I am very lucky to have spent time in this school and can still recall how fresh it felt, when compared to any other building I experienced at this age.
2. The Hamlet - A place to live
My luck and love for light, white modest and optimistic architecture has continued. Today I live in a modernist estate of 32 houses in Camberwell. These were built in 1967 to a design by the architect Peter Moiret
Like my primary school there is white painted timber, large windows, high ceilings but most importantly a social aspect to the design.
The houses are arranged around a central green space as in many of London’s conventional garden squares. This green space, is well used, naturally surveyed, safe and not gated. Many of the houses were bought off plan and are lived in by the original owners. This speaks volumes of how well the designs fit modern London life and fosters a community.
The house plans are compact and intelligent. Everything lacks fuss. Living here is a constant source of reference in my work designing new houses today.
3. Town Hall, Synatsalo, Finland – A place for a community to come together.
This building, designed by Alvar Aalto, is a multifunctional building for a small town based around a plywood plant in central Finland.
The design is totally focused on the community it serves. It pulls together many of the town’s functions including a library, few flats, a travel agent, a hairdresser and a bank. These are located around the outside of a cloister. They face outwards towards the town and welcome people in. The Debating chamber and municipal functions, on the upper level and tower, face inwards onto a more private, calm elevated garden cloister.
The materials are simple, rustic and durable. A single brick type forms the floor, steps, internal and external walls which adds to a feeling of permanence and longevity which imbues a commitment to the community. The simplicity of the palette is a form of commitment not to waste the community’s precious funds.
To me this building expresses the modernist dream of an egalitarian and caring society. It is something to aspire to both as a design and as a community.
4. Marcel Breuer’s Cape Cod Cabin – A place to escape
This little house shows how even the most sociable, erudite, urbane, forward looking, global modernist needs a modest rural cabin to escape. In this quite game of chess in the cabin surrounded by pine trees Breuer’s son looks as if he is slightly impatient that the great man is struggling to make the next move.
Breuer designed many houses often with an eye to making them repeatable and affordable. He designed several for himself and for me these are the best as they are often the most modest. This cabin was built around 1948 when he was also working on the prototype “model house” that was exhibited in the MOMA garden.
I consider that Marcel Breuer had the best. He is a massively under rated modernist. He worked, in the true modernist way, across all scales. His work ranges from his early tubular furniture, to individual buildings such as the Whitney Museum to huge masterplanned monasteries in the America desert and ski resorts in the French Alps.
5. The Longhouse – A place for later life.
True Modernist dreamers from the 20th Century are generally youthful and optimistic. Today there are many people who have grown up with modernist attitudes and are now reaching later stages of life.
However the homes that today’s society provide for those over 60 are often replicate the traditional. They are full of chintz, mouldings, pine stained to look like teak and have small windows. They feel designed to squeeze out any forward looking, fresh, youthful optimism that residents have. They make you feel old in minutes of arriving. They enforce a traditional hierarchical society rather than express an integrated caring society.
The Longhouse Company provides an alternative. I am currently designing the first of a series homes, for those in later life, which provide the functional requirements of step free access and combine it with an open plan, light filled, fresh and forward looking modern home.