How to get ahead in the world


In 1923 Ninian Comper obtained the commission for his masterpiece: the conventual church of All Saints, London Colney. The convent had previously employed Leonard Stokes (1858-1925), why did they change architects? The reason may be found in ‘Sir Ninian Comper’ by Anthony Symondson 2006, page 153.

Stokes was a man of ‘paradoxically impulsive temperament’ with a violent temper, given to swearing. He had made designs for a chapel but lost the commission because he called the Mother Superior a ‘damned woman’ to her face; Comper referred to her as ‘the saintly Mother Mary Emily’.

* Picture shows The Atmosphere of a Church, 1947. ‘There is no such thing as a Protestant church.’ p.8 (although he allows that there may be Protestant Meeting Houses for preaching).

Continuity loves Comper

comper altar

A recent biography of Sir Ninian Comper reasseses the career and reputation of this prolific church architect. The book ‘Sir Ninian Comper’ by Anthony Symondson and Stephen Bucknall is published by Spire Books, and you can read a review (from The Daily Telegraph) here.

Alternatively you could browse the extensive flickr site here.

The picture shows the new movable nave altar by Francis Roberts Architects at Comper’s church of St Mary, Wellingborough. Short description and original drawing.

Stirling’s Preston Housing


Fifty years ago James Stirling* was commissioned to design new housing for Preston. The scheme was completed in 1962 and was one of his earliest built projects in independent practice. In ‘Complete Works 1950-1974’ the scheme is illustrated alongside a reproduction of an L.S. Lowry painting and a descriptive text which refers to the ‘horizontal approach’ of housing in 19th century towns: “…you pass perhaps twenty or more front doors coming to your own; with children playing in the roads, parents chatting on the pavement and sitting in doorways, and the old peering through windows…the 19th century solution seems more dynamic than later planning solutions for mass housing.”

The scheme was built in an area of ‘slum clearance’ adjacent to four new tower blocks (map comparison 1955 & 1984)…


…and took the form of thin blocks of flats and maisonettes around a communal garden. The associated cubic forms were housing for old people.



Pictures taken soon after construction show Stirling’s idea of using utility structures on the facade to articulate individual dwellings. His own pictures show the occupants using the communal ramps at the end of the block and include 19th century dwellings in the background.


By the early ‘nineties the housing had been significantly altered, losing the stark parapet in favour of a standard local authority eaves detail. The mound depicted in the original drawing is there but less sharp than before…

…and the old peoples’ houses have lost their pyramidal roofs.

The whole scheme was recently demolished along with the adjacent tower blocks.

*Stirling & Gowan

Royan, France (not Royan, Iran)


From Wikipedia: During the Second World War, two German fortresses defended the Gironde Estuary: Gironde Mündung Nord (or Royan) and Gironde Mündung Süd (or La Pointe de Grave). These constitued one of the Atlantic “pockets” which the Germans held on to grimly well after the liberation of the rest of France. In the early hours of 5 January 1945 planes of the Royal Air Force, having been told that nobody was left in Royan but Germans and collaborators, in two raids bombed the centre of Royan out of existence. This appalling raid is usually attributed to the Free French Forces General Larminat. The Allied operation, which was directed against the German forces on Île d’Oléron and at the mouth of the Gironde River, began with a general naval bombardment at 0750 on 15 April 1945, some 10 months after D-Day. For five days the US naval task force assisted the French ground forces with naval bombardment and aerial reconnaissance in the assault on Royan and the Pointe de Grave area at the mouth of the Gironde. American B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator aircraft carried out aerial bombing missions, including extensive and pioneering use of napalm, finishing the destruction of 5 January.

The replanning of the town enabled by this destruction affords a very pleasant (because it is so rare?) opportunity to study mid-century modernism, the skyline dominated by the church of Notre Dame de Royan (1958) by Guillaume Gillet. Perhaps a too literal interpretation of Le Corbusier’s praise of the grain silo, the elliptical church is a late example of how the liturgical aesthetics of the Council of Trent were interpreted in the Twentieth Century. Unfortunately the corrosive properties of the sea air are having a damaging effect on this remarkable and inventive landmark.




Perfect Match

The Wedding Tower, Darmstadt

The Wedding Tower at the Matildenhoe, Darmstadt 1906-1909. Architect: Josef Maria Olbrich. The tower was erected to commemorate the marriage of the Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig to Princess Eleonore zu Solms-Hohensolms-Lich on 2 February 1905.

On the top floor is the observation platform
On the fifth floor is the room of the Grand Duchess, the “Wedding Chamber”
On the fourth floor is the “Room of the Grand Duke”

The roof motif has always evoked (for me) the image of a raised hand but the sale of matches in the box shown below suggests a different interpretation.