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Unique amongst the ubiquitous

Part 1 Dissertation 2000
Paul Jolly
University of Portsmouth | UK
"The modern house arrived in Britain in a blaze of glory, and after a brief summer of astonishing beauty faded like a flower in the frost" Lionel Brett, 1947

Since studying the works of Berthold Lubetkin and Tecton during my degree course at the University of Portsmouth, I have had a great affection for the modern house in Britain. The 'herioc period' saw a wealth of aspiring architects absorbing ideas first explored on the Continent, and applying them to the British domestic tradition. Many lay surrounded by the ubiquity of suburbia.

The first part of this study traces the history of suburban development in Britain from its origins in the early twentieth century, to the period of rapid expansion during the inter-war years, and investigates the inspirations behind its distinctive forms and ideals. Moving to the arrival of modernism in the 1930s, the Gidea Park Modern Homes Exhibition is used as a case study in an attempt to discover how the clean white forms were received by the British public. Finally this introductory section examines the failure of modernism to challenge the established domestic forms of suburbia, and explores the reasons behind the enduring popularity of the traditional semi-detached property.

The main body of the dissertation comprises a present day case study of the modern house in suburbia. Situated within a 1930s suburban estate near Richmond-upon-Thames, the house was designed by David Chipperfield in 1988 for the fashion photographer Nick Knight. Further investigation revealed that not only was the scheme an extension to a modern house of the 1950s, but it is also subsequently being extended at the time of writing. The case study follows the controversial history of the house, and concentrates on a number of issues including; influences on the design and its relationship to the suburban context, reactions from the local residents and media, concerns raised by the local planning authority, etc.

In the concluding part of this investigation, I have compared my present day findings to the situation of the 1930s. From discussions with a number of local residents, I have attempted to answer the following simple question. Have attitudes towards the modern house in suburbia changed over the last sixty years?

Paul Jolly

The Unique amongst the Ubiquitous - The Modern House in Suburbia

A case study by Paul Jolly, Diploma Year 2
Dissertation submission. University of Portsmouth School of Architecture.
Academic Year 1999/2000

Tutor's Statement.
Dissertation Tutor : Martin Pearce

His time frame derives from the Gidea Park Modern Homes Exhibition of 1934.
The dissertation commences with an overview of the modernist housing
project in the context of the suburbia.

The main thrust of the work is a detailed analysis/case study of David
Chipperfield's Knight house. In addition to a formal architectural analysis
the study moreover chronicles the house as social/cultural artefact. Here,
Paul's research is original as he describes the controversial history of
the house through exhaustive research involving planners, local residents
and coverage of media reports. His study provides insight to debate which
surrounded the house and is timely as the house was at the time of his
writing being extended again by David Chipperfield. The appendix to the
document, containing letter and transcripts makes for engaging reading.

Centrally the dissertation reveals the architect's design as a strategic
political process, and cuts to a layer of inquiry beneath that of the final

Accordingly I am pleased to commend Paul Jolly's dissertation to the assessors

Martin Pearce RIBA
University of Portsmouth
School of Architecture

Portland Building
Portland Street

Tel: 023 92 842083
Fax: 023 92 842087

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