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Welbeck is a good place to enter the lost world of Architectural Culture. So, as Naomi Stungo advises, In RIBAJ No. 107/9 pp. 40-44, of September 2000, "move the filing cabinet over, open the secret door, and come along in".


This is because, at Welbeck, there can be no pretence, no squirming on the seat, and no weasel words that "Architectural Culture" must be either 'old fashioned', or 'expensive' - and therefore Elitist. Nor can it be dismissed, as Reyner Banham advised, as something which one must discard in order to "...run with the Engineers". Welbeck was built in seven months by Construction Managers to whom JOA were novated. It was the third of three major re-designs all aimed at one thing only - to drastically reduce cost after the Arts Lottery 'welshed' on promised funds when New Labour re-wrote rules that the previous Adminstration had imposed on the charitable Harley Trust . Yet most agree that it is the best of the three designs. Why? because it iis 'architecturally cultured'.

Welbeck is a seriously inexpensive building that is 'not' made of stone, or hardwood or even papered over with slices of same. It is made of concrete block, steel, painted softwood and German stucco. It is seriously 'declassé' - materially. Oh dear - No "natural materials" at all, really!


What makes Welbeck 'eccentric'- the universal epithet adduced to the work of JOA - is its 'Architectural Culture'. Now the only 'elite skill' required for the acquisition of an 'architectural culture' is the ability to read a book (or this Website). And I imagine that we still allow universal literacy to remain a Proletarian, non-elitist, ambition.

Reading one's way into a medium is the way to acquire the culture of breeding British Blue short-haired cats or just about anything. Reading one's subject's Fanzine, even if its only in a chat-room, does make it more interesting. But that's just 'becoming literate'. Philosophy comes after literacy - about forty years after - in my case. This makes it rare for a Practitioner to write a philosophy. With a 'longue duree' art like Architecture, where a single 'essay' takes five years to 'write', most die with their philosophy still unarticulated.


The only reason Architects have been so keen to 'dumb-down' the medium (starting in the early 20C, but getting into its stride in the 1950's) is that they fear that as Architecture used to be done only by incredibly rich and powerful people, (and often still is) things would be all right if Architecture was made so easy to understand, and so user-friendly, that it would 'appeal' to a ten-year-old.

Contrariwise, and everything always seems to be contrariwise, 'dumbing down' also made architecture totally boring. This began by being prescribed (as the 1920's Existenzminimum) for the poor. It rather turned-off the rich and powerful who preferred Art Deco Jazzfest. Then the poor turned against being treated like brainless blobs. Ordinary people like to be diverted, not bored - even for their own good. Pop-Culture surprised the twinset-and-pearls Art and Culture Officers of the 1950's Welfare State.

No-one is going to be caught out that way today. Offical Art is now relentlessly 'exciting' - but still dumbly aimed at the Offical Age of Literacy - 11 years-out from Birth. What happens after that? Does one surf Murdoch texts for the next 70 years? If +11 is the climax of the 21Ct Mind why does the State publish anything at all? Doesn't this make the State either a wordhouse for nurselings or an 'elitist' organ?


Then the rich and powerful realised that dumb buildings bored everyone so much that no one worried if they were commissioned by rich and powerful people because clearly no one could possibly build such dull slabs of steel, glass and white cement for their own pleasure. Modernism was adopted by the 'this hurts me more than it hurts you' style of Crowd Control. Quietly, as in Lloyds of London, the Court could then hide away a nice suite of rooms for themselves, secreted behind all the 'scientific' aluminium armour, made of French-waxed mahogany mouldings.


Adolf Loos of Vienna, a man who never invented a single Architectural novelty, perfected this cunning, 'Chinese Taxman' strategy. If one was to peep behind one of his mis-shapen, grey cement, 'modesty curtain' facades, one found a riot of choice marbles and hardwoods, all of the strongest pattern-value, languorously unravelling a world of conceptually-disordered private sensuality. Loos's epitaph was his famous epithet in which he divided buildings into "urns and chamber pots", reserving architectural status only to the former. We all know what one puts into chamber pots. It takes a Viennese to think he can progress matters by describing everyone 'alive' as ordure. Loos loved the English. Presumably he never met Mrs. Do-as-you-would-be-done-by. This was back in the 1910's. Adolf remains a demi-god in the Modern Architect's pantheon.


Buildings, today, have become an unfortunate necessity which people cover over with 'decorator's' wall-paper of various kinds whenever they can afford to. In Las Vegas they use high-build Roman Polystyrene. Lloyds of London uses bits of air-ducting. The Establishment, in Britain at least, has become keen on this 'techie-ketchup'. Its a costly sauce, but tastes heavy with Serious Science. In any case it obliterates all other conceptual flavours. Like a fast car, Techiestyle slows thinking to a crawl. Unless, like Buckminster Fuller, you like high-torque technoburble.


Everyone in the game keeps looking for the next way of making Architecture 'popular and appealing'. Ethics are very strong at the moment. Police-forces are multiplying in all directions: Green Police, Gender Police, Minority Police, Disability Police, Safety Police. Everything is measured and scrutinised and 'benchmarked' for 'Political Correctness'. The one thing that all Police Forces agree upon is that if a building is 'Architecturally Correct' it will not be able to satisfy any of the P.C. Criteria. Wouldn't it be boring if it was? And where would it leave the Radicals - maybe facing the fact that one quite effective way of satisfying all of these P.C.'s can be via a radically reconstructed Architectural Medium, as it is conventionally understood? But then who understands it any more? Let alone what it can do.






As to our little contribution to the long and - almost incomprehensibly - original history of this Estate: it consists of phase three of the Harley Foundation's development of subsidised Craft Workshops. Our site was the previous Pineapple Beds. To present a fresh pineapple at one's table, in the mid 19C, after the Guests had struggled through snow and ice to reach it, was considered a fair measure of the capabilities of one's Estate and its agricultural technique. The six feet of steaming compost, laced with steam pipes, and the acres of glass houses they once warmed, are all long gone. What remains are the high brick walls which divided the many compartments of this 'industrial estate' of a 22-acre Kitchen Garden' Each of these open-roofed 'rooms' trapped the sun, making a small, 'urban', microclimatic amelioration of each cubic pocket.


Rather than place our building in the centre of this 'room', as Phase 2 had done, we ranged the little 'shops' along the one long wall which was not already traversed by the access road. This ensured a North prospect for most of the Units. An even 'working daylight is ensured through this facade, which can therefore be high, so as to sunlight to flood in without its accompanying summer heat. This height also allows us to build an urbane scale to the little facades so that they 'appropriate' the 'public space' that they seek to 'urbanise'. Placing buildings to one side of a space is a site-planning technique recommended, as long ago as the 1890's, by Camillo Sitte's "City Planning according to Artistic Principles", still the best description of Mediaevo-Humanist city planning, if a total failure to decipher its rationales. The 20C, with its preference for the free-standing temple or villa-type, marooned within a cordon sanitaire of 'open space', found itself compelled to monumentalise the most modest of structures 'for the advancement of Architecture'.


A central building destroys public space. An eccentric placement, with a strong 'facade', creates a social space 'in front' of it. It is a measure of the urbanistic ineffectiveness of Modern Architecture and the illiteracy of its city planning theory that it has no technique which ensures the 'advancement of Architecture' together with the construction of the social fabric the Medium was originally invented, many thousands of years ago, to serve. Pineapple Place will become a loose, 'seemingly natural', community and learn to act together in some 'seemingly natural' ways, whereas Phase Two, lacking a social space, will find it harder.


Each Workshop had to have a big door through which to shift large constructions, should that ever be necessary. But then each also needed a smart 'front door' suitable for potential 'retail trade'. The Harley Foundation only subsides the space. The Craftspersons must all earn their livings by selling their works. The solution was to design the 'public facade' with sufficient formal superfluity, or an in-built level of material redundancy (let's just call them big pieces of softwood). This is a very typical routine in Architecture that 'hardline' Functionalism always rejects, protesting it to be 'wasteful'. What it does, however is to allow one to open the doors and windows in different ways without manifesting these variations on the facade. It also, because of their symmetries, allows one to mechanically mass-produce the elements of the facade.


Once through the front wall, the 'iconic script' changes gear. The modular footprints of the great columns of the Hypostylar Order, that are fully realised on the facade, continue mainly as impalpable potentialities. Their only physical embodiment is the occasional slim, red-painted, steel column needed to physically support the roof. These columns distributed, seemingly at random, do, nevertheless, in reality, fill-in some small portion of the bulk of their giant original.

This major shift from 'full physical' embodiment to a merely 'mechanically sufficient' existence accords with the needs of the Craftspeople. Their lifespace is mainly one of work that combines physical, manual and mechanical efforts of large diversity. They need to feel free to alter the disposition of the interior of their Craft Workshop. Thus this interior has all of its steel and timber structural members exposed, as are its concrete masonry walls and polished cement floor. Electrical Services are off the floor in a generous 'dado-duct'. Small skylights cast enough daylight to avoid artificial lighting, in many of the workshops, during most days.

It is often considered evidence of a lack of moral fibre if not probity itself, amongst Modernists, if a building is not 'consistent'. This is usually understood, to cut a long story short, as 'being the same inside and out'. I have never, for 40 years, accepted this compulsion, so aromatic with the spiritual depravity of Totalitarianism. Public Life has its distinct sphere - as does Privacy. Thus the Craftspeople need a 'Queen Anne Front' and a 'Mary Ann Back'. The transition, in Pineapple Place, is more sudden that some might like. Personally I like the play-acting and air of make-believe that this close proximity of the two 'iconic terrains' engender.

Thus what might, at first sight, look like a merely cheapskate design policy of 'sufficient cause' can be argued as a deliberate provision of appropriate Architectures. In this it can be compared, without in any way wishing to denigrate it, to the Harley Gallery building itself. Here the extraordinary beauty and craftsmanly splendour of its interior inhibits the ability of Exhibition Designers to erase, like a floor of sand, the previous context and create another suitable to the objects on display.


As to the 'back' view of the Workshops - there isn't one! In this it descends from JOA's first big project, the factory-warehouses at Poyle. These were extremely inexpensive, costing £110/sq.M (yes the noughts are correct), but it was in 1978. They also consisted of an 'urbane' facade wrapped along one side of an off-centre terrace which had a very modest rear wall. Needless to say, a critic from Italy preferred the rear, but Italian Critics have been on a 'modesty-jag' for so long it is beginning to look endemic.

The roof slopes down away from the high 'front' facade and then, half way to the rear wall, slopes down more steeply still. From the neighbouring ex-kitchen garden 'paddock', walled in ancient brickwork, ghosted with absent structures and empty of anything except a green carpet, the Workshops are invisible. The sloping roof is the inverse of the sightline cast by the high old wall. In this it mimics the 5th Duke's 'picturesque philosophy that "out of sight was out of mind". The cubic 'pits' of the voided glass houses could equally be lowered below ground level, making the brick walls into the retaining structures so familiar to his general strategy of burrowing below the horizon.


The main thing about the new workshops, which, although we leave till last in this essay, is the first that comes to mind in reality - the colour! One can think of the courtyard of Pineapple Place as, in reality, 'underground' for it certainly is an 'interior view' in the sense that any urbane square is turned in on itself, seeking no exterior prospect. For although it is open to the sky it remains invisible from anywhere outside its high, impenetrable, walls. It explores a dimension very compatible with the original 'rustic picturesque' of the 5th Duke, albeit stemming from a very different parentage - that of the 'mythologically rustic' urbanity of Renaissance Humanism as it was understood in the cities of its origin.


The Picturesque as it came to be practised England came via Claude Lorraine and Pope and William Kent, to name a few of its main advocates. As it developed and aged, instead of coming to understand its origins better, it degenerated into the terrifying guise of a pantheistic naturalism which, in a frenzy of 20C eugenics, sought to demolish anything either 'artificial' or 'old'. Whereas, as the 20C developed, with its hugely more sophisticated understanding of the motives of design and the functions of 'art', we are able to decipher and re-code the tools which the Renaissance turned to the project of shaping a human lifespace that 'really-worked' rather than merely being the board on which human history was played out, leaving its ruins behind it.


Thus Pineapple Place, in that it has a Hypostyle order that supports an Entablature, constitutes a place which has been 'born' in the sense of 'brought forth' from the earliest beginnings of Time, indeed from the time before Time itself. These are the 'arcana' of the Architectural medium. These are tools which like all 'traditions, were once as commonplace in their use as they were rare in their comprehension. Their employment have been proscribed in the cause of Progress. but we, in JOA, have argued, for the past 30 years, that they are, instead, the key to the next stage of that unfashionable goal.

We must leave our 'explanation' at this point. Terms once commonplace now evince alarm - akin to the mention of occult practices. For those seeking assurance that they are not in the presence of 'bad ideas' , or to satisfy a not unreasonable curiosity, we can only ask that they visit the JOA website at <www.johnoutram.com> where all is on the way to being explained. But be prepared to suspend disbelief. Like the 5th Duke's upside-down world, JOA too, in casting a Modern eye upon ancient tools, have forged new life into Architectural components thought to be long dead and buried under the 'Forest Lawns' of Antiquity. They rise from their 20C slumber: giant polychromatic columns and brilliant entablatures, like rafts sailing to and fro in the sky. What can it all mean? 


End of "Travelling Light",

Click to read "Burying the Future", about the context of Pineapple Place in the Welbeck Estate.

Return to "Pineapple Place" -Welbeck  



* JOA can be reached by E-Mail at anthony@johnoutram.com , by telephone on +44 (0)207 262 4862 or by fax on +44 (0)207 706 3804. We also have an ISDN number : +44 (0)207 262 6294.