Monday, September 30, 2013

The radio-ridden villas of the Sussex coast

They are all over England, these models of civilised buildings, and of later years we have been turning to them again in our convalescence from the post-war Corbusier plague that has passed over us, leaving the face of England scarred and pitted, but still recognizable. For ten or fifteen years we all had the pest-mark scrawled across our doors and the watchman cried nightly: ‘Bring out your dead!’ From Tromso to Angora the horrible little architects crept about – curly-haired, horn-spectacled, volubly explaining their ‘machines for living.’ Villas like sewage farms, mansions like half-submerged Channel steamers, offices like vast bee-hives and cucumber frames sprang up round their feet, furnished with electric fires that blistered the ankles, windows that blinded the eyes, patent ‘sound-proof’ partitions which resounded with the rattle of a hundred typewriters and the buzzing of a hundred telephones. In England we have an artistic constitution which can still put up a good fight; our own manifold diseases render us impervious to many microbes which work havoc upon the sounder but slighter races. We suffered less from the concrete-and-glass functional architecture than any country in Europe. In a few months our climate began to expose the imposture. The white flat walls that had looked as cheerful as a surgical sterilizing plant became mottled with damp; our east winds howled through the steel frames of the windows. The triumphs of the New Architecture began to assume the melancholy air of a deserted exhibition, almost before the tubular furniture within had become bent and tarnished. It has now become par excellence the style of the arterial highroads, the cinema studios, the face-cream factories, the tube stations of the farthest suburbs, the radio-ridden villas of the Sussex coast. We have had a fright – a period of high fever and delirium, a long depression, and now we are well on the way to recovery. We are again thinking of stone and brick and timber that will mellow and richen with age, and we have instinctively turned to the school in which our fathers excelled.

Evelyn Waugh, A Call to the Orders, 1938

Waugh, Evelyn, and Donat Gallagher. 
The essays, articles and reviews of Evelyn Waugh.  
London: Methuen, 1983, 216


Stephen Stratford said...

"the horrible little architects crept about – curly-haired, horn-spectacled, volubly explaining..."

plus ca change.

Paul said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul said...

They are rather tall these days and the spectacles are often titanium, but otherwise little has changed.