upper lawn or solar pavilion, architects’ own weekend house, 1959-1962.
architects: peter and alison smithson (1923-2003 & 1928-1993).
restoration: sergison bates, stephan bates and jonathan sergison 2003.
this is the last of our photos from the upper lawn pavilion with the neighbours’ VW standing in for the famous citroën DS that used to be parked out in front.
it is a deceptively simple structure, a wooden box clad in sheet metal and perched on the old stone walls of a derelict country cottage. there is to its execution a knockdown quality which I like to think of as favela aesthetics; the smithsons prefered brutalism, but the light touch here is distinctly different from the failed housing estates in corbusian beton brut we have since come to associate with the term.
the pavilion was intended for a life of simplicity too. the architects called it a climate house. when we talk about climate in architecture today, we are refering to the measures taken to secure a constant 22 degrees C regardless of conditions outside. to the smithsons, it meant experiencing the elements and seasons with a degree of exposure we would consider a failure on behalf of the architect, but which to them was part of the antidote to urban life they sought here in wiltshire.
more was at stake, of course. the smithsons had become representatives of postwar architects through their work and by their coup of the CIAM which in the end they used for little other than its dismantling. european architecture had lost its centre to the war; the berlin-vienna axis of modernity had become the original axis of evil, only to fall silent as its proponents of progress either died or went into exile. in its wake, quirky couples like the smithsons, scandinavian recluses like utzon, and italian elitists like scarpa came to the fore.
for all their cockiness – brutalism, please! – the smithsons were architects in search of something to replace that loss. and this is where the stone wall comes in. it may have served the same spatial needs that mies’ courtyards did, or guided your view like corbusier’s petite maison, but its age and its quality "as found" was a dismissal of the idea that architecture could be built as a fragment of some future utopia. the smithsons offered you this world only and insisted it held greater fascination and joy than any abstract ideal you could put in its place.
we have no world war to recover from; our financial crisis does not compare, even if the full consequences are yet to be known. but the sheer embarrassment of recent architecture, its deluded self-expression at the service of marketing and profit optimization, its most enduring image the moral and literal bankruptcy of dubai, has left us searching. the restlessness of the smithsons in their pursuit of a meaningful architecture made them role models for the postwar generation as they could still be for us.
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