Pevsner and 20th-century architecture

 Pevsner had come from a background of change and insecurity. In Germany he had been on the threshold of a professorship; in England he was nobody. His faith in the Modern Movement was a constant and a consolation. But to portray him simply as a blinkered champion of modernism is too crude.  His views on modern architecture evolved with the rest of his life in England, halting only when he faced developments that seemed to him beyond reason.

 

His priority was that architecture should be humane – sympathetic to the needs, wants and aspirations of ordinary people and  capable of creating the environment for a happy life.For this reason, just as he warmed to  the modern Picturesque, his pet post-war hates were  historicism, brutalism and expressionism. Historicism was the recycling of styles of the past which meant failing toserve the spirit of the present age. Brutalism was a form of bullying, insensitive or indifferent  to its surroundings. Expressionism promoted individual architectural personality in a building over the practical needs of its users.

 

‘I know I am a square man, who likes things square,’ wrote Pevsner . But ‘square’ for him meant not just the crisp outlines and frank expression of function of the 1930s  modernists but an honesty and reasonableness that should be timeless. It was one of his greatest disappointments that the architects of the 1960s appeared to be declaring them, and him, out of date. 

 

© 2015 Susie Harries