Colin St. John Wilson - Two Houses
by Roger Stonehouse
British architect Colin St. John "Sandy" Wilson (1922-2007) is best known for designing the British Library (1997) in London, a fraught but ultimately successful project begun in 1962. In Colin St John Wilson: Buildings and Projects, Roger Stonehouse reviews many of Wilson's works, including the Grantchester Road houses and Spring House. In an introduction to the book, drawn from a 1992 essay, Wilson reflects on the state of modernism in the early 1960s. —Editor
My next-door neighbour at that time was Reyner Banham, and in endless discussions with him and a small group of friends it was brought home to me that a number of the "lost causes" and "zones of silence" in the last 30 years of architectural exploration embraced issues far more subtle and life-giving than the reigning orthodoxies of the International Congress of Modern Architects (CIAM). It was therefore in the full awareness of this polemic that I began to formulate my own position.
In the first place it had become clear to me that for my generation, the dice were loaded by the momentous period in which we were born. The early 1920s were the pivotal years in the adventure of Modernity.
They witnessed achievements that were not only gestures of iconoclasm but also achieved masterpieces of the New. Literature's greatest triumphs were launched: Ulysses, The Waste Land and the Duino Elegies; Wittgenstein published the Tractatus and Le Corbusier Vers une Architecture. Mies designed his glass tower project, Rietveld the Schroeder House; and neo-classicism delivered its last lingering swansong in Lewerentz's Chapel of the Resurrection and Asplund's project for the Stockholm Chancellery.
And so those who were born at such a time it would inevitably fall to inherit not only the masterpieces of the avant-garde but also the intervening meditations of the rearguard in their task of consolidation and interpretation of the initial advance. And to us it seemed that "the victory" of Modern Architecture and the orthodoxy of the Congress was a Pyrrhic victory.
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This article is excerpted from Colin St John Wilson: Buildings and Projects by Roger Stonehouse, copyright © 2007, with permission of the publisher, Black Dog Publishing.