Publishing about 20th century architecture and design
ISSUE #15 ENTERTAINMENT: June 2015
In 1938, Patrick Gwynne (1913-2003) designed The Homewood for his parents in Esher, Surrey. The Commander and Mrs Gwynne were keen entertainers, and the new house was a far cry from their former Victorian house on the same site, where they entertained the likes of Albert Einstein, the Infanta Beatrice of Spain and her sister, Queen Marie of Romania. The Homewood is Gwynne’s response to European modernism and has an elegantly English flavour.
The design ethic of the American Blue Note jazz label, whose output peaked in the late 1950s, has remained a potent signifier of avant-garde mid-century ‘cool’ well into the 21st century. In the British acid-jazz revival of the 1990s, for instance, magazines such as Straight No Chaser and new acts such as Galliano and Ronnie Jordan based their entire visual look on the Blue Note style and, in Japan, a whole subculture emerged influenced by the lifestyle, costumes and graphics displayed on those seminal LP sleeves.
In September 1981 the N.S.Z.Z Solidarność Union held its first congress. The union was the first non-government controlled union to exist in a Warsaw pact country. The Polish Communistic government agreed to its creation when 21 demands were met after direct strike action that took place in the shipyards of Gdańsk and along the Baltic coast. At the time of the congress the Solidarność represented around 9.5 million members from across Poland. At the end of the congress Lech Wałęsa, an electrician from the Gdańsk Shipyard was named the president of the trade union with 462 from a possible 789 delegates’ votes. Less than 2 months later, realising the size and strength of the union and in alleged fear of a Soviet Invasion, Prime Minister Wojciech Jaruzelski declared martial law.
With more and more paying customers lured away from the dusty old flea-ridden cinemas to the comforting glow of a small black and white screen in their own front parlour, the major cinema chains were looking at ways of converting their existing properties into different uses. Between January 1960 and August 1961 nearly 700 cinemas had closed across Britain. The Rank Organization had closed about 170 of its Odeon and Gaumont picture houses but still had around 400 in use. Rank saw the writing was on the wall as attendances declined and as early as 1958 had set out to rationalise this section of its business. Many of their cinemas were converted to ballrooms and plans were made to transform some into “bowling centres”.
Sim City was (as far as I know) the only video game based on town planning. The profession has been accused of attracting practitioners more interested in destruction than construction and as if to confirm this, Sim City included an option to let earthquakes or space monsters lay waste to your city.
As a broadcasting student at the University of Leeds, our classes were often taught in an outdated TV studio secreted within a dental hospital. This was Cronenbergian enough for me, and my daily walks along the famous ‘Red Route’ of the campus, from the Edward Boyle Library and EC Stoner Building towards the Roger Stevens Building, and rumoured to be both the longest corridor in Europe and a filming location for Blake’s 7 (only the former was true), cemented my daydreams.
Lidos were part of the 1920s craze for sun bathing. A popular best seller at the time was Hans Surén’s Man and Sunlight (1925), although some suggest that this may have been down to the pictures, with the German love of exercising naked. It went through 61 printings in one year, sold 250,000 copies and presented sunlight, nudity, and health as the path to happiness. Surén was eventually hired to reform the German military’s sports and physical education programs.
Let me start with an assurance that this will not be a blindly nostalgic, rose-tinted trip down memory lane to a time when games required three or more people to play, came in large, brightly coloured cardboard boxes with gaudy photos of laughing children on the front and which could be yours for only a few weeks saved pocket money. Instead, I hope to offer a brief insight into a forgotten world of creativity and excitement with the proposition that due to a combination of factors, the decade between 1963 and 1973 witnessed the creation of some of the most successful and enduring family games of the last 50 years.
Of course, then as now there is no singular modernism, but strains of modernism often in conflict. Functionalism could be sour-faced in its insistence upon purity, anything beyond function was unnecessary and reactionary. That had its origins in the reaction against superficial decoration - notably in Adolf Loos’ in/famous article on Ornament and Crime, where tattoos were barbaric, which might not go down too well today. Le Corbusier took up the essay a decade later for L’Esprit Nouveau, and it became an article of faith of modernism that function was the opposite of decoration.
The Phantom is most closely associated with the fuzz-toned crunch and stabbing riffs of mid 1960’s garage punk, as literally thousands of bands across the US emulated Dave Davies’ raw guitar sound of The Kinks.
The British inter-war cinema building was, at one time, so ubiquitous it was greeted with contempt by architectural purists and was almost universally dismissed as inferior architecture. Perhaps a latter day parallel would be the retail sheds and out of town supermarkets that sprout up incongruously in our towns and cities which are, at best, ignored as not worthy of architectural critique or more likely to be scorned as a blight.
It often comes as a surprise to learn about the interest in photography of certain individuals, who are known for their prominence in other fields; we have people of letters such as Émile Zola, Leonid Andreyev or George Bernard Shaw, a neuroscientist such as Santiago Ramón y Cajal or artists such as the post-impressionists Bonnard, Vuillard, Valloton or Denis, all were amateur photographers who have left an interesting legacy. Their photographs act as documents of how they saw and represented the world and life around them, and provide an, often unexpected, layer of depth to their characters.