The Hispano-English Committee
Summary of the lecture which Sir Edwin Lutyens will give, on his architectonic works, in the auditorium of La Residencia de Estudiantes, Madrid, on Thursday 14th June 1934, at 7.00 pm.
In 1934, Edwin Lutyens gave a lecture in Madrid, at the famous Spanish academic institution, La Residencia de Estudiantes. A summary of the lecture, in Spanish, is included in a book recently published by La Residencia, entitled “Maestros de la Architectura Moderna”, and kindly donated by La Residencia to the Trust library at Goddards. The book includes talks given at La Residencia by other great architects, including Le Corbusier and Gropius and also a lecture on Lutyens by Dr. David Watkin, in the course of which Dr Watkin describes Lutyens’s designs for restoration work at the Palacio de Liria (Madrid home of his friend, the Duke of Alba) and also a project for a large country house, sadly never built, for the Duke of Peñaranda. A summary of the lecture, translated back into English, appears below. The lecture and his choice of buildings to illustrate it, together give a rare and amusing insight into his thoughts on architecture and on his own completed work.
It seems to me something of an impertinence to come here to such far-away lands to talk to you today. I do not possess the art of public speaking and words, for me, rather than faithful servants, are rebels, which escape my control.
My habitual means of expressing myself is rather the pencil and its companion of inestimable value, the india rubber, which unfortunately cannot be used to erase the spoken word. Thus, I beg your patience and tolerance.
Without the speaker’s gift, you will understand that I cannot be an eloquent orator; but I could not refuse your invitation to come to this beautiful and friendly country, where for many years I have enjoyed hospitality full of delightful courtesy.
The subject of architecture, on which I have been asked to talk to you, is a very broad one of such breadth that it fashions in stone the history of the world, a subject perhaps better known through the medium of archaeology.
But archaeology is no more than the servant of architecture, a servant who has left her proper sphere, flattered by her lovers, the learned professors, who deceive by telling her that she is worth more than her mistress – the Mistress and Mother of all the Fine Arts.
It is the “How” and “Why”, and not the “When” and “Where, which is of interest to the architect.
It happened, a few days ago, that a newspaper asked me to express an opinion of an article on architecture destined for an encyclopaedia. They sent me a mock-up of the book, with 300 blank pages and three printed ones. On opening it, I saw in capital letters the word “ARCHIMEDES”. This one name inspired my review and only after posting it did it occur to me that perhaps it would be good to read the article. I went on to find out that Archimedes had lived and that, naturally, he had died, when I noticed the section headed “ARCHIPELAGO” and when I finally arrived at the word “ARCHITECTURE” I realised that this reference to Archimedes had nothing to do with architecture except its alphabetical precedence.
I was embarrassed by my inattention and only recovered my composure when I received a letter thanking me and praising my contribution. But, despite my mistake, I do not think I was far off the right track, given that Archimedes was probably the first great inventor who had the courage to solve problems solely for their artistic content and not for their utility – which constitutes the fundamental difference between the architect and the engineer. His work flourished in the construction of the Parthenon in Athens, the monument which eclipses everything else created by man. To look at it now in ruins is the saddest spectacle which can be offered to an architect.
Bear in mind that all the vertical lines tend to converge upwards to a specific point and that all the horizontals represent surfaces of spheres described from another specific point below. Only four stones in the structure are similar and no more than two are interchangeable.
The talent of the architect created the beauty of the Parthenon, as the sap in the trunk produces the beauty of the chestnut and the elm, or of the lily and the rose. Only the sap of knowledge can elevate beauty to such a height that the human eye cannot judge it. The eye is a mere witness to the genius-mind.
Every worker had to be a mathematician and every mathematician a sculptor. I imagine that the majority of these workers would not have known how to read or write. Having set out their formula, without bending to taste or the preferences which flatter us so much and guide us today, they worked like the sap which, working from the inside, created the perfect beauty of nature. Probably it was not the eye which directed them, while, for us it is the most useful aid.
While visiting a friend about ten years ago, I came across an octogenarian, a retired Indian army colonel, who had dedicated himself to building army barracks and similar buildings. He told me that, now that he had lost his sight, he had designed an opera house and a cathedral. I asked him to show me them and he answered that, being unable to draw them himself, he had not found anyone who would do it for him. I offered to do so on the spot and, at nine that evening, I began to draw at his dictation. I had difficulty following, as he dictated so fast and I’m glad that he will never know the mistakes I made.
It was two in the morning when his elderly wife came in to remind us of the time. She looked over my shoulder and exclaimed: “But how beautiful it is!” – an appreciation which lit up the blind face of the old Colonel Strachey with delight.
It might be no bad thing if students practised drawing from memory, dictating in figures for a companion to translate the idea onto the drawing board.
James I of England and VI of Scotland, when out hunting – in a lull in the fighting between Spain and England – stumbled upon the colossal Druidic remains which we call Stone Henge. The king ordered his architect to explain to him the origin and object of these constructions. Iñigo Jones, perhaps the greatest English architect, replied that, without any doubt, it was a Tuscan temple of the time of the Romans, which shows, in my judgement, that you can know nothing of archaeology and nevertheless be a great architect.
I have had the privilege of working with illiterate craftsmen, who nevertheless produced magical work.
So it is that things we know, which we judge to be so valuable, are not essential to conception, although I don’t deny the convenience and satisfaction that they provide to those who possess them. And I believe that Archimedes, drawing – with his stick in the sand by the sea – that which the sap inspired in his mind, arrived at creating the most beautiful.
How different is the picture offered by the imagery of the famous orator, Lord Burke, who when summarising, some two hundred years ago, a discourse on beauty, suggested the principle that a beautiful thing had to be round and smooth, warm and pink. He did not say the degree of roundness, smoothness, warmth or pinkness, leaving this controversial matter to people of taste who spend their lives manipulating the adjective.
In all countries, architecture has developed under the influence of national customs and climatological and geological conditions. Over the centuries, progress has ebbed and flowed. Today, mechanisation and the noisy motor car have broken the tradition and geology is displaced by the use of universal materials.
The architect’s square has taken on a new life in the form of iron posts and joists, parallel lines, cut to measure and a total absence of entasis and curvature. The coefficients of safety have reduced so much that modern buildings would appear miraculous to past generations, seeming like traps, for catching the incautious who came too close to such an artifice.
Literature has become the ruler and governs by choice of words, acclaiming the latest word as the best. Originality serves as the catch-word and novelty is used for its own ingenuity. Beauty, in the traditional sense, has vanished – let us hope that it is only asleep and will awaken another day with vigour renewed. I do not know any adjective employed by Archimedes.
They have asked me to show you some views of my own work and it is the most disconcerting request that could be put to one. My one consolation is that, in projecting them on the screen, the darkness which is essential to the projection will hide my blushes and embarrassment.
These photographs are shown to you by courtesy of the Editor of the magazine, Country Life.
Crooksbury. A lad of eighteen or nineteen years and more avid to build than to learn, was commissioned by a friend to build a house in the county of Surrey. It was his first work and, as such, it is full of mistakes and demonstrates all the confusion of youth.
Munstead Wood. Two years later, this house was built in a wood in the same county. This commission had the great distinction of being given by Miss Jekyll, the enthusiastic reformer of English gardening, who can be acclaimed as mother of all the best which English gardens have to show. This shows the elevation which faces the garden, built from local stone and oak. The stone-mason who built this front elevation and the carpenter were old men who could neither read nor write.
The Deanery at Sonning. A small house near London sited close to a road, with a large garden behind.
Marsh Court. A house built of chalk in the Test valley, famous for its trout.
Maytham. A house in the county of Kent, built for an English landowner.
Heathcote. A house in Yorkshire for a rich industrialist, on the outskirts of a great manufacturing centre.
Holy Island. Restoration of the ruins of a castle dating from the time of Henry VII, on an island off the coast of Northumberland.
Castle Drogo. On the Devonshire moors. It was a specific condition that it had to be built entirely of granite and oak, without using brick or concrete.
Tyringham. Small twin temples on either side of a swimming pool, one of them dedicated to music and the other as a changing-place for bathers. In the Temple of Music, the organ is below the floor and the sound emerges at ground level, through a grille of iron and brass. The
acoustic result is excellent.
Britannic House. The head office of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, in the “City” of London.
68, Pall Mall. A bank in London.
120, Pall Mall. A show-room in London. The materials generally used in London are brick and Portland stone, a limestone.
The British Embassy in Washington. Sited on a slope with a gradient sufficient for the first floor of the Chancellery to be at the same level as the ground floor of the main house. It is constructed of brick and limestone.
Hampton Court Bridge. A concrete bridge over the Thames, with the superstructure and parapet in brick and stone.
Delhi. About which much will be said or could be said.
Pavilions at Runnymede. One is the porter’s lodge and house and the other pavilion serves as a resting place with a registration office and shop for selling postcards and other purposes. These pavilions are situated at the entrance to Runnymede meadow, a national park, where King John signed the Magna Carta, which gave England the liberties which we still enjoy. They were built three years ago and show how a lad of bygone days continues true to the traditions of his country.
Monument to the Missing at Thiepval. One of the monuments of the Great War erected in France in memory of the many dead who have no known resting place. On its panels, there are inscribed 73,077 names of the fallen of the Somme.
Monument at Arras. Another, erected in honour of 34,921 soldiers of the British Empire who fell near Arras and of 1,021 of their aviator- companions who died on the western front, without a known grave.
Monument at Etaples. The cemetery for those who died in the Hospital at Etaples.
Merchant Marine Memorial. Erected on Tower Hill, London, to commemorate the sailors of the merchant marine who gave their lives for their country.
The Cenotaph. In London, this commemorates all the dead of the Great War. Although simple, it inspires a sense of reverence, which expresses itself in its design, in as much as all its vertical lines converge on an imaginary point 300 meters above ground-level and the horizontal surfaces represent spheres with a radius of 300 meters.
Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. This has just been started and a project exists to finish, as quickly as possible, the Sanctuary and the Chapel of Our Lady of Liverpool, Queen of the Seas and the Chapel Of the Most Holy Sacrament. The rest will be built in due course.