Jim Richards thought that architects should be anonymous experts who served their communities, not ‘giants’ designing buildings to express their own individual creativity. He pursued this idea throughout his forty-year career as an architectural critic, journalist and editor. This book traces Richards’s ideas about anonymity and public participation in modern architecture and how they weathered the changing contexts of architecture in the mid-twentieth century. This is a story of shifting relationships between the architectural profession, public audiences and the media. The Architectural Review (AR) was first published in 1896 and by the 1930s was closely aligned with modern architecture. James Maude Richards (Jim to his friends) was the longest serving editor of the AR working from 1935 to 1971, with colleagues including Hubert de Cronin Hastings, Nikolaus Pevsner, Hugh Casson and Reyner Banham. Richards developed a specific approach to architectural criticism, which was based on promoting architecture to a public audience. He used criticism as a bridge between architects and their patrons and users. This book explores the changes and continuities in Richards’s work in the context of broader cultural shifts between experts and the public during this period. This is a history of modern architecture told through magazine articles, radio broadcasts and exhibitions, rather than buildings. Richards’s career and his position among a network of journalists, architects and artists, shows the centrality of media and promotion to architecture. It also shows how ideas about public participation, vernacular design and popular culture were key to defining modern architecture.
The architect Denys Ladun paraphrased a Robert Browning poem to describe Richards’s work as a critic and editor: ‘Make no more giants! Just raise the general level.’ This quote epitomised Richards’s approach to architecture and journalism; he sought to improve the general condition of architecture, rather than promote individual expression or personalities. The Introduction sets out the book’s main premise that Richards’s life and career, particularly his preoccupation with anonymity and public participation, were an integral but previously overlooked facet of modern architecture. The Introduction explains the methodology of the book, which offers an alternative view on the history of modern architecture. Although the book is focused on Richards, it is not a conventional biography: rather than recounting his life from cradle to grave, the book traces Richards’s ideas about modern architecture, as articulated through his personal and professional life, and uses them as a lens through which to explore modern architecture. Richards’s work was focused on a particular audience, the architectural public, which was a middle-class, professional audience allied with architectural issues but not trained in architecture. Richards used architectural criticism as a tool for mediating modernism to the architectural public. The question of how modern architecture should engage with the architectural public persisted throughout Richards’s career and each chapter maps the evolving ideas of how criticism and the media could bridge the divide between architecture and its publics.
The first chapter explores how Richards’s ideas about modernism and architecture were formed through his personal and professional relationships. It traces his network during the 1930s, during the early years of his career in architectural journalism and his marriage to Peggy Angus. During this period, his ideas about modernism and vernacular architecture were articulated through objects and the spaces that he shared with Angus and their circle of friends. The chapter looks at how Richards’s interest in vernacular design related to his politics and was integral to his approach to modernism. Placing Richards among this network of artists, architects, journalists and advertisers highlights the integral place of promotion and publicity within architecture during the period. The chapter looks at how informal relationships translated into formal groups and organisations that were working to promote modernism in art and architecture such as Unit One and the MARS group.
Chapter 2 opens with a brief history of the Architectural Press publishing house from its origins in the nineteenth century Arts and Crafts movement to its responses to the new commercial contexts of architecture after the First World War. It traces the origins of the publisher’s agenda of promoting and publicising the architectural profession to the architectural public. It then focuses on the period immediately preceding Richards joining the publishing house in 1933, to understand the world that he entered. Looking at the language, imagery and tone that characterised the pages of the magazines at that time, the chapter considers how the The Architectural Review and The Architects’ Journal developed a unique approach to criticism and carved out a distinct place in the British media. Richards went on to develop his own approach to the promotion and publicity of modernism, and this chapter looks at his first forays into criticism and how he began to shift the tone of criticism in the AJ before he moved to the AR in 1935.
Chapter 3 examines the AR under Richards’s editorship, looking at the magazine in the context of the broader media landscape of the British Broadcasting Corporation and Penguin publishers. It argues that Richards was engaged in a project of propaganda for modern architecture, which spanned these different media outlets and consistently targeted the architectural public. Focused in the six years between Richards’s arrival at the AR and his departure for the Ministry of Information in 1941, this chapter maps how he developed different forms of architectural criticism as tools to persuade and encourage appreciation of modernism among the architectural public. Through the form and content of architectural criticism at the AR as well as in the MARS group and in Richards’s book An Introduction to Modern Architecture published by Pelican (1940), architectural criticism promoted the modern architect as a cultural expert; a figure equipped to guide the progress of architecture and the taste of the public. The changes that occurred in architectural criticism during this period signalled an evolution in the dynamic between critic, architect and public.
Reconstruction, public participation and the future of modernism, 1941–51
Chapter 4 is focused on Richards’s book The Castles on the Ground which he wrote during the war, and which was published in 1946 by the Architectural Press book department. In the book Richards argued that the architectural tastes of ordinary people were shaped by the material conditions of society. His thesis was that modern architects had to work to create the material conditions that would allow for a modernism to evolve into a vernacular. The chapter traces how this idea threaded through Richards’s postwar work at the AR and his expanding career at the BBC, The Times, the Congrès Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne and at the Festival of Britain. The context of postwar reconstruction had materially changed the conditions of architecture, and Richards’s work was imbued with an optimism that a form of ‘social realist’ architecture would evolve. However, he grew increasingly frustrated as commercial culture encroached on architecture and threatened his vision for the future of modernism.
The contesting voices of architectural criticism, 1951–61
Chapter 5 addresses the relationship between Richards and a new generation of architects and critics in the 1950s. The AR, the Institute of Contemporary Art and CIAM became sites for contesting voices in architecture and criticism. While Richards continued to pursue his agenda of championing anonymity in architecture and promoting the expertise of the modern architect, Reyner Banham, Ian Nairn and Alison and Peter Smithson were pursuing different ideas about modernism and the function of criticism. However, this chapter highlights the similarities between the work of this younger generation and Richards’s ideas, particularly around social realist architecture. This chapter shows how the ideas of the new generation were entangled with Richards’s ideas. By the end of the decade consumer culture had emerged as a point of departure, particularly between Richards and Banham. Richards remained opposed to consumer choice and individuality in architecture, which was forming a gulf within architectural culture and media in the 1960s.
Public participation and architectural criticism, 1962–73
Chapter 6 looks at how the role of the critic, as a mediator between the profession and the public, shifted in the 1960s with the rise of consumer culture and television. Criticism evolved into a site for critiquing architects. Looking at several BBC television programmes, as well as John Donat’s 1961 report on architecture and television for the RIBA and the changing content of the AR during the decade, this chapter explores the impact of a new medium on architectural criticism. In contrast, Richards’s approach to criticism remained consistent; he continued to present the architect and the critic as experts in culture. In 1972 Richards described the role of the architect as akin to that of doctor or solicitor, they were experts whose professional, specialist knowledge made them ‘leaders’ rather than ‘followers’, with a responsibility to serve their local community. The chapter traces how Richards’s ideas about public participation in architecture were increasingly detached from media that prized consumer choice and individual expression. He left the Architectural Press in the early 1970s but The Castles on the Ground was republished in 1973, showing that his ideas about participation remained relevant and were gaining a mainstream audience.