How Modern Architecture Came To England
Maxwell Fry (Fry, Drew & Partners)


Maxwell Fry

©Monica Pidgeon

Well, I want to tell you how modern architecture came to England in the very late 20s and the early 30s of this century. To understand this, I have to tell you something about the state of architecture at the time, which was a mixture of various revivals, but chiefly classical in background, and, what we call in England, Georgian. This architecture, you could nearly say, was becoming effete, that is to say, it had lost its purpose. And the models upon which it was based were no longer applicable with the materials that were available, so that it used to be said that you had a bank which was Queen Anna in front and Mary Anne at the back; which is only to say that there was a state of confusion. And so a young architect like myself, who was educated in the late 20s and came out into practice somewhere about 1925 or 6 in London, was in a great state of indecision about what to do. The natural thing would be to go on doing what he was told to do in school and produce classical buildings; which I did, to start with. But I was very troubled by this, being a moral kind of creature. I wasn't satisfied that I could just go on copying. I looked round to see where I could find help, and I found it in unexpected quarters. There was a thing called the Design & Industries Association which was composed of designers, architects, business men and other people, some of them quite important, who were interested in the future of the arts, of culture you might say, in a new age.


Werkbund Exhibition Building, Cologne, 1914: Walter Gropius & Albert Meyer

©Maxwell Fry

Curiously enough, this association was the outcome of an exhibition in Cologne of the Deutsche Werkbund, which was the German Crafts sort of society, in which Gropius, whom I was to meet later on, had actually participated. So this was one of my first contacts with the continent. The membership of the DIA and its interests spread to the continent, particularly to Holland and to Sweden where a new architecture was arising, but an architecture that was still really a little backward-looking, and very closely connected with arts and crafts, and rather less with industry.

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