Architecture at the end of 1912

The last years of the Edwardian era were yielding challenges not too unfamiliar to us now, but that did not stop them from leaving us a legacy of fine buildings and streetscapes.

Proposed extensions to the Bristol Royal Infirmary, Bristol, 1909. © RIBA Library Drawings and Archives Collections

In 1912 the subject of long obituaries in architectural journals was Richard Norman Shaw  (7 May 1831 – 17 November 1912) . Shaw was a prolific architect and designer of commercial premises, grand country houses like Cragside in Northumberland and smaller homes such as  170 Queen’s Gate Lowther Lodge.  The Architectural Review lamented his passing and pondered his influence on future architecture, noting that a “ sense of beauty pervaded everything he carried out ” (1).

Richard Norman Shaw, 1880s. © RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Richard Norman Shaw, 1880s.
© RIBA Library Photographs Collection

The new capital of the Raj
Architecture was a means by which the colonial administration could assert its presence. In 1912 the style of the proposed government buildings in New Delhi, was still being discussed only a few months after the capital of British India had been transferred there from Calcutta. There was a debate about whether it would be in English Renaissance style – increasingly popular in Britain – or a purer Classical one, and if some degree of local Indian influence should be tolerated. It was both an ideological and artistic battle. On the very last day of 1912, The Architects’ & Builders’ Journal  raised the point that if the British did not possess the will to impose its own style of building (and, by extension, their civilisation and laws) without submission to local non-European tastes, should the British be there at all? (2)

Local government
Imperialism was not the only force shaping Edwardian architecture. The expansion of local government continued in the opening years of the 20th century, provided opportunities for architects. The foundation stone of Ralph Knott’s London County Hall was laid on 9 March 1912, while that summer marked the completion in Birmingham of the extension to the city’s council house to designs by H. V. Ashley and W. Newman. This was soon followed by the opening of Glamorgan County Hall in Cardiff, designed by T. A. Moodie and E. V. Harris.

Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, London. © Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, London.
© Architectural Press Archive/RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Celebrating their 100th birthdays
A major event of 2012 was the completion of the Shard, one of the tallest structures in Europe. Although Europe in 1912 possessed few tall buildings to rival those across the Atlantic, the rebuilding work to St Mark’s Campanile in Venice was completed that year. It is interesting to note that just as in 2012 (see the  Stirling Prize ), new British buildings in 1912 were not restricted to any particular category and were spread across the country. Amongst " some notable buildings of the year"  listed in the Architects’ & Builders' Journal included churches, hotels, department stores, hospitals and education institutions (3):

  • Wesleyan Hall (Methodist Central Hall) Westminster, London 
    Architect: Lanchester and Rickards
  • Midland Adelphi Hotel
    Liverpool
    Architect: R. Frank Atkinson
  • Whiteley’s (department store)
    Bayswater, London
    Architect: John Belcher and J. J. Joass
  • Bristol Royal Infirmary extension
    Architect: Percy Adams and Charles Holden
  • Polytechnic (now University of Westminster)
    Regent Street, London
    Architect: Frank T. Verity and George A. Mitchell

Protests

1912 saw criticisms against plans – both later abandoned – for an underground tramway under St Paul’s Cathedral in London and the remodelling of a significant part of the southern portico of St George’s Hall in Liverpool to accommodate a memorial by Sir Gascombe John to King Edward VII. Gascombe’s idea was described by the Architects’ & Builders’ Journal  as “ a deplorable scheme ” and there were fears that a tunnel under St Paul’s would undermine the structural integrity of the cathedral (4).

Under threat

As in all years there is the inevitable roster of building under threat.  The Architect & Contract Reporter , looking back at the events of 1912, reported on the campaign to rescue the façade of the old Town Hall of Manchester from demolition.  The enlargement of the first Aswan Dam across the Nile (5) led to floodwaters threatening the ancient temples at Philae, a situation made worse when a second dam was completed. Consequently, the monuments suffered from significant water damage throughout most of the 20th century, leading to a major UNESCO rescue effort  in the 1960s. 

Challenges

We know of the terrible world-changing events that were to come soon after 1912. That is not to say the architects working a century ago at the close of 1912 did not experience difficulties. Social and technological changes were underway, the registration of architects was being widely debated and the building trades were feeling the effects of a general depression in the economy. Despite their problems, the Edwardians were able to leave us with a fine architectural legacy.

309-311 Regent Street (including the Polytechnic). Image published in Architectural Review, February 1912. © RIBA Library Books and Periodicals Collections Plans: Designs for Methodist Central Hall, London, 1907. © RIBA Library Drawings and Archives Collections Proposed extensions to the Bristol Royal Infirmary, Bristol, 1909. © RIBA Library Drawings and Archives Collections

References  (available from the British Architectural Library , RIBA)

  1. Architectural Review.  Dec 1912, vol.32, p.306
  2. Architects’ & Builders’ Journal.  31 December 1912, vol. 36, p.699
  3. Architects’ & Builders’ Journal.   31 December 1912, vol. 36, p.697
  4. Architects’ & Builders’ Journal . 31 December 1912, vol. 36, p.699
  5. Architect & Contract Reporter.  10 January 1913, vol.89, p.28

Article by Wilson Yau, British Architectural Library, RIBA

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