Edwin Lutyens in 1913

1913 was a key year in the life of architect Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens, marking his move from commissions for country houses to larger projects outside Britain.

Viceroy's House, Viceroy's House, 1931: the east front. © RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Published a hundred years ago, the first edition of Lawrence Weaver’s book  Houses and gardens by E.L. Lutyens,  came at an important juncture. Up until then, Edwin Landseer Lutyens was more widely known for designing the country houses which had met with such approval from Weaver.

A foreign critic said not long ago that the domestic architecture of Great Britain to-day is not only a finer thing than that of any other country, but better than any period of history

'Houses and gardens by E.L. Lutyens' by Lawrence Weaver, 1913, p.vii

After 1913, Lutyens received fewer commissions for houses, instead work came from designing war memorials, offices and the most grandiose architectural project ever conceived by the British Empire – New Delhi. In the RIBA’s collections, held in the  British Architectural Library , there is ample evidence of Lutyens’s work from around this period in early 1913.

Viceroy's House, New Delhi: sketches in a letter by Sir Edwin Lutyens to his wife, Lady Emily, 1913. © RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Sketches of the design for the Viceroy's House, New Delhi, in a
letter by Sir Edwin Lutyens to his wife, Lady Emily, 1913.
© RIBA Library Photographs Collection

There are letters and drawings of preliminary designs for New Delhi, including the Viceroy’s House (now the Rashtrapati Bhavan), dating from this period. Having spent the winter there, Lutyens left India in March 1913 for Britain (Ridley: 2002, p.227) and in the spring of that year, he opened a new office in Apple Tree Yard near St James’s Square, London, specifically to deal with the commission for New Delhi (Richardson: 1994, p.17). Obviously, back then architects had deadlines too, but in this case it was created by the 4 o’clock deadline for working drawings to catch the next boat to India (Richardson: 1994, p.18). The start of the year also saw his  design  for a new Municipal Art Gallery on a bridge over the River Liffey, Dublin, become public, only for the plan to be abandoned soon after.

Mr. Lutyens never fails us

As well as through major collaborations with garden designer Gertrude Jekyll, it was the magazine  Country Life  that played a role in promoting Lutyens and his country houses in his early career. Country Life covered Lutyens’s Marshcourt, Hampshire, several times and in an article - also written by Weaver - in its 19 April 1913 edition declared that “Mr. Lutyens never fails us” (1). The RIBA owns a copy of The city and country builder’s, and workman’s treasury of designs  by Batty Langley from 1740, a book illustrated with measured examples of classical architecture. Inside the cover are the signatures of Lutyens and Jekyll, with the address of the office in Apple Tree Yard. It reveals the past ownership of this book and a possible source of what Weaver described in the issue of  Country Life  of 4 January 1913 as Lutyens’s “inexhaustible invention” (2). The closeness between Lutyens and this lifestyle title continued after the architect’s death in 1944. One of its editors, Christopher Hussey, co-wrote the major three-volume work  The architecture of Sir Edwin Lutyen s which was published in 1950.

Reputations are fragile. Later, the style of Lutyens, when Modernism was in the ascendant, was increasingly seen as outdated, while he himself expressed a dislike for the movement. In  Lutyens and the Modern Movement , Allan Greenberg highlighted the praise Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright had for Lutyens and his work. Some of the greatest built accomplishments of these three architectural giants are contemporary with each other. In recent decades Lutyens’s reputation has recovered and the surviving 2,000 drawings along with the archives and books from his office represents one of the most important holdings in the RIBA’s collections.  

Unexecuted design for the Municipal Art Gallery, Dublin. © RIBA Library Drawings and Archives Collections Designs for a Tuscan gate (left) and piers for gates (right). Plates from Batty Langley's book of 1739. © RIBA Library Books and Periodicals Collection Viceroy's House, Viceroy's House, 1931: the east front. © RIBA Library Photographs Collection

References   

  1. Johnson, H., 19 April 1913. Marshcourt, Hampshire.   Country Life , vol.33, p.26
  2. Weaver, L., 4 January 1913. Great Dixter, Sussex.   Country Life  , vol.33, p.571

Bibliography 

  • Greenberg, A.,  2007. Lutyens and the Modern Movement.  London: Papadakis.
  • Langley, B., 1740.  The city and country builder’s, and workman’s treasury of designs  … London: printed by J. Ilive, for Thomas Langley.
  • Richardson, M., 1994.  Sketches by Edwin Lutyens.  London: Academy Editions in collaboration with the Royal Institute of British Architects.
  • Ridley, J.,  The architect and his wife: a life of Edwin Lutyen s. London : Chatto & Windus, 2002.
  • Weaver, L., 1913.  Houses and gardens by E.L. Lutyens . London: Country Life.

References and bibliography sources available from the  British Architectural Library , RIBA.

Article by Wilson Yau,  British Architectural Library , RIBA

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