Sunday, May 24, 2009

Park Road, London


Freewheeling forms

The Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner was the creator of Anthroposophy, a movement that attempted to link and reconcile science and mysticism. His work touched many fields, from medicine to education, agriculture to architecture. Although Steiner himself died in 1925, his legacy remains in many forms – his mutlitudinous writings, schools founded on his principles, and the work of the Anthroposophical society, which has its headquarters in Dornach, Switzerland in a building, the Goetheanum, designed by Steiner himself.

The United Kingdom Anthroposophical Society is based at Rudolf Steiner House in Park Road, London, a stone’s throw from Regent’s Park. Here they hold classes, run a library, put on theatrical productions, and host exhibitions and other events. Begun in the 1920s and extended in the following decade, the building was designed by Montague Wheeler and features curves, artfully placed windows, and other details that set it apart from the buildings around it. I don’t know anything about Montague Wheeler, except that he was himself involved in the Anthroposophical movement.

Coming across this building unawares, one might suspect that a distant echo of Art Nouveau has survived here in northwest London. But the architecture must also be influenced by the more outré curves of Steiner’s Goetheanum, which Wheeler must have studied, bringing a more restrained version of Steiner’s expressionism to the terraces of London. The interior, recently refurbished, has its less restrained moments, though. I must return and look at the extraordinary twisting staircase, the organic, plant-like forms of which seem to chime well with Steiner’s pioneering work in biodynamic agriculture. English buildings, like Steiner’s voluminous works, are inexhaustible.

12 comments:

Ed Isaacs said...

A little bit of Brussels in N8 -I could be sitting opposite it sipping my glass of kriek and enjoying moules frites. I like the way the front door has been propped open by a fire extinguisher - a suitably Belgian approach to Health and Safety.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Exactly! Although here in Regent's Park, Anthroposophical medicine will no doubt be offered in the event of any mishaps.

shui_long said...

Montague Wheeler (1874-1937) was the third son of Samuel Wheeler, a stone mason, general manager and joint owner of Wheeler Bros, a substantial building firm in Reading (which was noted for the high quality of its church building work in the area). Montague was educated at Marlborough and Trinity Hall Cambridge (BA 1898). From 1892 to 1895 he was articled to Edward Prioleau Warren FSA FRIBA, who had been a pupil of George Bodley and continued very much in Bodley's style. Montague Wheeler was elected FRIBA in 1913. He formed a partnership in 1898 with Edward Hoare (who had also been a pupil of EP Warren), which continued until the 1930s with offices at Portman Square, London.

Neil said...

It reminds me more of Barcelona or Palma - a lovely piece of Modernista architecture in central London. I can't help feeling the name Montague Wheeler feels familiar from somewhere - but where? It may just be an echo of the archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler.

Vinogirl said...

Lovely, looks a little hobbit-ish to me.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Shui Long: Thanks so much for your informative comment.

martin said...

I spent most of my formative years at a Steiner school in Sussex,and often forget that Steiner House exists,so its good to have a timely reminder. Must visit when I can summon the nerve to do so.
Curiously individual architectural style.Not sure,even now,whether or not I like it.

mondo-agogo said...

That link to the Open House site doesn't seem to work, (probably because their site gets so stroppy if you try to pull out any information and repost it anywhere else!)

I went to the Steiner House during last year's Open House, and the stairwell was quite hard to photograph so as to do it justice, but I got some other photos, here, if you're interested.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Mondo-agogo: Thank you. I checked the link when I posted it, but the strop-filter must have activated afterwards, when I was away and not minding my blog properly. I'd be interested in seeing your photographs, but that link didn't seem to work either. It seems to be bad-link day.

Anna said...

For some reason the last 'o' in my username got deleted in the middle of that URL.
So here it is again:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/mondoagogo/tags/rudolphsteinerhouse/

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thanks, Anna. It's good to see the photographs. Even though, as you say, it must be hard to do the staircase justice photographically, you've captured some interesting details (the handrail, the window). And I see some lovely images of All Saints Margaret Street, an old favourite of mine, in your Flickr set too.

Meerkat966 said...

shui long
I am interested in Wheeler Bros of Reading and wish to know of any surviving written records - any pointers very much appreciated