Monday, March 22, 2010

Capper Street, London

Backstreet moderne

I don’t know much about Shropshire House, tucked away in Capper Street off Tottenham Court Road, except that it was built in 1931–32, and is in that combination of pared-down modernism (strips of windows, white walls, flattish roof) and moderne (curved corners, bulbous balconies, horizontal bands), that people insist on calling Art Deco.

I think of Art Deco as the style of cinemas and chrome-trimmed restaurants from the interwar period – something altogether more over the top and wilfully decorative than this building. But, like postmodernism, Art Deco isn’t one style, but several – which is appropriate because both postmodernism and deco are reactions to modernism, ways of saying, ‘We can have pluralism, decoration, wit, style in buildings; we don’t have to wear the hair shirt of modernism, or the silk shirt of minimalism.'

So Art Deco can be, amongst other things, smart industrial deco, like the west London factories; deco with a touch of ancient Egypt; exuberant cinema deco, often adorned with reliefs and statues; or rich deco interior design using marble, chrome, and bakelite. Or this winning combination, not on a major road like a trophy factory but refreshingly gracing an obscure London backstreet.


Vinogirl said...

Does the font have a name?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Vinogirl: I don't know its name. Can anyone else help?

Hels said...

ha ha I agree with you... Deco can range across a number of decorative combinations. "Cinema Deco, often adorned with reliefs and statues; or rich deco interior design using marble, and chrome" is possibly the most extreme.

However curved corners, bulbous balconies and horizontal bands DO add up to Deco, along with any Egyptian elements that might be included. The entrances and windows of Shropshire House are really gorgeous.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hels: I think my jaw must have dropped in amazement when I first saw those entrances when taking a short cut along Capper Street. And I'm still amazed that this beautiful building isn't better known.

Anonymous said... suggests that the architects were Waite & Waite but I can't find anything else about the firm..anyone? Paul.

In M Waite said...

Waite and Waite was a firm (surveyors and commercial estate agents)comprising my two uncles: Douglas and Archibald WAITE, and my father Donald Mowbray Waite who was the architect. The firm was located in Cavendish Square on the site which was subsequently utilised to build the John Lewis building.
Another building that was designed by Donald Mowbray Waite is Elsley House in Great Titchfield Street - Art Deco in all its glory.

Ian M. Waite

Philip Wilkinson said...

Ian, Thank you for that fascinating information. I shall have a closer look at Elsley House when I'm passing.

Vanessa said...

I look forward to seeing the two buildings designed by Donald Mowbray Waite next time I'm in London. Ian, please would you contact me? I am doing research on the Waite family for descendants of your father's uncle, Arthur Herbert Waite.

Jane said...

I have really enjoyed reading this. Shopshire House is one of my favourites; an often overlooked, or unnoticed masterpiece, being as its best bits are hidden away in a side street. I agree re the 'cover-all' Art Deco terminology – as I have written on my site, and I ask people on my guided walks, "what IS Art Deco?" after all, the term wasn't coined until the 1960s. Most is far from decorative.
Thanks again... back to the research... oh, BTW, both of those Waite buildings feature on my walks... you should come and join me someday ;-)

Philip Wilkinson said...

Jane: Thank you for your comment. Elain Harwood's recent book *Art Deco Britain* is good on the varieties of Art Deco, which she relates to the various influences coming into British architecture at this time (the decorative stuff from France, the more stripped-down architecture in the Netherlands, and so on). I cherish a hope that at some time in the new year we'll get to a situation where I feel comfortable coming to London from the Cotswolds, leaving the relatively open spaces here for the more crowded city. When this happens I *must* come on one of your walks.