Sunday, October 20, 2019

Into the past

Space, time and wallpaper, 1

Stuck at home meeting a deadline, I found myself taking a break by looking through some of the old copies of The Architectural Review that had been passed on to me by a friend, who’d found them during that melancholy but necessary process of clearing her parents’ house. The magazines’ original owner had already done a discerning job of removing the parts of the magazine that didn’t interest him – the casualties included many of the advertisements, which in retrospect is understandable but a pity: some of the ads that survived are fascinating.

What struck me in this ceaseless journey into the past was the feeling of hope that kept emerging in the early-1940s, a sense that in spite of the bombing, the deaths, and the relentless destruction of buildings, there was a future that architects could plan for. Indeed many architects must have been fighting or engaged in other war work, and those left in their offices would have been shoring up tottering structures or designing shadow factories or buildings on air bases.

To some, the idea of producing an architectural magazine at all must have seemed like a luxury in such troubled times. And what got printed was sometimes austere – the printing was in black and white, and the contents presented a telling blend of hopeful reports on new buildings in places like Sweden with stark – though often hauntingly beautiful – photographs of bombed buildings, from Hove to Hull. Occasionally, they were allowed a splash of colour on the cover, though even here it could be a single colour, meaning just one more plate on the press.

And so it was that readers in July 1945 were greeted with this striking cover when their Archie Rev flopped on to the doormat. Some of them must have wondered what parallel universe they strayed into now. This unusual pattern (yes, it is a pattern, although the cover is not big enough to show this), commemorates an exhibition of wallpapers held in London. A caption inside the magazine answers the reader’s bafflement:

Four pages of this issue are devoted to the Wallpaper Exhibition recently held in London. One of its major sections consisted of designs for post-War wallpapers and several of these were by Graham Sutherland. This month’s cover is a full size reproduction of one of his designs – a pattern which combines the strange animation of root or cartilage forms with the pleasant liveliness of traditional all-over designs. It is good to see that we can have busy, unostentatious, small-scale pattern without having to rely entirely on the chintzy flora of the past. The colouring on the cover is one of several suggested by the artist and shown at the exhibition.

Inside are more images – in black and white, alas – of other recent patterns on display. They are mostly made up of stripes, spots, and other abstract elements, some arranged in regimental columns, others more freely drawn. A couple of the more successful foliage designs are also illustrated. In 1945, none of these papers had much chance of getting produced. There were tight controls on the production and supply ofd paper, and few people, I’d guess, were papering walls. The designs were a glance towards a better future. People needed something new to look forward to, and in 1945 hopes that the war would end soon were at last realistic. But it would take another six years, and the Festival of Britain, for Lucienne Day’s bright and popular fabric designs to lead the way towards brighter interiors.


Anonymous said...

Despite tight controls on the production and supply of paper, journals such as the Architectural Review continued to publish. Was it still monthly? Thinner than usual?

Philip Wilkinson said...

My impression is that it was thinner, but I've not done page counts. It still came out monthly.

Jenny Woolf said...

I very much like that wallpaper and would probably buy it today if it was available.