Sunday, May 22, 2022

Winchelsea Beach, Sussex


Boxes by the sea

Not far from the railway carriage bungalow in my previous post, I admired a number of houses that displayed very different but equally distinctive designs. One, a large white box, struck me as something out of the UK television programme ‘Grand Designs’. My host and guide to this bit of coast immediately told me that that was exactly what it was. It was built in 2004 by Tom Watkins, former manager of the Pet Shop Boys and featured in that very programme. Only a couple of doors along from that one is the house in my photograph, a far smaller box, this time a box on legs.

Curiously, this more modest building called to me in a way that the more recent white box did not. Maybe exactly because it’s more modest. Perhaps also because it intrigued me with its demonstration of so many of Le Corbusier’s ‘Five Points of Architecture’. In the interwar period, Le Corbusier was a proponent of these five features: building the house on columns, which he called pilotis; strip windows; roof terraces or roof gardens; the ‘free facade’, meaning a facade that puts features like doors and windows where they work best, not where they need to be because of the constraints of structure or convention; and a ‘free plan’, in other words a floor plan that allows a flexible use of space not a plan that was drawn up to some standard predetermined idea of what should go where. Looking at this house from the outside, it certainly seemed to conform to several of the points – although one could only determine the plan by going inside.

So was this, unlike its recent neighbour, a genuine 1930s, Bauhaus period house, or a later recreation? Again, later, I was told – but from the 1950s or 60s rather than the noughties. While most 1950s builders were putting up buildings that looked less ‘modern’ (pitched roofs, brick walls, more restrained ‘modern’ elements), a few people still adhered to the old 1930s ways, as much because of what they looked like as anything else. Boxes like this, with flat roofs and many windows, can take a lot of maintenance to keep them weather-tight and pleasant to live in, but some think this is a price worth paying. After all, the sea views and balconies must come into their own in good weather. Even putting the main structure on stilts, in the light of recent coastal floods (and no doubt more to come), makes new sense of Le Corbusier’s love of pilotis. Maybe we’re not done with the 1930s quite yet.


George said...

I should think that a house on stilts would cost more to warm. Now, the only house on stilts in which I have stayed was a vacation property on the Outer Banks, probably not inhabited between September and May.

hels said...

Great image. Le Corbusier knew what he was talking about, whether or not this house designer had ever heard of him or not. The pilotis were used in hot countries to maximise air flow from under the house and to keep small creatures from crawling through the floor.