Chapter titles in Light, Air and Openness, Paul Overy's new look at modern architecture between the wars, describe the dream that the style underwrote: 'The City in the Country', 'The House of Health', 'Built into the Sun' and so on.[*] In the recently restored De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea, a rare early example of the international style in England, the Modernist spirit has been so well revived that if more of those whom I saw eating and sunning themselves had been young and bronzed, not old and white-haired, and if the pavilion was not still surrounded by the brick terraces you see in the earliest photographs, you would have guessed that the planner's dream had been achieved. Overy quotes Earl De La Warr, the socialist mayor of Bexhill who promoted the pavilion. It was, he said, 'a venture which is part of a great national movement, virtually to found a new industry - the industry of giving that relaxation, that pleasure, that culture, which hitherto the gloom and dreariness of British resorts have driven our fellow countrymen to risk in foreign lands.' Certainly, the Sussex coast on a hot day, seen through the glass wall of the spiral staircase, the pavilion's brilliant, confidently conceived identifying feature, seemed infinitely preferable to any Mediterranean beach.
LRB 5 June 2008 | PDF Download