Smithson, Alison and Peter

   The Smithsons opened an office in London in 1950, after graduating from the University of Durham. The significance of their contribution to postwar architecture resides both in their architecture and in their exposition of the theoretical principles of new brutalism. Both members of the Independent Group and of the radical Team X within CIAM, they were supported by the critic Reyner Banham and other members of the ‘20th Century Group’ in London, in their united desire to convey the realities of modern urban life by means of a new art.
   The years 1951–4 were crucial to the formulation of the sensibility of Brutalism, and the Smithsons followed their early success with a sequence of highly original competition entries which, as Banham remarked, can only be seen as attempts to invent a totally ‘other’ kind of architecture. The building which immediately associated with this movement was the Hunstanton School in Norfolk (1949–54), invoking the elegant steel-frame vocabulary of Mies van der Rohe and reflecting his honest use of materials and explicit display of structure. Their unbuilt design for a town house in Soho (1952) displays an oxymoronic confluence of utility and luxury. Their design for the Sugden House, Watford (1956) was described by Banham as being ‘recognized by timid souls as a subtly subversive building’, with its mixture of formality and basic utility. Their Golden Lane housing proposal for London (1952), a flatted development, drew on notions of identity and association which developed out of their first hand knowledge of Bethnal Green. ‘Street decks’ were designed to foster social exchange and somehow to invoke and nurture the traditional working-class domestic environment.
   Other significant buildings by the Smithsons include the Economist Group of Buildings in London (1962), whose spatial composition can be located within the urban theories of ‘Team X’ and also drew from their competition entry for the Haupstadt district of Berlin. The design for St Hilda’s College, Oxford (1970) differed dramatically in its social and physical context from Robin Hood Gardens housing estate in London (1972). In designing the estate in two serpentine rows with corridor streets above ground level, they posited an alternative to the slab block. By including two-storey dwellings, they remained faithful to their commitment to a modern equivalent of the East End environment.
   See also: housing
   Further reading
    McKean, John M., ‘The Smithsons: A Profile’, Building Design, May 1977.
   HILARY GRAINGER

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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