critical reflections
contact by email:

Thomas Deckker Architect: temporary truck stop, M20
Lorry Drivers are human, too
2021
Marc-Antoine Laugier: Essai sur l'Architecture
John Onians: ‘Architecture, Metaphor and the Mind’
2021
Sir John Vanbrugh: Seaton Delaval, Northumberland (1720–28) from Colen Campbell: Vitruvius Britannicus vol 3 (1725)
Seaton Delaval: the aesthetic castle
2021
Jules Hardouin-Mansart: Les Invalides, Paris (1676) Section showing the double dome
The Temple of Apollo at Stourhead: architecture and astronomy
2021
Eric de Maré: Fishermen’s’ huts, Hastings (1956) © Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Eric de Maré: The Extraordinary Aesthetics of the Ordinary
2021
Iannis Xenakis: (1956) © Editions Salabert E. A. S. 17516
Iannis Xenakis: Music, Architecture and War
2021
United Visual Artists: Etymologies 2017 © United Visual Artists
United Visual Artists
2020
Margaret Howell: Campaign 2020 © Margaret Howell
Margaret Howell
2020
Palaces of Darius and Xerxes, Persepolis, Iran
The Plans of Antiquity
2020
Cristobal Balenciaga: Skirt Suit, 1964 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Cristobal Balenciaga
2020
Mathias Goeritz: La serpiente de El Eco, 1953 © Sothebys
Mathias Goeritz: 'Emotional Architecture'
2020
Richard Serra: Weight and Measure 1992 © Richard Serra
Weight and Measure
2020
Tony Smith: Playground, 1962 © Tony Smith Estate
Art and Experience
2020
Highway Construction © Caterpillar Archives
Landscape and Infrastructure
2020
Frank Gohlke: Lightning Flash, Lamesa, Texas © Frank Gohlke
Grain Elevators
2020
Eric de Maré: Fishermen’s’ huts, Hastings (1956) © Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Eric de Maré: Fishermen’s’ huts, Hastings (1956)
© Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Eric de Maré: The Extraordinary Aesthetics of the Ordinary
This photograph, of huts for drying fishermen’s nets on the beach at Hastings, is one of the most intriguing and evocative of Eric de Maré's work. Eric de Maré (1910-2002) was one of the great photographers of architecture and landscape working in Britain in the years after WWII, with his contemporary Edwin Smith (1912-71) and the later Fay Godwin (1931-2005). This photograph exemplifies the strength of his work: the discovery and portrayal of an extraordinary aesthetic in the ordinary.

Eric de Maré's most influential publication was, without doubt, the special issue of the Architectural Review on 'The Functional Tradition' in 1957, with J. M. Richards, later published in a book The Functional Tradition in Early Industrial Buildings (1958). He recorded industrial architecture - particularly canals and canal-side warehouses - at a particular moment when these buildings had fallen out of use and were subject to wholesale demolition, but had not yet acquired iconic status either from the heritage administration or from architects. His exploratory expeditions and publications - including The Canals of England in 1950 and The Bridges of Britain in 1954 - promoted their emergence from the obscurity and anonymity of working industry into critical appreciation as architecture.

The critical appreciation by architects at the time was not disinterested, of course. Eric de Maré was taken up by several distinct and mutually antagonistic architecture groups:
  • by New Humanists, or 'soft' modernists, who saw contemporary British architecture developing along the lines of Scandinavian, rather than the hard-line French and German, modernism, also popularised through de Maré's Sweden, Denmark and Norway, published in 1952; these included the Festival of Britain of 1951 and the Hertfordshire Schools programme.
  • by hard-line modernists, such as Nikolaus Pevsner, who tried to identify a lineage for Modernism in anonymous industrial architecture through an apparent correspondence between the complex functionalism of master craftsmen with certain knowledge of, and occasional inspiration from, architects' pattern books, and the invented functionalism of architects personally inclined away from, and educated to regard with horror, those two practices.
  • by brutalists, who admired the straightforward use of material that seemed to justify the use of beton brut, that despite many alternatives, remains the best explanation of the origin of their name.
  • by great architects like James Stirling, inspired by the power of strong forms and architecture at the scale of infrastructure

I think that this photograph was especially evocative because it showed the extraordinary aesthetic - other of his photographs show that these huts were exceptional, but not unique - of ordinary industrial buildings. The spatial relationship of the two women reinforces the spatial relationship of the huts. The diagonal composition draws the eye into the photograph and reinforces the sense of three-dimensional forms in space. De Maré often used diagonal composition, and always to express the space and form or to make an often surrealist point. I see a link in this aesthetic sensibility to the 'Group of Three Magic Stones' (1973) or 'Three Personages' (1965) by Barbara Hepworth, in Kettles Yard, Cambridge, or my own study of Rhodes Welding.

The definitive work on de Maré must be Eric de Maré: Photographer; Builder with Light by Andrew Higgott (London: Architectural Association 1990), sadly out of print. The only book still in print seems to be Eric de Maré: images from the Photographs Collection of the Royal Institute of British Architects by Robert Elwall (London: RIBA Publications 2000). As Robert Elwall was curator of the Photography Collection, and an important curator and historian, his work is not second-best by any means.

A substantial collection of de Maré's photographs is held at the RIBA:
Thomas Deckker
London 2021