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An English Sensibility: The Architectural Influence of Neo-Romanticism 1930-55

Part 2 Dissertation 2005
Jessica Holland
University of Portsmouth, UK
Arguably the Englishman's love of country houses illustrates his fundamental desire to create a connection with the genius loci. This inherent spirit of place, gives nature almost humanistic qualities; intimating the mythical and spiritual attributes Man feels obliged to attach to his environment. This mythical status of nature is epitomised by much of the country's artistic output, from eighteenth century Romantic writing to the naive, fairytale houses of the nineteenth century Arts and Crafts movement. During threatening times, which exposes the frailty of man and indeed, the frailty of nature, this instinct surfaces with potency. Most recently this has manifest through the occurrence of two catastrophic world wars, resulting in the emergence of a prolific group of Neo-Romantic artists during the period from 1930 to 1955.

This dissertation intends to investigate the cultural reasons behind the re-emergence of Romantic feeling within Britain and whether this is paralleled in British architecture. Through a background of Arts and Crafts architecture, Romantic art and detailed analysis of two contemporaneous architects, I will seek to discover the influence Neo-Romanticism possessed over British contemporary architecture of the period. I shall investigate these ideas through a comparison of the oeuvres of Sir Basil Spence and Oliver Hill, followed by an investigation into two eminent pieces of architecture of the era. I intend to examine the 1937 British Pavilion by Oliver Hill and Basil Spence's Coventry Cathedral (1951-62).

Potentially, this study could suggest a more general way of thinking that is pervasive through all aspects of art, therefore illustrating the important role both national character and the zeitgeist play in shaping not only art, but British architectural form.

Jessica Holland

This dissertation demonstrates mature awareness of cross-cultural / interdisciplinary connections. The study is a detailed investigation of an unfashionable but important period in British architectural history. The work is written with a natural fluency and argued with conviction. Her use of creative analysis enables her to pursue an original line of thought which constitutes an important contribution to knowledge.

Jessica intends to take this study forward towards an MPhil / PhD. She wishes to examine shared ideals and themes to build up a picture of the 1930s national condition.

I should like to encourage her endeavours as I believe she could make a substantial and original contribution to architectural theory.

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