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11 September 2010

Stone, Cement and the Conga

Castle Drogo (5)

A visit to Castle Drogo nearby in Devon the other day, perhaps Lutyens' most sophisticated building; an impressive pile of brooding Dartmoor granite that, I have to say, does have a whiff of penal institution about it from the outside.

Inside, though, a deeply atmospheric and imaginative home where Lutyens has leavened Drogo's monumentalism with intimacy and light, cleverly deploying games with scale - where perfectly carved vaulted ceilings offer comforting, textured closeness as well as a rhythmic sense of space, where lower ceilings in bedroom suites are balanced by expanse on the horizontal; jewel-like roof lights; internal gardens with fragrant herbaceous borders and, typical of Lutyens, charming details - specifically a recurring acorn motif.

And while Lutyens is considered the most English of architects the house reminded me so much of those designed by Frank Lloyd Wright - but then they were contemporaries. 

Reading through a pamphlet about Lutyens (who inspired Francis Pollen, who inspired the architecture of my own home - a kind of architectural conga) I remembered why, generally speaking, I'm not a huge fan. The Quinlan Terry of his day, Lutyens' was a bit of tart architecturally, manipulating neo-Classicism to suit either sentimental or pompous ends, usually both.

But Castle Drogo is different: it is confident and pioneering, modern and of its age, sparkling with the then latest technologies in communications, heating, power and plumbing. It is a palace for meritocrats not an aristocratic pile, and a herald in stone and mortar of the tectonic social and cultural shifts fomenting in First World War Britain. So this is probably why it feels "American".

Different too Lutyens' extraordinarily powerful memorials and war graves (he designed the Cenotaph using a brilliant geometrical device where "the vertical inclined planes meet at a point 1,000 ft above ground while the horizontals are imperceptibly the circumference of a circle  whose centre point is 900 ft below ground"), which proves the point that an architect is often at his peak not long before he or she snuffs it!

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Back in the land of the living you must take a look at www.cement-tiles.es, who make incredibly beautiful patterned tiles in cement (above) - my favourite - and terrazzo plus a huge range of Moroccan zelliges in dazzling colours. You can even create your own patterns. I was really hoping to use these for a walkway in my new house but because I have had to amend my design to suit the location of the meter cupboard this won't be possible. It's so annoying when reality intrudes on fantasy.

Talking of which, be careful using these on bathroom floors though as they may well be slippery when wet, to quote Bon Jovi, unless you're an architect at his/her peak and looking for a building-themed way to go.

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