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Plenary Lecture - Lutyens and Spence

Professor Gavin Stamp

It is my task and privilege to introduce this conference.

I cannot claim to be an expert on Spence, but I like to think I do know a little about Edwin Lutyens, as the last time I spoke here was when Andrew Hopkins and I organised a conference on 'Lutyens Abroad'. 1999.

Why Lutyens? — the architect of this building, or rather of some of it and above all the the main facade — modelled on St Paul's. Replacement for exhibition pavilion 1910.

I have the difficult task of making a connection between these two men. Both knighted architects were, of course, famous in their day; both received the Order of Merit, and there is no doubt that Spence wished to inherit the mantle of being the unofficial 'Architect Laureate' in Britain after Lutyens's death in 1944. And both architects designed distinguished British Embassy buildings abroad.

Spence once referred to Lutyens as his "patron and master".1 As a student, he had worked in Lutyens's office so there is a direct connection, although one cannot help suspecting that the ambitious Spence may have later exaggerated his debt as a pupil.

We shall see.

As we are in Italy, it occurs to me that I can approach the problem by looking at two gateways — or, rather, at both architects' response to them. One is in Verona, one in Rome; one is by Sanmichele, one by Michelangelo.

As Lutyens began to discover and explore the richness of the Classical language at the beginning of the 20th century, he was strongly influenced by the work of Sanmichele in Verona — and by the Porta del Palio in particular. At Heathcote, that unlikely palazzo he built in the West Riding, he used Sanmichele's Doric order as well as playing games with the rustication. In that often quoted letter to Herbert Baker about designing the house, he referred to "the San Michele invention" and "That time-worn Doric order — a lovely thing".2

But Heathcote was designed in 1906 and Lutyens did not make his first visit to Italy until three years later, to prepare the ground for the British pavilion for the Rome exhibition. And he never went to Verona. As he wrote to Baker in another letter, "I marvel at San Michele, though I have only seen photos and drawings".3 What Lutyens saw in those photos was a vigorous Classical architecture full of expressive possibilities. When he eventually got to Rome, he was thrilled "to see things one knows from illustrations" and wrote to his wife, "There is so much here in the little ways of things I thought I had invented!! no wonder people think I must have been in Italy. Perhaps I have but it was not Rome".4

What was also on Lutyens's drawing board at the same time as Heathcote was the building in the new Kingsway in London intended to house the offices of William Robinson's The Garden magazine, where the rusticated Doric columns was another inspiration from Verona, this time taken from the other side of the Porta del Palio.

The Italian Renaissance gate Spence was concerned with was, of course, the Porta Pia as, along with part of the Roman Aurelian wall, it stood next to the site on which he was to build the new British Embassy. He wanted to respond to the scale and character of Michelangelo's work, but in a modern idiom: not for him the more literal development of Mannerist language. Miles Glendinning quotes Spence wanting to build a "modern palazzo in travertine" which would be "an object of quality set in a garden with ample space round and through it, a light but strongly modelled structure that is modern and yet stems from the same trunk as Michelangelo's Porta Pia... The building must have classical unity, beautiful materials, expert craftsmanship; it must have the Roman scale and the same 'blood group' as its immediate surroundings".5

So Spence's reaction to the past was different to that of Lutyens — more subtle, less literally grammatical perhaps. Can any useful comparison be made, therefore? Did Lutyens really influence Spence? To raise up the Rome Embassy off the ground is the antithesis of Lutyens's concern with expressing the material character, the weight of a building — how very different Lutyens's unbuilt cathedral in Liverpool would have been from Spence's at Coventry, with its gravity-defying tall interior with its high vault supported on very thin piers. But there is a weightiness, a concern with geometry, mass and structural logic in some of Spence's other works, like the University of Sussex — although the inspiration there is surely Corbusier's Maison Jaoul rather than anything by Lutyens.

But it is worth considering what facts we know about the Spence-Lutyens connection. By his own account, Spence spent his "year out" in one of Lutyens's offices after studying at the Edinburgh School of Architecture. While in London he also attended evening classes at the Bartlett under Albert Richardson. Two other Scottish students, William Kininmonth and Kenneth Begg, were with him and all worked on drawings for New Delhi in the separate Delhi office, which was then in Bolton Street. This was in 1929, the year when Viceroy's House was finished; the capital itself being inaugurated early in 1931. By this stage, therefore, there would presumably not have been that much left to design, and — although the "Scotch boy" was initially interviewed by Lutyens - the students probably would have seen little of the great man.

But in one published interview Spence related that he spent that year — 1929-30 - doing drawings for the gardens of Viceroy's House.6 Now that makes sense — the gardens would have been laid out last - and it is very interesting. The gardens of Viceroy's House are a wonder; inspired by the gardens of Persia and the Kashmir, they are an exercise in the combination of stone, earth and water, full of geometrical subtleties. There was a great deal to detail. And one of the impressive aspects of the gardens are the extraordinary abstract forms Lutyens created, such as the great stone hoops which form the wall of the tennis courts. Such strange, brilliant exercises in architectural sculpture, in abstract geometrry, could well have influenced the young Spence.

The influence of Lutyens was not immediately obvious, however, except in designs that remained on paper. Although a New Delhi dome appeared over his symmetrical, Classical design for a "National Institute of Architects" which won him the Rowand Anderson Studentship in 1931, it is not evident in either of his first two executed domestic commissions: neither in anachronistically Baronial Broughton Place, nor in flashy modernistic Gribloch.

In 1959, Spence, as President of the RIBA, gave an address to Students and he told the audience that "I was fortunate in experiencing one of the great privileges that could be afforded to any architect: that is to work with a genius. I worked with Lutyens many years ago... and recently I visited Liverpool, where I am building a physics building, which incidentally, blew up, I went into the crypt of the Roman Catholic Cathedral there. I had recently visited Ronchamp and I was struck by the similarity in weight and strength, and the desire to create space using depth of material, strongly modelled. Ronchamp to me is very similar in essence to the crypt of Lutyens's Cathedral in Liverpool. The mouldings, of course, are palladian in the crypt, where Corbusier does not use mouldings at all, but there is this understanding of what great architecture is, that is common to these two great men".7 So perhaps it really is appropriate that the current Le Corbusier exhibition in England is mounted in Lutyens's crypt.

In fact, in the Liverpool crypt — the fragment we have of "the very greatest building that was never built" as his son Robert Lutyens described it - the mouldings are few and there are also extraordinary abstracted sculptural forms, rather like those in the Delhi gardens, typical of Lutyens's late work and which can make his work seem "modern" and certainly original. So perhaps Lut and Sir Basil were.not that far apart, especially as both had a feeling for materials, for quality, as well as for three-dimensional geometrical forms. "It is absolutely essential, " Spence thought, "that architects must consider materials and their ability to weather, to look right, even beautiful..."8 which was certainly true of Lutyens and usually of Spence, who also believed that the "eternal constants" of great architecture were the sensitive enclosing of space, the complete understanding of scale, and quality.

Where they certainly differed, however, is that while Spence was happy to use a variety of artists and craftsmen, allowing them to work in their own way, to express themselves — making Coventry Cathedral the last great work of the Arts & Crafts movement — Lutyens always kept sculptors and craftsmen under close control so as to achieve his personal vision.

Are there other similarities to be traced? Both were fine draughtsmen, masters of the expressive sketch which could be so useful in seducing a client. Anthony Blee has written how, "if they wanted to be reminded of what Basil had in mind for them, when travelling with them in a train or plane he would grab the nearest piece of paper (on several occasions this would be a BOAC airline sick bag) and he would rattle off a quick sketch using a felt pen with astonishing fluency and graphic clarity".9


Lutyens, similarly, would dash off his "worm's eye views" in pencil and crayon at dinner parties, and his devoted assistants would often rescue his sketches from the waste-paper basket. Margaret Richardson records that "He also drew constantly on pads which were specially made for him, called 'virgins', which fitted into his pockets. Often clients would watch fascinated as their house appeared to grow and develop on paper. This could however, be an illusion; Lutyens worked so rapidly that the house had probably already taken shape in his mind and already been explored at his drawing board".10

Other similarities? One, I fear, is that both succumbed to the temptation of taking fat fees as a "consultant" improving mediocre commercial designs. Lutyens did that far too often on the Grosvenor Estate between the wars, and Spence did it with the notorious tall office block in Queen Anne's Gate which was to be occupied by the Home Office — a controversial affair which poisoned the final years of his life because of the criticism it provoked. But I have no doubt that the Home Office block benefited from his intervention — and am I being fanciful in seeing something of a New Delhi dome in the unusual and intelligent treatment of its top storeys?

Enough, for the moment, on Spence and Lutyens, for the brief which, fortunately, Louise Campbell gave me, was to talk about the architecture of diplomacy — which is of course the theme of the conference tomorrow. So, for the rest of my time, I want to look at how architects coped with the talk of expressing a British presence in a foreign country: was the building to be a compliment to the host nation, or merely another statement of British insularity, and arrogance?

As far as I am aware, the architectural history of British embassies and consulates abroad has yet to be written — which is a pity as it is a rich subject.

British buildings abroad in the 18th century were usually provincial essays in the styles fashionable back home; that is, Classical. I illustrate the Main Guard in Valletta, a Greek Revival building erected soon after 1800 when we British kicked Napoleon's invading French forces out of Malta. But such buildings were, of course, imposed on parts of the growing Empire. Embassies are different: they are buildings representing British interests which are permitted to stand in other countries; architecturally as well as diplomatically, they needs must be to a degree tactful. Sometimes, however, foreign embassies are such arrogant and overweening presences that it is surprising that the host country ever approved the designs. I think of Behrens's Imperial German embassy in St Petersburg, built just before the Great War, and Saarinen's United States Embassy in Grosvenor Square in London (about which we will hear tomorrow): although both buildings were and are excellent, in their way, as well as subtly responsive to the local architectural traditions.

But I am concerned with Great Britain. It is often stated that our first embassy abroad was that in Paris, established when the Duke of Wellington bought — on behalf of the Prince Regent - the former palace of the Duc de Charost off the Champs Elysees.11 That was in 1814 and, happily, the house remains the residence of our Ambassador to France.

The practice of buying a grand town house for diplomatic use was followed in other European capitals: as an example I show our former embassy to Russia in St Petersburg, by the Neva, a mansion by Quarenghi, which was so used between 1863 and 1918.

The first purpose-built British embassy was in Constantinople, commissioned by Stratford Canning, later Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, when ambassador to the Sublime Porte. It is an Italianate palazzo — now the British consulate in Istanbul - strongly resembling the Reform Club in both style and plan. Often attributed to Charles Barry, it is in fact by W.J. Smith, who had worked under Pennethorne at the Office of Woods & Forests in London. Designed 1842, finally completed 1854 (according to one account, it replaced old Embassy built by Lord Elgin in 1801 — if true, surely the oldest embassy — destroyed in Beyoglu fire 1831).12

Purely European in style, but situated not in the ancient city but across the Golden Horn in Pera, the European area where other foreign embassies were situated.

The Embassy was soon followed by Crimean Memorial Church. Still European, but this time Gothic. G.E. Street. Competition 1856 — William Burges' winning design was more Oriental.

Gothic could in fact be adapted to different climatic conditions, as the British demonstrated above all in Bombay, now Mumbai — surely now the finest Gothic Revival city in the world. Here, the buildings could have the open arcades and other features which simply did not work in the English climate. The early buildings Classical — as elsewhere in Empire. Gothic arrived in 1860s. Sir Bartle Frere governor. Gilbert Scott did University; erected by Royal Engineers.
VT Station: inspired by St Pancras, and Scott's Gothic dome designs. The Crawford Market by William Emerson — of whom more later.
F.W. Stevens. Later building more Oriental in style — Municipal Buildings.

By end of century, attempt to use Indian styles by British architects. In Bombay, other examples are the Gateway of India, Prince of Wales Museum. by George Wittet.

There is another reason for considering Bombay, for Spence was born there in 1907 and spent first 12 years of his life in India. No reason to suppose he did not share the general prejudice of his time and generation against Victorian architecture. Aldous Huxley: "one of the most appalling cities of either hemisphere. It had the misfortune to develop during what was, perhaps, the darkest period of all architectural history"13 (a judgement since generally revised in favour of the 1960s). Robert Byron: "that architectural Sodom, Bombay"; "The nineteenth century devised nothing lower than the municipal buildings of British India. Their ugliness is positive, demonic".14 But Spence later wrote, in 1958, that he believed the Victorians "achieved a perfection of workmanship, combined with good material, such as we have never seen. The Victorian taste is suspect to many, but it was condemned outright during the period in between the wars. Taste is a transient thing, a cloud that hovers and floats, and changes shape..."15 So it does.

A further reason for mentioning Bombay is that one of the later British official buildings which developed an Indian manner was the General Post Office, 1903-09, and it was designed by John Begg, who later taught Spence when he was head of the Edinburgh School of Architecture. Begg was then the consulting architect to the Government of Bombay, and later became Consulting Architect to the Government of India before returning home.

The attempt to make the European Gothic manner more Oriental began to be described as "Indo-Saracenic". Many of the best examples of the style are to be found in Madras, where the Law Courts is a glorious composition of towers and open loggias. Then there are the buildings by Robert Fellowes Chisholm, such as the University. (Chisholm's last work was back home, the Christian Science Church in Sloane Square — now the Cadogan Hall — which introduced a vaguely Oriental flavour to London)

Calcutta, "City of Palaces", the capital of British India, remained resolutely Classical and European in character, however. Gothic buildings are comparatively few there and even in the High Victorian decades the Classical tradition was maintained with distinction by Walter Granville in such public buildings as the Post Office in Dalhousie Square. The Classical architecture of Calcutta was celebrated by one Viceroy in particular, Lord Curzon, who later published his two volume study of British Government in India which was much concerned with buildings — in particular with Government House, that great stuccoed palace commissioned at the beginning of the century by Wellington's older brother, Lord Wellesley, and which, in plan, was derived from Curzon's own Kedleston.

Curzon was also instrumental in the building of the Victoria Memorial, a museum and gallery dedicated to the British achievement in India. A rather overblown marble palace comparable with, say, Belfast City Hall, it was designed by Sir William Emerson — chosen because he was PRIBA but he had, earlier in his career, worked in Bombay, where he designed the Crawford Markets. Curzon explained the choice of style:

"In Calcutta — a city of European origin and construction — where all the main buildings had been erected in a quasi-classical or Palladian style, and which possessed no indigenous architectural type of its own — it was impossible to erect a building in any native style. A Moghul building, however appropriate for the mosque and tombs of the Moslem Kings, or even for the modern Palace of an Indian Prince in his own State, would have been ridiculous in the commercial and official capital of India, and quite unsuited for the memorial of a British Sovereign. A Hindu fabric would have been profoundly ill adapted for the purposes of an exhibition. It was self-evident that a structure in some variety of the classical or Renaissance style was essential, and that a European architect must be employed." 16

One last piece of architectural patronage by Curzon is especially relevant. As Foreign Secretary in 1919, particularly concerned with the Great Game in Persia and Afghanistan, he commissioned a new British Embassy in Kabul. A white Classical building, it makes no concessions to local styles and traditions. I wish I knew who designed it. It was subsequently abandoned and has since been sold to the government of Pakistan while the present British Embassy is, I gather, housed in a fortified modern office block.

Lord Curzon was bitterly opposed to the decision to move the capital from Calcutta to Delhi, announced in 1911. Lutyens, assisted by Herbert Baker, was of course chosen to design the new city which, after many vicissitudes, was inaugurated two decades later, in 1931.

Now I don't want to go into the story of New Delhi now as it has been told so often, though it is worth pointing out is that many of the lesser buildings, like Connaught Circus, created by R.T. Russell, and many of the villas designed by junior architects - many of which today house foreign legations — were in the Calcutta Classical manner. But the important thing is that Government House — Viceroy's House — along with the flanking Secretariat buildings by Baker were not. There was strong pressure, in fact, to use an Indo-Saracenic style, not so much as a compliment to India but in recognition of growing Indian nationalism and sectarian strife — a bomb was thrown at the Viceroy, Lord Hardinge, soon after Lutyens's arrival in India, badly injuring him. But Lutyens was initially resistant to this, at first regarding indigenous manners of building with contempt. Believing in geometrical absolutes — and that they were enshrined in the European Classical tradition, he remarked that "One cannot tinker with the round arch. God did not make the Eastern rainbow pointed to show His wide sympathies." 17

So Lutyens developed a monumental, dynamic Classical style, but he did in the event . acknowledge and respect the East as he brilliantly fused Oriental elements into this: Moghul, Hindu, Buddhist; the wide cornice, the chujja; the rooftop pavilions or chattris; the railing from Sanchi wrapped around the great dome. Lutyens both created a new manner of building, modern yet monumental, which was rooted in tradition and also managed to create a synthesis of East and West — particularly in the wonderful gardens on which the young Basil Spence worked.

However, New Delhi — and Viceroy's House in particular - was an expression of British power; the style was imposed on an increasingly restive population. To see how Lutyens approached the problem of diplomacy, of designing a building for Britain abroad which consciously complimented the host country, we have to look West, not East — across the Atlantic to Washington, D.C.

A new British Embassy in the United States was needed to repalce the old Legation in Connecticut Avenue, near Dupont Circle — an area becoming overwhelmed by commercial development. The new site was far out, on high ground to the north-west at the far end of Massachusetts Avenue. Lutyens was chosen as architect in 1925, the year he crossed the Atlantic for the first time to receive the Gold Medal of the Institute of American Architects. He had been recommended for the job by Sir Lionel Earle, Permanent Secretary at the Office of Works — who also happened to be the cousin of Lady Emily Lutyens. Earle had argued that the British government "could not pay a greater tribute to Washington than by selecting the artist they themselves had honoured".18

The Washington Embassy is perhaps the least known of Lutyens's major works, but it is a remarkable and distinguished building. For a start, he succeeded in combining both the Ambassador's residence and the Chancery, or the offices required by the Embassy, with a brilliant plan. Lutyens placed the Chancery at the lower end of a sloping side, with wings enclosing a forecourt facing the entrances in Massachusetts Avenue. Between the Chancery and the Residence behind is a carriage drive, allowing guests to be dropped for diplomatic functions (a similar arrangement to that at Viceroy's House in Delhi). Now the cleverness is that the main axis of the Chancery is continued from its central entrance up and along the central lateral corridor of the Residence, which is placed one storey higher, and the Ambassador's study is placed on this axis on a bridge which crosses the carriage drive, uniting the two buildings and enabling him easily to reach either. Guests arrive below and ascend to the Residence by a grand double staircase. The axis then continues until it meets a cross-axis running from the portico facing the gardens into the ballroom beyond a screen of marble columns. The two halves of the building are therefore integrated by a functional axial geometry.

In style, Lutyens's building was a deliberate compliment to Washington and to America. He chose what had become almost a national modern style, English Neo-Georgian in red brick, with something of the manner of his arid the nation's architectural hero Wren. It was a style which originally had crossed to Atlantic to become, of course, that of the early buildings of the Eastern states and which, by the 1920s, had become conventional for Post Offices, telephone exchanges and other such public buildings. The hipped roofs on the tall, thin three-story wings facing Massachusetts Avenue are terminated by tall brick chimneys which, Lutyens hoped, "will be as impressive as those that stand as sentinels on the roofs of Chelsea Hospital — one of Wren's best and most dignified buildings".19

But this vertical attenuation gave the Embassy a definite American character. This was a compliment picked up by contemporaries. The architect Charles Moore, chairman of the Commission for Fine Art in Washington, commented that Lutyens's drawings "seem to be a happy expression of a style of architecture which the Fathers of the Republic brought overseas with them".

As examples of that style, I show that splendid house in Virginia, Stratford Hall, with its Vanbrughian chimneys, and the recreated — invented? - Governour's House in Colonial Williamsburg.

The building nevertheless was full of Lutyens's usual felicities. A correspondent for the New York Times saw the building as very English, with a certain whimsy, and wrote that

"Capitals without pillars to support them and pillars with capitals that support cherubs instead of the ceiling are piquant challenges to architectural propriety and as such are expressive of England's fondness for freaks".20

The Washington Embassy was not a happy commission, however. In working for the British government, Lutyens had to cope with many of the problems Basil Spence encountered forty years later when building the Rome Embassy: bureaucratic and political interference, endless delays and constant demands for economy. Britain in the 1920s, like Britain in the 1960s, was in economic difficulties, and Lutyens had to deal with a Treasury that was convinced he was extravagant and which was concerned with the huge debt to the United States Britain had accrued during the Great War.

Lutyens had to scale down the whole design and ruthless economies were made — economies which were largely responsible for the criticisms the completed building subsequently attracted and which, as the government admitted in Parliament in 1930, "had been too drastic". Construction did not begin until 1928.

Other problems were created by a cheese-paring government trying to get a building on the cheap. This they did by accepting an unrealistically low tender from a British-born developer called Harry Wardman, who wanted the prestige of the job. It was Wardman who had provided the site of the new Embassy and it was Wardman who had taken the old Legation building off the government's hands. Known as "the man who OVERBUILT Washington", he was unpopular, had a poor reputation as a builder, and was regarded with great hostility by the unions as he employed non-union coloured labour. All went well, however, until the stock market crash in 1929 which wiped out Wardman's fortune and he was left bankrupt. In consequence, when the building was handed over in 1930, much was incomplete or badly finished. But, as the American architect Frederick H. Brooke, who had supervised the work on the spot, reminded Lutyens and the British, "While he had funds, he was more than liberal in all adjustments of expense. Even if the building is not perfect, has not the British Nation gotten its money's worth? In my opinion they have".21

Elisabeth Lindsay, the American wife of the new Ambassador, Sir Ronald Lindsay, found that "The woodwork, the plastering and the painting are disgraceful. At the moment we are dizzy with confusion, deafened by noise, poisoned by flies, exasperated by ineptitudes and overrun by rats". There was hardly any electric light in the new building — and the flat roofs over part of the Chancery leaked. Lutyens sent over an assistant to sort things out. This worked. And Lutyens — like Spence - certainly knew how to charm his clients. The following year, in 1931, Lady Lindsay wrote to tell Lutyens that, "At long last I am back in this most lovely house. It is beautiful beyond compare, and we are happy in every corner of it. Your imagination, interest and endless toil are more than repaid by the results as they are now seen... Thank you a thousand times. We are your slaves."22

Basil Spence was appointed architect for the new Embassy here in Rome in 1959 and it was finally completed in 1971. I don't want to say much about it as Miles Glendinning will be discussing the project in detail tomorrow. But what needs to be said is that the Rome and Washington Embassies are very different — and not just because of the change in architecture over the intervening three or four decades. In some ways it is not fair to compare them. For a start, while Lutyens's building combined both Residence and Chancery, Spence's is a Chancery alone. Part of the garden further to the east was reserved for a new Ambassador's residence, but that never materialised and the Ambassador today still lives elsewhere, in the Villa Wolkonsky. In planning terms, therefore, Spence had an easier task as he did not have to integrate two separate buildings. He did, however, have to worry about security - the previous Chancery on the site had been blown up by Jewish terrorists in 1946 - which Lutyens did not in Washington.

Furthermore, the site is flat, not sloping as was the Washington site. The constraints were topographical and architectural: the proximity of the Porta Pia and the Aurelian Wall and the need to preserve the mature gardens. Spence's solution was to design a symmetrical two-storey quadrangle of offices, raised up on pilotis — this requiring and allowing a grand external staircase to rise to the principal, first floor. But more of that tomorrow. Are there echoes of Lutyens here? Interestingly, Spence coped with the climate by having the stories overhanging, to create shadow — rather as Lutyens used the wide projecting chujja to create shade on Viceroy's House.

But what concerns me is the fact that, like the Washington Embassy, the building was intended as a compliment to the host country. As Spence wrote in 1961 — to quote Miles again — "The main objective is to create a symbol representative of Great Britain in a foreign capital, but with a difference, as Rome may be considered to be the cradle of our modern civilisation. A secondary objective is to provide an Embassy building which is efficient. It must look 'right'. It should, if possible, excite admiration from the Italians and should not dismay our own people. It should harmonise with the unique surroundings, in scale, rhythm and materials".23 Rome, like Washington, was an important place and trouble needed to be taken.

Spence, it seems to me, succeeded triumphantly. In creating a powerfully massed, richly modelled, marble clad building which was entirely modern in style but with traditional overtones, Spence produced something which was not typical of its time. It belongs to a distinguished handful of institutional buildings of the 1960s designed by architects who were seeking something richer, more sculptural and more decorative - more formal, perhaps — than the typical reductive architecture characteristic of the 1960s. I think also of Richard Gilbert Scott's unfashionable Guildhall Library in the City of London. The Embassy was also unusual — at least in British terms — in being so subtly traditional; as Spence wrote about his Coventry Cathedral design, quoting Bela Bartok, "Only a fool will build in defiance of the past. What is new and significant always must be grafted on to old roots... "24

And the Italians were pleased. Miles quotes an Italian newspaper commenting that, "One does not easily abandon a place full of memories, especially if one is a nation like Britain... what the English have done compels one to praise the lesson in courtesy and discretion that they have given... so that soon the building will merge into the Roman scenery no less fully and harmoniously than the way in which the station at Santa Maria Novella has become part of Florence".25 Miles has also noted that Bruno Zevi, who originally criticised Spence for being a "prisoner" of Michelangelo and called for an orthodox International Modern glass box, now praised the completed building's "mannerist" forms as perfectly attuned to the current architectural climate.

In 1959 — the year Spence got the Rome job — he told those students he was addressing in London that he would. "like to stick my neck out now and make a prediction. I think that Lutyens will come back into favour in the future. He has been under a cloud since his death, but I think there will be a gradual coming back to the appreciation of this very great man."26 As he was an imperial architect, a traditionalist and a Classicist, Lutyens certainly went out of fashion and favour, particularly in the 1960s. Spence also fell out of favour following his death in 1976, although his rather varied work was never subjected to the campaign of denigration as was Lutyens's. But now, I think, we can see Coventry Cathedral as both the last great work of the Arts and Crafts movement as well as a highly successful compromise between modernist architectural imperatives and popular taste.

As for the Rome Embassy it belong, along with Lutyens's in Washington, among the most distinguished and admired of buildings erected by British governments overseas in the last century. I don't think they were equals — nobody, as far as I am concerned, can challenge Lutyens's status as the greatest British architect of the last century - but the more I look at Spence's work the more I admire what he achieved. And on Friday we can look at one of his most intelligent and impressive creations: the British Embassy here in Rome. It is, I fear, a happier and a more thoughtful compliment to Italy than the building we are in now.


1 quoted in Brian Edwards, Basil Spence 7907-1976, Rutland Press, Edinburgh, 1999, p.15

2 quoted in Christopher Hussey, The Life of Sir Edwin Lutyens, Country Life, London, 1950, p.133.


4 21st October 1909

5 Spence to Ashley Clarke 18th August & ls' March 1961, quoted in Miles Glendinning, "'Una lezione di civilta": New Zealand House, the British Embassy in Rome, and the Modernist architecture of postcolonial diplomacy' in ???

6 David Pryce-Jones, 'Pillar of Architecture', Sunday Telegraph magazine, 28th September 1973, p.35?. On his RIBA Fellowship nomination form, submitted in December 1946, Spence wrote "1929-30. 1 year Sir Edwin Lutyens' office."

7 'Address to Students by the President Mr Basil Spence, OBE, ARA, ARSA', 3r4 February 1959, Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects lxvi, March 1959,

8 'Inaugural Address of the President', 4th November 1958, Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects lxvi, December 1958, p.46.

9 Anthony Blee, 'Working with Spence' in Philip Long & Jane Thomas eds, Basil Spence Architect, National Galleries of Scotland, 2007, p.18.

10 Margaret Richardson, Sketches by Edwin Lutyens, Academy Editions, London, 1994, p.17.

11 although a member of the audience pointed out that the in Rome was founded in the reign of Henry VIII???

12 Mark Crinson, Empire Building: Orientalism & Victorian Architecture, Routledge, London & New Ork, 1996, pp.126-131 &c.

13 Aldous Huxley.

14 Robert Byron, 'New Delhi', The Architectural Review, January 1931, p.1.

15 'Inaugural Address of the President', 4th November 1958, Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects lxvi, December 1958, p.46.

16 The Marquis Curzon of Kedleston, British Government in India, Cassell, London, New York, Toronto & Melbourne, 1925, vol.1, p.189.

17 Lutyens to Baker 29' 11 August, 1913, in Hussey, op. cit., p.296.

18 quoted in Gavin Stamp, "'Modern Architecture as a very complex Art": the design and construction of Lutyens's British Embassy in Washington DC' in Andrew Hopkins & Gavin Stamp, eds, Lutyens Abroad, p.131.

19 ibid., p.135.

20 quoted in ibid, p.130.

21 ibid., 139.

22 ibid, p.143.

23 quoted in Glendinning, op. cit.,

24 Basil Spence, Phoenix at Coventry, London, 1962, p.xvii.

25 Glendinning, op. cit.

26 Spence (1959), op. cit., p.152.


Gavin Stamp, Lutyens and Spence.

Plenary lecture for the conference Architecture, diplomacy and national identity: Sir Basil Spence and mid-century modernism.

The British School At Rome

3 December 2008