Work In Progress

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‘Mr Oliver Hill will tackle new and interesting problems in Domestic Architecture’ (1928, Architect and Building News)

This week I went through my MPhil to PhD transfer interview. In light of the seismic political change that has occurred in this country in the last seven days this interview is hardly worth mentioning. However, I decided that I should look at this blog as more of a journey through my PhD so it would be odd not to write about this small milestone in my PhD journey.

The last two years have been interesting from a research point of view. I have come to look at the work of Oliver Hill in a completely different way. Tackling my fear of writing has certainly helped in that process. It’s certainly not all plain sailing but I have realised that putting my thoughts on paper instead of storing them somewhere in my head has made life much easier. This is especially the case when you are working part-time on your PhD. Having something on paper to go back to after a break makes the shift from work to research less tricky. Writing more has also made me feel more confident about my topic and this, I feel, has helped me in presenting my work to a variety of people.

I have been surprised at how helpful presenting your work in progress actually is. Although I didn’t see my transfer interview in the same category as a WIP event the discussion and questions that followed my presentation were equally helpful. What do you expect to get out/achieve with this research was perhaps the question that stood out for me the most. I guess every PhD student starts out a vague idea of what they want to achieve and where they see themselves after completion. Nevertheless, I seem to have lost track of this bigger picture whilst researching Hill’s wok in such detail. So what do I want to achieve with my research? Intrigue in the sometimes odd and contradictory lenses through which Hill and his oeuvre have been represented made me start this research. I have since come to see these lenses as useful instead of problematic. If, by the end of my journey with Hill, I can present his work as a case study for further research on equally enigmatic architects/ designers working during the interwar period, and if I can highlight the benefits of approaching architectural history beyond the text, maybe then I can truly feel that I have added a little cog into the broader research of the Interwar period.

Fingers crossed



Nostalgia and domestic architecture

In a recent blog post Joanne Bailey described how she had ‘something of a lightbulb moment’ after reading the Observer article: ‘Look back in joy: the power of nostalgia’ by Wildschut and Sedikides. The positive image of nostalgia given by these authors made me think of some research I have done (in what now seems another lifetime) on the concept of regionalism in Britain during the interwar period in the work of Oliver Hill (1887 – 1968).

Although I didn’t explicitly relate nostalgia to regionalism it seems to me that there is a strong connection in how both concepts use the past to deal with the present.  Sedikides says of nostalgia that it is the ‘perfect internal politician, connecting the past with the present, pointing optimistically to the future’.  This idea seems similar to regionalism within domestic architecture of the interwar period. It is precisely this strategy of ensuring continuity with modernity which finds expression in the domestic work of Hill.

In a chapter I wrote for the book Regionalism and Modernity  I discussed how Hill pursued this connection with the past in houses such as Woodhouse Copse (1924-1926), Holmbury St Mary in Surrey. Here Hill pursued a connection with the local by employing local crafts people to insure that the traditional techniques in architecture – as well as decoration – were safeguarded for future generations.

Woodhouse Copse © Country Life

What I find particularly interesting in light of Joanne Bailey’s blogpost is how such domestic settings can perhaps be understood as a more material example of  ‘the transferring of family values’ she is referring to.

Regionalism, as nostalgia, has more often than not been linked with negative connotations, especially in relation to architecture produced during the interwar period. Such mindsets, however, lead to a one sided view of what was produced at the time. Only by approaching nostalgia (and regionalism) in a more positive light, as Bailey, Wildschut and Sedikides argue, can we more thoroughly understand how modern social experience was translated into architectural expression and shaped interior decoration.