Asia House presents a new series of talks, exploring the impact various architects from around the world have had on architectural innovation either through working in Asia, or being inspired by their connection to Asia, and how this informs their work internationally.
The aim is to foster relations, raise awareness and promote a discourse around new cityscapes and buildings for the 21st century, whilst reflecting on the role of architects in relation to our architectural heritage, customs and our built environment.
Dr Elizabeth Darling: 20th Century architect Wells Coates OBE
From Japan to MARS
‘The Man whose eyes have been trained in the East…’:
Wells Coates, Japanese architecture and Modernism in inter-war England.
The buildings and interiors designed by Canadian architect Wells Coates (1895-1958) in the late 1920s and 1930s are some of the most distinctive of the modern movement in British architecture. In his contemporary writings, Coates was keen to attribute the development of this architectural language to the fact that he had been born and brought up in Japan, leaving only in 1913.
This talk considers the development of Coates’ relationship with Japan and its architecture, charting his journey from childhood to manhood, and the other influences to which he was exposed – war service, academic study, a career as secretary and journalist – before he set up in practice in 1928. Taking a number of key domestic commissions as exemplars, the discussion will show how Coates synthesised particular Japanese motifs such as the shoji (Japanese paper room divider) and the tokonoma (built in recessed space in Japanese architecture) and what he described as ‘the visual sense of the Japanese’ with the most modern of materials. These materials include plywood, cellulose paints and varnishes and tubular steel. In doing so he created homes for his clients that would provide (in his words) ‘a refuge from the speeded-up worries of modern life.’ The talk will also considers how Coates’ Eastern childhood helped him fashion a particular persona for British modern architecture how this helped him shape the progress of British modernism more generally with the formation of the Modern Architectural Research Group (MARS).
Elizabeth Darling is a Reader in Architectural History in the Department of History, Philosophy & Religion at Oxford Brookes University. Her research focuses on the emergence and evolution of modernism in England in the 1920s and 1930s, with a particular interest in the work of Wells Wintemute Coates OBE. Among her many publications are Re-forming Britain: Narratives of Modernity before Reconstruction (Routledge, 2007) and Wells Coates (RIBA Publishing, 2012).