UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Reconsidering the Binning House Weder, Adele Margot 2004

Your browser doesn't seem to have a PDF viewer, please download the PDF to view this item.

Item Metadata

Download

Media
831-ubc_2005-0132.pdf [ 12.33MB ]
Metadata
JSON: 831-1.0091945.json
JSON-LD: 831-1.0091945-ld.json
RDF/XML (Pretty): 831-1.0091945-rdf.xml
RDF/JSON: 831-1.0091945-rdf.json
Turtle: 831-1.0091945-turtle.txt
N-Triples: 831-1.0091945-rdf-ntriples.txt
Original Record: 831-1.0091945-source.json
Full Text
831-1.0091945-fulltext.txt
Citation
831-1.0091945.ris

Full Text

RECONSIDERING THE BINNING HOUSE by ADELE MARGOT WEDER B.A. The University of Saskatchewan, 1984 B.J., The University of King's College, 1989 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ADVANCED STUDIES IN ARCHITECTURE in THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA January 2005 © Adele Margot Weder, 2005 ABSTRACT n. The 1941 Binning House in West Vancouver has long been hailed as a pioneer of Modernism in domestic Canadian architecture, and an inspiration for much of the West Coast Architecture that followed. Although it is usually described as product of Corbusian rationalism and a paradigm of low-cost dwelling, in fact it is neither. Rather, it is a composite of several competing strains of Modernism and aesthetic values prevalent in London during the year (1938-39) in which Binning resided there to study fine art. The Binning House is often misread as an austerely functionalist plan with an orthogonal layout, but a closer observation and actual measurement of wall and window angles reveals that Binning actually inflected the orthogonal, generating a splayed geometric layout with obtuse and acute angles in several corners, trapezoidal forms in the built-in furniture and studio clerestory window, and a dynamic sense of visual expansion and contraction. Binning's study with Henry Moore was evidently tremendously influential in this regard, as Moore avoided the machine-like aesthetic of the orthogonal and instead imbued his art with oblique, irregular and rounded lines. The oblique motif also manifests in Binning's own drawings of this time. Also empathetic to this approach was Berthold Lubetkin, whose Whipsnade Bungalow near London defied the doctrines of orthogonal functionalism. Binning viewed plans and photos of Whipsnade and other emblems of early European modernism at a seminal 1939 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This exhibition synthesized many of the ideas and forms that Binning had been exposed to in London and seems to have served as a catalyst for the house plan he was about to compose. In converging these various strains of early Modernism, Binning has transcended the dogma of architectural discourse and rendered it meaningful for a local, individual context. iii. TABLE OF CONTENTS Abstract i i . Table of Contents iii. Acknowledgements iv. I. The Binning House: Perception and Reality 1 II. B.C. Binning: Early Life and Formative Year Abroad 6 III. The Vancouver Context circa 1940 19 TV. Convergence of Influences 24 V. The Problem of Categorization 30 VI. Optical Qualities 36 VII. Conclusion: The Architectural Legacy 44 Illustrations 53 Bibliography 76 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS iv. I would like to extend special thanks to the following individuals, who are among the many that provided direct or indirect assistance in the research of this thesis: Dr. Sherry McKay, Christopher Macdonald, Jamie Chrones, Jessie Binning, Adrian Archambault, Peter Oberlander, Ami Haraldsson, Matt Cohen, Max Weder, Geoff Massey, June Binkhert, Abraham Rogatnick, Joanne Gates, Heather Howat, Josie Grant, Peeroj Thakre, Joost Bakker, Phyllis Lambert and staff at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, staff at the University of British Columbia Library and Archives, and staff at the City of Vancouver Archives. 1 I. The Binning House: Perception and Reality Of the many renowned early Modern houses on the West Coast of Canada, one of the earliest and most influential is the Binning Residence in West Vancouver. Designed by the artist Bertram Charles Binning (1909-1976) as a home for himself and his wife, Jessie Wyllie Binning, the house was completed in 1941 and is still the primary residence of his widow. Now, over sixty years since its completion, it is a venerated structure with a Heritage "A" listing, and figures prominently in most surveys of regional architectural history. Although Binning himself wrote occasionally on art and architecture, he never provided a detailed explanation of the inspiration and intentions regarding his own renowned home. (The architects C E . Pratt and R.A.D. Berwick were consultants and are occasionally referred to as the "architects" of the house. The design was fundamentally Binning's, however, and their role was primarily to assist and facilitate approval for its construction.1) Yet despite its renown, the Binning House has prompted critical assessments that have not always corresponded to the literal reality and human experience of the house. Among most historians and critics, it is assumed that his house is what it appears to be from a cursory glance: an economically built, simple and practical house, its flat roof and open plan making it one of the earliest examples of the brand of universal Modernism championed by Le 1 Rhodri Liscombe, The New Spirit: Modern Architecture in Vancouver, 1938-1963. (Vancouver: Douglas & Mclntyre, 1997), 40. 2 Corbusier and by the Bauhaus principles. "Binning quintessentialized Modernist concepts of house design, from Le Corbusier's Five Points to Sigfried Giedion's 'Space-Time Architecture", wrote Liscombe in The New Spirit.2 But Binning's plan does not follow Le Corbusier's Five Points very closely. The plan is relatively open due to the functional independence of wall and skeleton, but the mass is not elevated off the ground by pilotis; the facade, while "free" of applied ornament and traditional articulation, boasts its own variegated appearance by way of carefully positioned custom-shaped clerestory windows and a mural painted by Binning; there is no long horizontal sliding window; there is no roof garden. How, then, can we classify the Binning House, if not wholly Corbusian? What are the other architectural and social values embedded within? This thesis will argue that the Binning House is first and foremost a product of the Binning's exposure to the design milieu of London, England, in the late 1930s. As such, it is a product of multiple influences, informed not only by Le Corbusier and the Bauhaus but also by the neo-constructivist ideas prevalent in London at the time. Above all, it is not a paradigm of Rationalist x low-cost housing, as it is often simplistically described. Extensively photographed throughout the decades since its construction, the Binning House (fig. 1-1 and 1-2) has acquired an iconic quality in the history of Canadian architecture. Any modern-day assessment must take into account the qualitative factors which can enhance, or even distort, a visitor's perception of its innate architectural values. First, it has been exceptionally well maintained under the direction of Jessie Binning, who is devoted to the house 2 Ibid. 3 and continues to enlist professional cleaning, gardening and repairwork as needed. Second, Jessie herself, although now 98 years old, continues to be a charming hostess for visitors, and her personal warmth contributes to the perception of the house as a particularly successful home design. The exhibition of her late husband's paintings and artful mementos throughout the house further enhance its sense of intimacy and importance. Third, the house bears a historic importance of being one of the first Modern houses on the West Coast and also the occasional gathering-site of local cultural leaders and visiting architects, most notably Richard Neutra on two occasions in the 1940s. This historic role contributes to the sense of veneration by subsequent generations. These qualitative issues aside, the Binning House can also be assessed as a singular work of architecture in that its decorative wall murals, intuitive gestures and unusual plan (fig. 2) broke not only the conventions of the fusty traditionalism, but also defied the tenets of doctrinary functionalism. The Binning House remains in good condition in its original location at 2968 Mathers Avenue in West Vancouver. Over the decades, it has been occasionally altered: the original detached carport was transformed into a covered garage; its original varnished cedar cladding was painted an off-white colour; a trellis was appended onto the rear fagade; a second washroom was added off the guest-bedroom/ study area; and on two separate occasions Binning painted a new mural over his previous mural on the exterior wall beside the front entry. Fundamentally, however, the form and essence of the Binning House is very close to its original construction. The Binning House is a post-and-beam construction with a combination of cedar V-joint cladding and cedar siding. To the right of the front entrance, visitors are welcomed by a geometrically abstract mural of emphatic yellow lines, the third of a series of murals which Binning painted on that wall section, each one effacing its predecessor. Inside and throughout the house is a mixture of some factory-made and many custom-made components. The gallery and living room both feature built-in bookshelves and cabinetry; the study area has a small built-in desk. Ribbed glass in 24-inch square wood frames on the upper half of the central wall allows light to filter in from the living/ dining area to the gallery. The fireplace wall is built with fieldstone, and is articulated by a jogged surface and built-in niche. Historic overviews attribute the Binning House's renown to its status as one of the first flat-roofed houses on the west coast; to its social history as a gathering-place for local and visiting cultural leaders; and to its pioneering Modernism. Its architectural intention, approach and legacy are somewhat more problematic to ascertain. Surveying the interior space of the house, one experiences a subtle but unsettling feeling of disconnect between expectation and reality. The house appears to be an open, clear layout of orthogonal forms (and in fact is described as such in much of the general literature), yet the space seems at times to be expanding and contracting in oblique lines. This phenomenon does not feature in the conventional critical representations of the house, nor is it what one would consider a defining characteristic of the Purist and Rationalist approaches in which the house is so often categorized. The Binning House is based on a plan that deviates significantly off the standard rectilinear grid. The most visibly pronounced of these deviations is the central gallery wall, which fans out towards the southern wall of factory-made 5 glass doors, generating an acute angle in the corner.3 Correspondingly, the cant of this wall generates an obtuse angle in the master bedroom. The north and east elevations of the alternative plan (fig. 3) show a deviation from the rectilinear grid. In this elevation, the lower-level roofline of the east elevation (indicated in red) is clearly angled down slightly, towards the centre of the elevation. The upper-level roofline (indicated in blue) is also angled down slightly towards the centre. (This elevation, devised for the carport plan, does not show the studio clerestory window that would ultimately be incorporated into the eastern wall.) Similarly, in the west elevation of the alternative plan (fig. 4), the lower and upper rooflines are angled slightly down towards the centre of the elevation. The north and south facades, by contrast, appear in the drawings and also in the built house as an arrangement of precise rectilinear forms. These contrasting regular/irregular forms imbue the house with a distinctive character that seems not amenable to replication. To explore the evolution of his intention, one must step back to his early career to observe the evolution of his inherent design sensibility and the subsequent mentors and life events that would inform the design of his own house. 3 Rather than the standard 90-degrees, this corner angle is roughly 78 degrees, as measured by A. Weder, April 12, 2002. 6 II. B.C. Binning: Early Life and Formative Year Abroad Bertram Charles Binning was born in Medicine Hat, Alberta, in 1909 and moved with his family to Vancouver in 1913. He attended the Vancouver School of Decorative & Applied Arts from 1927-1932, where his instructors were W.P Weston, Fred Varley and J.W.G. Macdonald, working under the principal Charles H. Scott. Varley in particular would have impressed upon Binning the importance of drawing within the process of creative production.4 Although the drawings of his early career would garner acclaim, Binning's own reflections suggest that he saw drawing not as an end in itself but as a generator of other forms of art, including architecture: If drawing is considered as a subject for development, research and discovery, it can be a vital important preparatory study toward painting, sculpture and architecture. In other words, drawing should be considered as a means to an end, making the experience or study of more value than the product.5 Binning was keenly interested in an architectural career. Both his grandfathers had been architects; later he said he was deterred from his first choice of vocation by an illness in his youth that confined him to his bed for most of a year.6 However thwarted his nascent architectural ambitions might have been, Binning was able to immerse himself in the study and practice of visual arts. In 1936, with the aid of a Carnegie Scholarship, he attended a summer-school workshop at the University of Oregon under the sculptor Eugene Steinhof. In a 4 Ian Thorn, Form + Meaning: The Drawings of B.C. Binning. (Vancouver: Charles H. Scott Gallery, 1997), 9. 5 B.C. Binning, "The Teaching of Drawing," Canadian Art, vol. 5 no. 1 (Autumn 1947), 21. 6 Kay Alsop, "The Artistic Credo of B.C. Binning," UBC Alumni Chronicle (Summer 1973), 18-23. 7 letter to Jessie Wyllie, then his fiancee, he gave an early indication of his architectural values in describing his university accommodation: I have two rooms, a study (see plan) and a bed room — sort of a sleeping porch I share with the later [sic] with a pal (male) from Alaska. Everything is very standard so to speak but on the grand manner — vaulted arch passage ways — high ceilinged & beamed dinning [sic] halls pannelled [sic] doors, a Tudor sort of heavy furniture, all very wonderful & college & "oxford-istic" but gives you the pseudo feeling — a little over stressed — at least to me...7 The letter also indicates his already well-honed spatial and architectural sensibility in its sketch of his dormitory room (fig. 5), complete with a directional indicator penned in, and a brief note: "I think I will move this desk over where the hat rack is."8 Even for a six-week stay in a dormitory room, the young Bert Binning was highly conscious of his surrounding architecture, and had a proclivity to modify it. Binning was an admirer of Amedee Ozenfant, and planned a year-long sojourn in London with the intention of studying under him at the Ozenfant Academy in 1938-1939.9 Many reports describe Binning as a former student of Ozenfant, but Binning could not have spent much time with him. According to his own memoirs, Ozenfant had left London in June of 1938 and returned at the end of October to spend a few months closing down his workshop and apartment; at this time he enlisted Henry Moore as the instructor at his London school.10 Binning began his studies at the end of August at the Central School of Art with Bernard Meninsky and at the Westminster School of Art with Mark Gertler, and did not begin his studies at the Ozenfant Academy until the end of 7 Personal collection of Jessie Binning. 8 Ibid. 9 Jessie Binning, interview, West Vancouver, March 7, 2002. 1 0 Amedee Ozenfant, Memoires 1886-1962. (Paris: Editions Seghers, 1968), 367. 8 1938,11 by which time Ozenfant was preparing to leave for America again. Binning thus had vastly more exposure to Moore than Ozenfant during his overseas study leave. The organic, rounded forms found in much of Moore's output, as seen, for instance, in his 1938 "Reclining Figure" (fig. 4) would have a profound effect on Binning's artistic sensibility. Years later, Binning reflected in an interview that it was Moore who had encouraged him to explore the relationship between disparate forms: It was a matter of putting these forms together in some particular way, where the concave flatness of this foiled itself with the round fullness of other form [sic] or in such a relationship that the whole thing created a kind of impact on the beholder...and one of the ways, which Henry Moore also of course assured me was finding out about this from drawing from nature itself; in other words, from these incidental things that were around you, these twisted bits of roots or strange stone and bone for him; and I had my own collection of things that I was more interested in, and so it goes.12 Although there is little evidence that the relationship between Binning and Moore was closer than a typical teacher-student rapport,13 Binning spoke often and with awe of his famous teacher, and the Binnings accepted an invitation to visit Moore at his Park Hill studio during his year abroad.14 The rich and variegated intellectual and cultural climate of London during his year abroad would have exposed Binning to a number of potential mentors, influences, and inspirational events. "Thorn, 13. 1 2 Interview with Doreen Walker, 1973, (Audio tape in private collection) and in a letter to his mother, March 15, 1939 (collection of Jessie Binning); cited in Thorn, 15. 1 3 The later correspondences between Moore and Binning, limited to nonpersonal matters such as potential commissions, suggest a cordial but distant relationship, never employing each others' first names but always the honorific "Mr." (University of British Columbia Archives, Binning Collection). 1 4 Jessie Binning, interview, West Vancouver, March 7, 2002. 9 The two decades prior to Binning's arrival overseas were an extremely fertile and tumultuous time in architectural history. With the conclusion of the First World War and the Russian Revolution, many nations were ready—and compelled by necessity—to look at new modes of architectural design, to exploit the new technologies and building materials available, and to make a conscious cultural break from past traditions. Various branches of Modernism were entering the collective discourse, with Paris serving as the cultural epicentre and Purism co-founders Le Corbusier and Amedee Ozenfant acting as new arbitrators of Modernism. But London, too, was evolving into a centre of discourse: the first house in England built in the "new manner", as Architectural Review called it, was Peter Behrens' New Ways house for Mr. Bassett-Lowke in Northampton.15 At the theoretical level, notions of perceptual space were being explored and disseminated throughout Europe and England by Heinrich Wolfflin and his disciples, Wilhelm Worringer and Sigfried Giedion. It was within this rich intellectual context, permeated by awareness of optical perception and projective geometry, that emerging Modern architects were working. The Vancouver connections to the London art and design intelligentsia were strong and interrelated. Vancouver architect Peter Oberlander, who was a student at the Architectural Association (A.A.) at the time, cites a group of Londoners who were in some way connected to Canada, particularly the Vancouver region, or soon would be: himself, Wells Coates, Fred Lasserre, John 1 5 F.R.S. Yorke, "The Modern English House: Introduction", Architectural Review (Dec. 1936), 237. 10 Bland, Harold Spence-Sales, Peter Thornton, Hazen Size and Bert Binning.16 Their lives in London revolved around the activities of the Architectural Association, and their subsequent interrelationships and mutual influences would continue after their emigration or return to Canada. In the meantime, the activities of this circle would have provided Binning with exposure to London's architectural leaders. Binning talked and wrote very little of his time in London and of his inspirational sources for the Binning House. Oberlander recalls Binning as having far less proclivity to Corbusian ideals than to the ideals of the architects associated with the A.A., including Berthold Lubetkin and, in particular, Marcel Breuer and Walter Gropius (who was Oberlander's former teacher and himself a former student of Behrens). "The Binning House was a composite of contemporary influences," said Oberlander in a recent interview. "Le Corbusier had little to do with it."17 Much more important were Gropius, Breuer, Maxwell Fry and Sergei Chermayeff, according to Oberlander.18 Gropius, who lectured at the A.A. and whose students included Oberlander,19 was also very active in Q A M 2 0 (Congres Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne) and thus played a prominent role in the London design community in the 1930s, particularly through the MARS group. The CIAM organizers and representatives were often far from united in their goals 1 6 Peter Oberlander, telephone interview, Vancouver, Dec. 2, 2004. 1 7 Ibid. 1 8 Ibid. 1 9 Ibid. 2 0 Eric Mumford, The CIAM Discourse on Urbanism, 1928-1960 (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000), 92. 11 and outlook, however. Various competing political, economic and aesthetic ideologies triggered periodic disputes among CIAM members.21 By this time, Le Corbusier's main efforts were directed towards urbanism and the prospect of housing huge numbers of people. In 1938, 20 years after publication the Purist manifesto in Apres le cubisme, its co-authors were moving on to other domains. Ozenfant himself had ceded that, in terms of the breadth and depth of its influence, the Purist quest had long been waning.22 The influence of Le Corbusier and other continental architects within British design circles was in many ways indirect, filtered as it was through those who visited the Continent and later wrote on their travels or taught at the Architectural Association. But by the late 1930s, England was becoming the epicentre of Modernism, according to the Paris-based journal L'Architecture d" aujourd'hui: L'Angleterre est sans doute le pays ou l'activite" de la construction est aujourd'hui la plus grande, meme dans la domaine de l'habitation privee. Cette periode exceptionnellement prospere a favorise le developpement de l'architecture dite moderne, admise de plus en plus par le public.23 When the Binnings left London in 1939 to return to Canada, they had a prolonged stopover in New York, which at that time was itself experiencing a particularly vibrant moment in its culture. The World's Fair was underway; the Museum of Modern Art was moving into a new, Modernist building on Fifth 2 1 Ibid, 92-94. 2 2 Susan L. Ball, Ozenfant and Purism: The Evolution of a Style 1915-1930 (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1981), 171. 2 3 "Deux Maisons de Vacances a Whipsnade," VArchitecture d'aujourd'hui, No. 1 (January 1938), 45-48. Tr: "England is without a doubt the country where building activity is today at the highest level, even in the area of private housing. This exceptionally prosperous period has encouraged the development of what we call Modern architecture, which is accepted more and more by the public." 12 Avenue; and the inaugural exhibition of MoMA's new building was the ambitious and wide-ranging "Art in Our Time". This exhibition highlighted the recent movements in visual arts, sculpture, photography, film, industrial design and architecture. The visual-arts section prominently featured the paintings of proto-cubist Paul Cezanne as well as the Cubist works of Braque and Picasso. Binning was likely already familiar with their work from his travels in Europe, but here he was viewing the fragmented planes and angular forms in a context that also included, in an adjacent section, the highlights of modern architecture.24 The architecture section was confined to a single programme: "Houses and Housing," divided into two sections, single-family and multiple-unit homes (apartment buildings). In a letter to her mother dated June 4,1939, Jessie Binning wrote the following: Yesterday Bert and I visited an Art Exhibit in the late afternoon, came home and enjoyed fresh green peas, new potatoes and lamb chops. Today, we spent the afternoon at the Museum of Modern Art, it is now in its new building—and what a building—simply wonderful—modern construction and design. We are going again tomorrow afternoon. It opens at 12 and closes at 5 so we will be there when the gates open. There is an admission of 25 cents but I don't begrudge it or think we are extravagant if we go often as there is so much to learn and, oh mother, the way it is presented to the public is a joy to see. It is an atmosphere that Bert and I love—the building itself and the way it has been decorated—both going hand in hand—all worked out together and with the purpose of being an art gallery always in mind. There is a display of architecture (models) which will in itself help people's taste. I mean the clear, precise and beautiful way it has been displayed. A building, it said, should be governed by these 3 principles: built well (construction); work well (function); look well (form). It is inspiring to see that Bert's ideas are right along these progressive lines. Even before we came away, Bert was intensely interested in all such things and since we have been here on our travels I find According to the exhibition catalogue, the Houses and Housing section featured Tugendhat House by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Savoye House by Le Corbusier and Jeanneret, Whipsnade Bungalow by Berthold Lubetkin, Gullischesen House by Alvar and Aino Aalto, Gropius House by Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, Loomis House by William Lescaze, Jacobs House by Frank Lloyd Wright, Superplywood Model House by Richard Neutra, Koch House by Edward Stone and Carl Koch, Watzek House by J.B. Yeon, A.E. Doye and Associates, Model for a Suspended House by Paul Nelson, and Model for Dymaxion House by Buckminster Fuller. Art in Our Time (New York: Museum of Modern Art), 292-307. 13 that all the ideas that are out and discussed by men that are years ahead of their time that Bert is quite at home with them and understands what they are trying to do. Of course I am greatly interested in architecture and sometimes wish that Bert had taken that up, but now when I see how he has progressed in his painting I am glad he has continued in his line. 2 5 The London experience exposed Binning to a wealth of intellectual discourse, which in turn would have prepared him to understand and absorb the radically new architectural ideas exhibited at the MoMA exhibition. Jessie Binning has recalled attending the exhibition with her husband (although disappointed that they were unable to be there in time for its official opening).26 Archival evidence of their attendance is the book Art in Our Time, the original official catalogue of the exhibition, which remains to this day on the bookshelf above the built-in desk. This exhibition catalogue is one of the very few books in Binning's library with a publication date prior to 1940. Among other prominent artists and designers, the catalogue features Henry Moore's "Reclining Figure" (fig. 6). One exhibition entry displayed in Binning's well-thumbed Art in Our Time catalogue seems particularly resonant: the Whipsnade Bungalow (fig. 7-1) by Berthold Lubetkin. With a distinctly canted hallway as its focal point, the floor plan strongly evokes the Binning House layout (fig. 7-2), even though the the rest of the plan is quite different. It reads as though Binning absorbed the essence of the Whipsnade Bungalow (which was built in rural England about an hour away from London) and modified it to his own region and programmatic needs. Letter transcribed by Adrian Archambault from original letter of Jessie Binning. Jessie Binning, interview, West Vancouver, April 12, 2002. 14 The "Houses and Housing" section of Art in Our Time displayed representative work from leaders of the still-new Modern Movement, including the Villa Savoye (fig. 8-1) and the Gropius House (8-2). As the exhibition catalogue stated: "Architects first developed a modern esthetic more consistently in the private house than in any other kind of building. Individual clients were more willing to experiment, or be experimented on, than speculative or commercial builders who were reluctant to take risks."27 Lubetkin's Whipsnade Bungalow (fig. 9-1 and 9-2) was the only project specifically cited in the section's introduction: "Carefully proportioned as an interesting abstract shape in itself, Lubetkin's bungalow is literally aimed like a camera at the superb view of the Bedfordshire meadows."28 [Italics theirs.] The plan of the Whipsnade Bungalow suggests the action imbedded in that description: the action of aiming, rather than the passive adjectival form of conventional architectural analysis. The traditional viewing mode—that is, what the viewer reads as its shape—is less important than how the viewer within it perceives the architecture— not only the interior walls but the world beyond. Its modern form is secondary to how that form is manipulated to adjust the viewing experience of the inhabitant. In the 1930s, Berthold Lubetkin (1901-1990) was renowned for several high-profile architectural projects in London and its environs, most particularly the Highpoint apartment complex and the London Zoo. According to Kenneth Frampton, he was "by far the most influential architect to enter England at this 27 Art in Our Time (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1939), 289. 2 8 Ibid. 15 point," (circa 1930) and his "impact on the development of modern architecture in England has never been adequately appreciated."29 Born in Russia, Lubetkin grew up in the throes of the Soviet revolution and the birth of Constructivism. He moved to Berlin in 1922, where he worked as a junior delegate for the Exhibition of Russian Art that opened in October of that year.30 The exhibition featured the work of Kasimir Malevich, Vladimir Tatlin and other leaders of the Constructivist movement, and marked the reopening of Russian culture with western Europe after World War I and the Russian Revolution.31 In Berlin, Lubetkin began his post-secondary studies and began meeting leaders of the European avant-garde; he then lived in Paris from 1925-1930, associating with Braque, Leger, Picasso, and fellow Russian expatriates Ehrenberg and Mayakovsky.32 He moved to London in 1930, when the intelligentsia in England were embracing what was then often called "the Modern Idea." Lubetkin rejected some Modernists' extremes of rigorous and hygienic austerity, as the first tenet of his Whipsnade Manifesto asserted. The manifesto was featured in a six-page article in the December 1936 edition of The Architectural Review, alongside plans, pictures and descriptive text of the Bungalow at Whipsnade: 2 9 Kenneth Frampton: Modern Architecture: A Critical History, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 252. 3 0 Allan, 43 31 L'Architecture d'aujourd'hui, Vol. 9 No. 1 (January 1938), 45. 3 2 Malcolm Reading and Peter Coe, Lubetkin & Tecton: An Architectural Study (London: Triangle Architectural Publishing, 1992), 14. 16 It is not a "Modern House," a "Shelter," which, according to professors, should be self obliterating, unselfconscious and insignificant in its hygienic anonymity; a thing of which one can only say that it is made of reinforced concrete. It is not a direct or functional result of an haphazard choice of site and of materials; or of the digestive or hygienic customs of its inhabitants; in fact, it is not a sort of mixture of philosophy, gastronomy and statics. It does not pretend that it is nothing but the last modest, silent, and objective link in any chain of specifically nordic or English tradition. It does not try to show that the plan was dictated by any trigonometry of the lines of kitchen circulation, or by angry attempts to trap sunlight into some dust-proof corner, or by the standard length of reinforcing rods. It does not try to prove that its design grew "naturally" from the given conditions like an ordinary pumpkin, Victoria Regia, or deep sea fish. It does not pretend that its plinth, which so effortlessly raises the house by a foot all round, refusing the walls a damp contact with the earth, is conceived for reasons of statics ; although it would be quite easy to explain it on those grounds, as soon as one sees that the cantilevering of the slab reduces the positive moment in the middle of the span. It does not pretend that the trellis of the prefabricated reinforced concrete elements which supports the roof, filled in with thermolux, transparent glass or heating panels, is a rational or logical wall construction. This in spite of the fact that the horizontal elements of the trellis reduce the height of the verticals and so reduce the risk of bending, allowing the thickness of the supports to be decreased. A wall obtained in this way is not necessarily the most economic, logical and rational solution. As a matter of fact, other walls in the same house are monolithically constructed of 4 in. reinforced concrete insulated with 2 ins. of cork, with plaster on the inside, where a solid effect, worthy of a family portrait, was wanted. The flat roof is not a sign of the exhibitionist tendencies of nudist inhabitants ; the bathroom is not top-lit in order that the bather may be more jealously guarded; the cornices are not specially designed for the local cats or sleepwalkers; and the dish-washer in the kitchen has never been in working order. On the contrary, the designer admits that there is, on the walls of the W.C., a collection of cold-blooded tropical butterflies; while the bedspreads have little bells sewn on to them to brighten the dreams of the occupants. The designer admits also that he has not capitulated to the accidents of a site which was forced on him; he excavated eight hundred cubic yards of dazzling chalk full of megalithic fossils, to make a flat lawn and aflat house—where any Czech would have made a house in steps with a roof garden. In certain parts, the Whipsnade Manifesto reads like a rebuttal to Ozenfant's Purist Manifesto; particularly the latter's following tenets: Painting is as good as the intrinsic qualities of its plastic elements, not their representative or narrative possibilities. PURISM expresses the invariant, not the variations. The work must not be accidental, exceptional, impressionistic, inorganic, protesting, picturesque, but, on the contrary, general, static, expressive of the invariant. PURISM wants to conceive clearly, execute loyally, exactly without deceits... PURISM fears the bizarre and the 'original'. It seeks the pure element in order to reconstruct organized paintings which seem to be facts from nature herself...33 Amedee Ozenfant and Le Corbusier, cited in Susan L. Ball, Ozenfant and Purism: The Evolution of a Style 1915-1930 (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1981), 36. 17 In 1938, the Paris-based journal L'Architecture d'aujourd'hui published the Bungalow, with the following commentary on London architecture in general and Lubetkin & Tecton in particular: Les realisations modernes semblent avoir, par leur abondance et leur qualite, converti le public a tel point que les architectes ont pu franchir une nouvelle etape important de revolution des formes et, abandonnant l'austere « cubisme » des premieres annees de combat, ils ont assoupli les contours, arrondi les angles, delache' les volumes du sol. Cette nouvelle phase, signe de detente et de liberte, peut-etre aussi empreinte legere d'un certain retour au baroque, a la mode d'aujourd'hui, est fortement marquee par l'oeuvre de l'architecte Lubetkin et du groupe Tecton.34 The particular kind of "baroque" observed by VArchitecture d'aujourd'hui was strongly exhibited in Lubetkin & Tecton's zoo in London, with its dramatically curved walls. But as well as the curves, this sense of the baroque emanates from the juxtaposition of unusual (oblique or otherwise non-rectilinear) forms in a way that makes the structure evoke a sculpture more than a machine. The carefully qualified wording in L'Architecture d'Aujourd'hui article—a subtle return to a certain kind of baroque, in the fashion of today—suggests that the work of the Tecton group was not easy to classify. It was clearly Modernist in approach, yet evoked a sense of the baroque, the movement whose approach was rejected by Le Corbusier.35 Lubetkin was among the most prominent among the then-small realm of Modern architects. At the same time, in the visual arts, his close friend and VArchitecture d'aujourd'hui, No. 1 (January 1938), 45-48. Tr: "Modern structures seem to have, by virtue of their abundance and their quality, converted the public to the point where architects can proceed to a new and important stage in the evolution of form, and, abandoning the austere 'cubism' of the early years of the struggle, they have softened the contours, rounded the angles, and detached the volumes from the ground. This new phase, a sign of freedom and relaxation, also a subtle sign of a certain return to the baroque—in the fashion of today—is strongly imprinted in the work of the architect Lubetkin and the Tecton group." 3 5 Beatriz Colomina, Privacy and Publicity: Architecture as Mass Media. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994), 6. 18 colleague Henry Moore was gaining international attention for his abstract, organic-looking sculpture. In 1933, Giedion had asked architectural critic Morton Shand to set up a group of progressive architects to take part in CIAM (Congres Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne). This society, the MARS Group (Modern Architectural Research), was also co-founded by Wells Coates. Lubetkin joined the MARs group soon afterward.36 Coates was known and admired by Henry Moore,37 and would also have been closely acquainted with Lubetkin through the MARS Group. It is not known whether Binning ever visited the Whipsnade bungalow in person, or any of the other architectural projects exhibited at the MoMA, for that matter. He was, however, acquainted with Lubetkin and most of the other prominent leaders at the A.A., according to Peter Oberlander. As Oberlander recalls: Lubetkin was very enigmatic and highly charismatic. He was a highly significant influence on that whole group of Canadians. [Binning and Lubetkin] knew each other vaguely as members of the group that revolved around the AA. And Lubetkin was the leading light at the AA. 3 8 Although the Villa Savoye was also featured in the 1939 New York Museum of Modern Art exhibition, it was the Whipsnade Bungalow which has made a more perceptible impression in Binning's work. 3 6 Allan, 108. 3 7 Affirmed in letter from Henry Moore to B.C. Binning, dated Aug. 27, 1959. (University of BritishColumbia archives, Binning collection). 3 8 Oberlander, telephone interview, Vancouver, Dec. 2, 2004. 19 III. The Vancouver Context circa 1940 Upon his return from London in 1939, Binning began planning his own residence on a waterview lot in West Vancouver. It was at a pivotal moment in the history of modern housing. With the commencement of World War II, Vancouver was facing an acute housing shortage for wartime workers, and also grappling with the longer-term issue of providing permanent housing for the expected postwar population growth. Designers and builders were compelled to look for alternative housing approaches, even if few were ready to embrace the emerging Modernist paradigm. One temporary solution was the construction of wartime housing cottages (fig. 10-1) at approximately $2,000 each. The cottages bear the simplified features of a traditional house: pitched roof, mullioned window. With no basement, furnace, plaster or other amenities, however, they were not suitable for long-term housing.39 Local developers were vying to construct basic, low-cost detached homes with the assistance of the Canadian government's National Housing Administration in Ottawa.40 One such proposition, by Quality Homes Corp. and Vancouver Titles Ltd., called for the construction of 1,000 permanent homes at a total cost of $2.5-million. Their presentation report features a photograph of recently constructed low-cost houses on Knight Road (fig. 10-2) designed by Sharp, Thompson Berwick and Pratt, that would serve as a model for a thousand new homes. Depending on special request of individual owners, 39 Plan to Build 1000 Low Cost Homes (Vancouver: Quality Homes Corp. and Vancouver Titles Ltd., 1942, City of Vancouver archives), 7. 4 0 Ibid, 13. 20 each home would be priced between $2,500 and $3,000, "which includes the lot, house, furnace, fireplace and all modern conveniences."41 Despite the subsequent Modernist legacy of Sharp, Thompson, Berwick & Pratt, this model of low-cost housing is emphatically neo-traditional, in effect a rather awkward grafting of traditional elements onto a bulky massing. The existing literature on the Binning House generally reiterates the idea that it was a straightforward Rationalist plan that would be a paradigm for mass housing. "Binning wanted an inexpensive house that could provide a model for ordinary housing," wrote Rhodri Liscombe in The New Spirit: Modern Architecture in Vancouver 1938-196.41 Susan Bronson, writing in Architecture in Canada, also describes the Binning House as an "inexpensive" design and construction. "In response to the changing social, economic, and political conditions of the day," writes Bronson, "it was intended to provide a model for houses and housing that were economical in construction and sensitive to their setting."43 This assessment of the Binning Residence as a paradigm for budget housing in the region has appeared in so many texts that it appears incontrovertible. Yet there is stronger evidence that Binning neither intended nor created such a paradigm. Binning's model of contemporary housing was different from other Vancouver housing, with its avoidance of gratuitous signifiers of tradition such as steeply pitched roofs, ersatz dormer windows, false tudor sheathing and excessive window mullions. But despite the forgoing of these embellishments, the house cost significantly more than both the both the 4 1 Ibid, 25. 4 2 Liscombe, 40. 4 3 Susan D. Bronson, "Binning Residence, West Vancouver, Architecture in Canada, 21A (Summer 2002), 51-64. 21 government wartime housing and also private developers' budget housing. The lot at 2698 Mathers was purchased for the sum of $600 and the "value added" (the assessed cost and market value of construction) from the District of West Vancouver was estimated at $4,500 in 1942, according to a city assessment.44 While wartime conditions did inflate costs of building materials and labour, $5,100 in 1942 dollars was still a substantially high price for a small family house; over double the price offered by the Quality Homes/Vancouver Titles partnership that same year. (In a 1950 Western Homes and Living article, Binning estimated it would cost $10,000 to build his house anew.45) While not an extravagant home, the Binning House is not—and never was— an example of low-cost housing. Many aspects of the Binning House design were not budget-oriented. Among them: the fireplace wall, built by artisans using stone from nearby Cypress Creek quarry; and the extensive built-in shelving and cabinetry, also hand-crafted by artisans.46 Regionally quarried stone would be economically more efficient than specifying imported stone, but the very existence of a hand-built stone wall belies the concept of replicable, low-budget Modernism. As well as incurring the basic transportation and labour costs, this particular stone wall, with its canted positioning, would have required additional adjustments to the hardwood flooring and the ceiling in its construction. 4 4 District of West Vancouver Notice of Assessment, 1942. Collection of Jessie Binning. B.C. Binning himself seemed to confirm this assessment in a 1951 Western Homes & Living article, "The B.C. Binning House," by estimating that his house would cost $10,000 to build in contemporary dollars, a sum that roughly corresponds to the 10-year inflation of $4,500 over that particular time period. 4 5 John Woodworth, "The B.C. Binning House", Western Homes and Living (December 1950), 15-18. ^Liscombe, 112. 22 The clerestory window is sufficiently distorted from the rectilinear norm that it would have necessitated custom specification. Susan Bronson suggested the following: Although the construction drawings suggest that the doors and windows, which were generous in size compared to the standard windows and doors available at the time, were custom-designed for the house, their detailing reveals that they were conceived in a manner that could easily be mass produced.47 Bronson's wording suggests that it is the larger size that necessitated their custom design; the unusual canting of the studio clerestory is not specified in this or any other article. In fact, the height of the panes in this clerestory frame starts out at 18 inches at the south end nearest the door and rises to 24.5 inches at the north end.48 It is difficult to conceive an efficient mass-production method for such project-specific window dimensions as found in the Binning House. Binning did refrain from traditional decorative embellishment and did specify low-cost features in many areas, such as the factory-made glass doors, the simple painted plaster for the studio walls, and the commercial bowl fixture for the built-in living-room lights49 If Binning had been aspiring to make a replicable housing model, he should have restricted himself to pragmatic, rectilinear window shapes that could be mass-produced. More likely, this was not his primary intention in the first place. In his writings, Binning himself emphasized art more than function: The architect builds with a great variety of materials, many of which have a wide range of colour, texture and pattern. The choice of which material to use is not always dependent on structural or functional reasons but often concerned with the aesthetic requirements of the building.50 Bronson, 57. As measured by Adele Weder and Joanne Gates on April 12, 2002. Woodworm, 18. B.C. Binning, "Colour in Architecture," Canadian Art, 11.4, 1954, 141. For a house which has often been celebrated for its simplicity of form, economy of construction and pragmatic ethos, these canted and trapezoidal elements defy immediate explanation. A close investigation thus shows that the Binning House is neither an overtly simple plan, nor a particularly economical construction, nor a model that can be easily replicated. It is, rather, as unique as his own individual works of art. 24 IV. Convergence of Influences When Binning set about to design his house, he would have had at his disposal—and seems to have used—the second edition of Architectural Graphic Standards for Architects, Engineers, Decorators, Builders and Draftsmen, published in 1936 and still stored in the basement in the Binning House.51 This 284-page illustrated guidebook offered precise diagrams and explained symbols and terms involved in virtually every feature of standard house design, including the wiring and plumbing, and construction of chimney flues. Whatever practical use its instructions and diagrams likely served, there is no indication that Binning drew any particular design inspiration from this textbook. The elements illustrated in Architectural Graphic Standards are conventional 19th-century gestures: perpendicular corners, sloped roofs, mullioned windows. The book would have afforded him a step-by-step guide to steer him, a non-architect through the practical process of designing a house. The only evidence of any sort of hand notation is a simple "X", in red pen, appearing on page 92. The page is headed "Wood Joist & Rafter Sizes" and presents a table of the maximum spans for load-bearing floor joists and rafters which are tabled for various woods (douglas fir, western hemlock, and spruce), lumber sizes, and for plastered or unplastered conditions.52 Charles George Ramsey and Harold Reeve Sleeper, Architectural Graphic Standards, Second Edition. (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1936), 92. 25 The Binning House as it stands is, in its principal programme, something of a mirror image of the Whipsnade Bungalow, in that the bedroom is at the terminus of the expanding gallery space and the kitchen is adjacent to its narrow mouth. But according to Jessie Binning, her husband's original intention was to build according to the first plan, with the kitchen and foyer at the west end and bedroom at the east, but she persuaded him to switch orientations.53 The final blueprint (fig. 2) compared with the alternative ground floor plan (fig. 11) shows that this orientation was in fact switched at some point. (Both sets of plans indicate a carport, which was never built; the studio was built in its place within the plan.) These two partial sets of alternative plans in the Canadian Centre for Architecture archives show an orientation that more closely resembles the Whipsnade Bungalow, with the central gallery fanning out from west to east. Of the Modern house images that one can be certain were viewed by Binning—that is, the emblematic modern houses in the MoMA's "Art in Our Time" exhibition, the Whipsnade Bungalow plan has, at a cursory glance, the most resonance with the plan of the Binning House in terms of literal imagery. But the most critical aspect is not whether or which gestures were "borrowed" by Binning, but rather the evidence it supplies that Binning was absorbing the "Modern Idea" from all facets and perspectives, not just the doctrine of Purism, Rationalism, or any other dogmatic credo. The Whipsnade Manifesto's negational quality—its anti-manifesto stance—is evidently the philosophical approach either absorbed by Binning, or towards which he was already naturally inclined. In the design of his house, Binning embraced some Early Jessie Binning, personal interview, West Vancouver, April 12, 2002, West Vancouver. 26 Modern precepts (open plan, for example)—even as he defied others (decorative mural on the outside and inside wall sections). He thus assimilated the most critical cultural forces in a way that cannot be categorized along the clean lines of Modern dogma. The Binning House is arguably as much or more "Lubetkinian" as "Corbusian" or "Gropian"; it may in fact owe more to Henry Moore than any single architect; it could as easily be termed "neo-constructivist" as "Modernist". Given Binning's expressed admiration for Amedee Ozenfant, and very brief study at his London school, it is not surprising that the Binning House is often linked to, or cited as an example of, the Purism of Le Corbusier and Ozenfant. As noted, Binning did adopt the open plan championed by Le Corbusier; he also seems to have aspired to attain Ozenfant's understanding of how light works within a space, although he did not exhibit Ozenfant's rigorously scientific approach to the subject.54 Yet the distinction between the domestic architecture of Binning and Le Corbusier is evident in a comparison of Corbusian houses with similar programmes, such as the 1931 Villa Savoye (fig. 8), or the 1935 Maison de Weekend. Both of the Corbusian houses are based on a square plan softened by the counterpoint of a curve (the stairway in the Villa Savoye; the rounded interior brick wall in Maison de Weekend). Yet this evocation is strikingly different from the ethos and aesthetic celebrated in the Binning House. The Corbusian houses are rigorous in its geometric symmetry and box-like form. Compare Ozenfant, "Colour and Method", Architectural Review, vol. 81 no. 1 (Jan 1937), 89-91, and B.C. Binning, "Colour in Architecture", Canadian Art, vol. 11 no. 4, (Nov. 1954), 141. 27 From the outside, they read as closed boxes. Neither the Villa Savoye nor the Maison de Weekend express the sense of dynamism and irregularity that are found in the Binning House and in the Whipsnade Bungalow. Although Le Corbusier's design approach had already evolved significantly in the decade between the constructions of the Villa Savoye and the Binning House, the Villa Savoye would have been the Corbusian project most accessible to Binning as he began his design. Since Binning was an artist by profession, with architecture as a sideline activity, he would not have had the opportunity or inclination to pore over the contemporary design periodicals with the breadth and rigour of his colleagues in the realm of professional architecture. The "Art in Our Time" exhibition and its accompanying catalogue, with its assemblage of the most emblematic modern houses of the 1930s, would likely have had an inordinate influence on him, as presupposed by Jessie Binning in her letter from New York to her mother. One may conclude that Binning's year immersed in the cultural discourse of London prepared him to understand, synthesize and re-interpret the variegated modern architecture he ingested at the Museum of Modern Art in 1939. In the year following his return from London, Binning's drawings exhibit a proclivity to disparate forms, arranged on a diagonal framework. The breakfast tray of "Jessie at Tea Table," (fig. 12) for instance, reads as a trapezoid. There is little doubt that the unusual contours of this tray were very deliberate, given Binning's professed attentiveness to the general compositional form: One of the cardinal principles of my drawing is this whole business of selection and rejection. What is it you want to say exactly—what do you want to put down—and what do you want to throw out and being quite ruthless about this 28 process of using only those parts that would enhance the design and my intentions...55 [The drawings] kept a kind of spontaneity in them because there was, really you had the confidence of knowing your minor discoveries would work all the while, once you had established the main structure, and so you let yourself go within this main structure. But the main structure, I can assure you, was very carefully thought out.56 Similarly, in the composition of "Untitled" (Fig. 13), the boats, roofline, rockery and fencing generate a series of lines skewing away from the Cartesian grid into a series of trapezoidal zones. "Untitled" is on a technical level a very simple line drawing, but on a spatial level appears to be a rather simple line drawing, but a closer analysis suggests a very carefully considered arrangement of elements, as Ian Thorn observes: Binning has created an extremely complex spatial system within the confines of this small drawing. A world is seen through a port-hole or window but where the space of the composition begins and our space ends is ambiguous. A single line at the left of the composition serves as frame, side of the cliff, edge of the roadway and device to direct our vision. The movement within the image is similarly complex—as the road leads towards the viewer, so a parallel movement is traced through the rocks down to the house below.57 Even the implied lines of the "parallel movement" of the road and rocks are fanning away from each other in "Untitled," however, once again evoking the trapezoidal leitmotif. The "single line" at the left frames and generates the composition, just as the gallery wall of his own house serves to generate and also emphasizes its unusual floor plan. Throughout the 1940s, the lines in Binning's drawings and paintings often appeared fluid, almost whimsical. (Of his earlier, pre-England period, virtually nothing survives.) Although he would eventually turn to a hard, geometric abstraction, at the outset of his career, his favoured subject matter was boats, B.C. Binning, interview with Doreen Walker, June 13, 1972 (transcript from original tape recording, in UBC Fine Arts and Vancouver Art Gallery), cited in Thorn, 26 5 6 Ibid, 29. 5 7 Thorn, 32. 29 marinas and the region's natural setting. Binning's line drawings of the 1940s gained him a national reputation, according to Scott Watson in a 1986 edition of Vanguard: These evocations of westcoast leisure pit the "inspired moment" against the certitude of an underlying and premeditated structure.58 The certitude of an underlying and premeditated structure suggests a philosophic alliance with Ozenfant. But in pitting his "inspired moment" against this very certitude, Binning was venturing beyond Purism. Although Watson did link Binning closely to Ozenfant, he also noted the following: Ozenfant argued against inspiration and the use of accident or chance. He believed in formulae, which any diligent student could master to the point of professionalism. The motion of the aberrant genius as an individual isolated from society was repugnant to a modernist who aimed for the creation of a universal art form....Binning was somewhat more permissive with himself and his students.59 Watson's diplomatic "somewhat more permissive" modifier hints at the problem with considering Binning as a disciple of Ozenfant: Binning's work did not advocate or present a formula. While Binning did want art and architecture to be universally available and widely appreciated art forms,60 the work itself—be it a line drawing, a painting, a mural, or his own house—was not amenable to replication or standardization. In this sense, to borrow Watson's term, Binning was an aberrant genius. 5 8 Scott Watson, "B.C. Binning: Modernism in a Classical Calm", Vanguard 15.3 (Summer 1986), 23. 5 9 Ibid. 6 0 "Profound Influence on Human Lives: No One Can Disregard Architecture Says Speaker," Vancouver New-Herald, Jan. 24, 1942. 30 V. The Problem of Categorization In A History of Canadian Architecture, historian Harald Kalman describes the Binning House as follows: The international style's flat roof, modular arrangement of the interior space, and glazed southern exposure were a radical change from the cozy conventions of the time."61 The House was clearly a radical change from local conventions. At that time, virtually no examples of modernist residential design existed on the West Coast. Van Norman's Halterman House of 1937, although acclaimed at the time as a "modern" house, still primarily manifested a Cape Cod, neo-Georgian American Colonial appearance.62 It was undeniably true that the Binning House distinguished itself from Vancouver's neotraditional homes of the time, such as the Sharp, Thompson, Berwick & Pratt development on Knight Street, (fig 8) Yet the Binning House was neither modular nor, arguably, of the International Style. As built, the basic floor plan (fig. 2, fig. 7-2) is indeed comprised of two parallel strips bisected by a gallery—but a crucial feature of this gallery is its fan-like expansion from the front door to its termination at the washroom, bedroom and studio entrances. The gallery wall is canted but also exhibits a pronounced curve as it widens towards its western terminus at the bathroom.63 Jessie Binning has insisted that this curve was, in fact, unintentional, the result of the supporting beam bending and partly breaking during construction.64 The final and alternative plans (figs. 9 and 10), now in the archives at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, shows a cleanly canted, non-curved wall for the gallery wall, which Kalman, Phillips, Ward, Exploring Vancouver, 244. 6 2 Harald Kalman, A History of Canadian Architecture, Vol. 2 (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1994), 787. 6 3 From a width of 55.5 inches at the eastern end, the gallery widens to 78 inches at the western end, as measured by A. Weder on April 12, 2002. 6 4 Jessie Binning, personal interview, Binning House, West Vancouver, April 12, 2002. 31 suggests that her recollection is accurate and that Binning did not intend that wall to be curved. For a visitor looking down the length of the narrowing gallery towards the entrance (fig. 14-1) or viewing it from a fixed position within the living room (fig. 14-2), the cant and curve of the gallery wall imbues it with a subtle sense of movement. This effect seems to be generated by the projective geometry of the wall. Even if unintended, the slight curvature of the wall seems to enhance the effect of movement, imbuing it with an imprecise, painterly quality. Binning originally conceived the house with an embedded carport, as indicated in the plans in the Canadian Centre for Architecture archives. There is no known plan or blueprint in existence of the house as it was eventually built. It is highly possible that he reconfigured the second plan in his head as construction proceeded, without bothering to draw up an additional, final plan. While the roof is designed as a plane—or rather a system of two planes—it is arguably not flat, in the sense that it is angled at a slight pitch. Like the obliquely angled walls, the canting of this elevation feature generates additional trapezoidal forms within the design: the clerestory window in the studio, for instance. Although by casual observation this window appears as a rectilinear strip, it is in fact a slowly expanding elongated trapezoid. Jessie Binning describes her husband's decision to deviate from the standard grid as very deliberate. More than 60 years after its construction, she said that her husband devised these angled walls to "open up" the rooms, literally to the outside view, and also in a metaphoric spirit of extension—but, she added: 32 ... I think he over-did it. It got so complicated; we had to make furniture a special way to get it to fit with the walls. It made things a lot more difficult and more expensive. It was ridiculous!65 If any particular group is to be credited with inspiring the Binning House, it seems evident it should be the London A.A. circle—most particularly Berthold Lubetkin and the Whipsnade Bungalow. Lubetkin figured in the roster of architects whose influence spread to British Columbia by way of architectural journals. Douglas Simpson, for instance, was carefully studying the European journals such as L'Architecture d'aujourd'hui, which in January 1938 published Berthold Lubetkin's weekend house near the village of Whipsnade, England.66 The Whipsnade Bungalow, wrote Liscombe, "combined severely rationalized formal composition, open planning, and lightweight construction with careful orientation to natural setting."67 Yet with its fanned-out hallway, curved wall sections and oddly circuitous circulation route, Lubetkin's house was no more "severely rationalized" than Binning's; one could argue that its wilfulness rendered it with a kind of anti-Rationalism. (It should be noted that in The New Spirit: Modern Architecture in Vancouver 1938-1963, Liscombe briefly mentions the Whipsnade Bungalow, and discusses the Binning House over several paragraphs illustrated with photographs, but he does not suggest a relationship between the two projects.) The immediate visual connect between the Whipsnade Bungalow and the Binning House is the canted hallway that serves as the focal point of the plan. The idea of such an unusual form as a design generator is unusual in Rationalist Liscombe, 34. 33 terms. The compulsion to categorize the house within the tenets of the broader Modern Movement is in itself problematic. Binning—an artist first and architect second—was likely not immersed in the architectural press and discourse to the extent of the leading professional architects, and thus not enslaved to the ever-shifting rhetoric of the times. His most immediate and intense immersion would have been realized in the broader interdisciplinary culture of the London art and design community, and then crystallized in the highly focused and permanently documented experience of Modern architecture at the MoMA. Since it does not fall neatly into an architectural sub-category, the Binning House is best read as a work of multi-dimensional art. The splayed geometric order directs the eye towards different parts of the house, creating a narrative that unfurls as a viewer walks through the space. This narrative is manifest in the photographic installation of the Binning House by Vancouver artist Ami Haraldsson. His sequence of photographic images begins with an exterior shot (fig 15-1), the corner of the studio with the canted clerestory swelling towards the front of the picture plane and exaggerating the foreshortening effect of perspective. Looking down the length of the gallery from the entrance foyer (fig. 15-2), the viewer beholds a segment of gallery that appears highly dynamic, almost as though it were moving away from the fixed point of the visitor. This effect results from the gallery wall being "off the grid". There appears to be no single fixed point of perspective. The effect of these angular distortions upon the visitor is subtle, which is likely why the critical and descriptive accounts of the Binning House fail to mention them, but the visual impact is significant nonetheless. From the perspective offered by a living-room chair facing the 34 fireplace wall, for instance, that canted stone wall reads as active rather than passive—almost literally so, because of the unexpected optic generated by the wall's angle, which makes the wall seem as though it is slowly fanning outward from the vantage point of the observer. This perception is reinforced by the inclusion of a shallow rectangular void in the upper-right-hand area of the wall. The wall thus reads more like a motion or act than an inert form. In the study area, the trapezoidal desktop (fig. 15-3) leads the eye inward, much as the oblique and curving lines in much of Binning's artworks draw the eye towards the centre of the composition. In the bedroom, (fig. 15-4) the bookshelf/bedboard built into the east wall is also designed with non-parallel lines that generate an especially long, narrow trapezoid that almost disappears into the wall at its northern end. In the studio, the clerestory window (fig. 15-5) subtly expands towards the front facade, generating two nonparallel lines that recall a leitmotif of his early drawings such as "Jessie at Tea." The oblique linearity extends through the rear facade's series of glass doors to the exterior of the house, further blurring the boundary of inside-outside (fig. 15-6). These gestures within the lines of the floor plan (fig. 2) give the effect of a montage. Binning, in effect, has made a three-dimensional montage in architecture. The inflected orthogonal continues along the southern wall leading to the terrace, with a series of canted paving stones both inside and out (fig. 16). Their very pronounced angle directs the eye through the interior of the house and towards the gallery wall. On close examination the angle of the paving stones 35 appears quite pronounced,68 yet most descriptions of the Binning House fail to mention this aspect, or even inaccurately describe "terraces of square paving stones".69 This oversight might be partly explained by the published plan in Western Homes and Living (fig. 9-2), which featured a rough approximation of the house plan, rendering the paving stones as squares. The original plans at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (fig. 9-1) clearly show the south-terrace paving stones as trapezoidal, although Bronson again refers to "square concrete pavers" while referring to these plans.70 The reflexive perception of the house components as rectangular or square—when they are in fact inflected from the orthogonal—suggests less about the visual acuity of its many observers as it does about the essence of Binning's approach. It seems likely that he did not want the angles to appear obvious, but rather to imbue the architecture with an expansive, dynamic quality. As an artist more accustomed to working on a two-dimensional sheet of paper, Binning might possibly have underestimated how exaggerated the inflection had to be in order to be obvious. To most visitors, the writing desk and gallery are the only obvious non-parallel forms in the house. These kinds of visual effects are prevalent throughout the house and integral to its appreciation. Paving stones are canted roughly 10 degrees off a standard 90-degree-angle grid, as measured by A. Weder, April 12, 2002. 6 9 Bronson, 58 36 V I . Optical Qualities The house is conceived like much of Binning's early drawings and paintings, with compositional lines that deviate off the implied grid, drawing the viewers' gaze around the perimeter of the canvas (fig. 13), or contorting the perspective of buildings and ships within his drawings (fig. 14). In this manner, Binning's house and art both exhibit aspects of the spatial investigations that emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century with Cubism. The Cubists, wrote Giedion in Space, Time and Architecture: ...seek to extend the scale of optical vision as contemporary science extends the law of matter. Therefore contemporary spatial approach has to get away from the single point of reference." The advancing and retreating planes of cubism, interpenetrating, hovering, almost transparent, without anything to fix them in realistic position, are in fundamental contrast to the lines of perspective, which converge to a single focal point.71 A 1942 edition of Space, Time and Architecture still stands on Binning's bookshelf above his built-in desk. It is likely that he had read part or all of it before he built his house: Giedion had disseminated it as a series of lectures at Harvard University in 1938, and it is likely that Giedion's circle of London colleagues—which includes Wells Coates, and thus, by extension, Bert Binning—would have been exposed to it as well. The first American edition was published in 1939. Another possibility is that Binning was indirectly influenced by the broad effect the book had on the international design community. Sigfried Giedion, Space, Time and Architecture (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Fourth Edition, 1962), 433. 37 Whatever direct influence Giedion may have had on Binning, it must be considered in the context of a much broader interest in and exploration of spatial optics, throughout the international art and design community since the early years of the twentieth century. In Space, Time and Architecture Giedion credits the first conception of four-dimensional space-time to the mathematician Hermann Minkowski's 1908 treatise Space and Time.72 Around the same time, artists in France and Italy were developing the concept in painting and sculpture, in what would soon be known as the Cubist movement. Giedion introduces himself in Space, Time and Architecture as a disciple of Heinrich Wolfflin, his instructor and mentor.73 Wolfflin's Principles of Art History (1915) had laid out what Wolfflin considered art's conceptual dialectics: linear/painterly, plane/recession, closed/open form, multiplicity /unity, and clarity/ unclearness. Giedion consciously adopted this methodology of grouping in contrasting pairs.74 A visual artist in Binning's position—architecturally inclined; willing and able to design his own home—would have been a enthusiastic recipient of Giedion's ideas. In Space, Time and Architecture, Giedion discusses Le Corbusier's work at substantial length. Like Binning, Le Corbusier was a painter and a designer, a combination which Giedion cited as a particular advantage in the exploration of spatial perception.75 Binning was almost certainly familiar with the Villa Savoye: in addition to its renown in Europe and England in the late 1930s, it was also featured in the MoMA exhibition and catalogue Art in Our Time. The Binning 7 2 Giedion, 14. 7 3 Ibid, 2. 7 4 Ibid. 7 5 Ibid, 514. 38 House and Villa Savoye look markedly dissimilar, although they both share the characteristic of being constructed of interpenetrating spaces. In Space, Time and Architecture, Giedion reiterates Le Corbusier's Five Points and the projects they generated, including the Villa Savoye: It is impossible to comprehend the Savoye house by a view from a single point; quite literally, it is a construction in space-time. The body of the house has been hollowed out in every direction: from above and below, within and without. A cross section at any point shows inner and outer space penetrating each other inextricably.76 Even if, as previously noted, the Binning House does not embody most of these five points, it does feature one of them: the open plan. Also like the Villa Savoye, the Binning House is not understood from a single fixed reference point, as in classical perspective. Binning thus adopted a certain Corbusian aspect—the concept of shifting points of reference—while ignoring the dictates that result in the tight, tense plan of the Villa Savoye. Le Corbusier's architectural ideals included this concept of organizing axes generating a distinctive optical perception: If the canoe, the musical instrument, the turbine, all results of experiment and calculation, appear to us to be "organized" phenomena, that is to say as having in themselves a certain life, it is because they are based upon that axis. From this we get a possible definition of harmony, that is to say a moment of accord with the axis which lies in man, and so with the laws of the universe—a return to universal law.77 Le Corbusier's regulating axis is a fixed element along which the architectural landscape unfurls: 7 6 Ibid, 518. 7 7 Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture. (Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, 1986 ed.),212. 39 In each of these buildings, the promenade moves through a virtual grid of pilotis arranged in classical spatial rhythms, which provides centering (the central bay in the grid is bracketed by the others and therefore is stressed).78 In the Villa Savoye, the evenly-spaced pilotis create a series of spatial planes that viewers can connect to while walking by.79 The Villa Savoye, according to Le Corbusier, shares the aspect of Arab architecture: It is appreciated by walking on foot; it is by walking, by moving, that one sees the order of the architecture developing. It is a principle contrary to that of baroque architecture, which is conceived on paper, around a fixed theoretical point. I prefer the lesson of Arab architecture. In [the Villa Savoye] it's a question of a real architectural promenade, offering constantly changing views, unexpected, sometimes astonishing. Beatriz Colomina describes this architectural promenade of Le Corbusier in cinematic terms: The point of view of modern architecture is never fixed, as in baroque architecture, or in the model of vision of the camera obscura, but always in motion, as in film or in the city. Crowds, shoppers in a department store, railroad travelers, and the inhabitants of Le Corbusier's houses have in common with movie viewers that they cannot fix (arrest) the 80 image. This cinematic aspect also applies to the Binning House and Whipsnade Bungalow, but in a different way. In the case of the latter houses, the architectural landscape is not ordered by a series of discrete rectilinear spatial planes but rather a space that gradually expands or contracts as you walk through it or past it. Instead of abruptly shifting perspectives of landscape and architectural events, the Binning House's narrative unfurls even as the viewer stands in a fixed position. There are no pilotis to divide up the architectural scenes like a cinematic frame. Both promenades have motion, but the Binning House's dynamic has more in common with Wolfflin/Giedion concept of the Jean La Marche, The Familiar and the Unfamiliar in Twentieth-Century Architecture (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003), 48. Ibid, 49. Colomina, 6. 40 Baroque, as a unity of motion. This aspect of the Binning House would seem to be complying with Wolfflin's commentary on visual representation breaking free from rigid perspectival order: There comes a moment when the plane relation slackens and the receding sequence of the picture forms begins to speak, where the contents of the picture can no longer be grasped in plane sections, but the nerve lies in the depreciated plane. An ideated foreground plane will always be present, but the possibility is no longer allowed to arise that the form unites in a plane.81 Like Bertram Binning, Berthold Lubetkin never completed formal studies in architecture. He studied part-time at several different institutions in Europe, including the Berlin Textile Institute, where he encountered the teaching and theories of Wilhelm Worringer. According to Lubetkin biographer John Allan, Worringer was a key influence in Lubetkin. Worringer considered design as a dialectical process, wherein solids and voids visually interact with each other in a circular geometry that infuses dynamism into the design. This dialectic expressed itself in, for instance, textile design: The profusion and multitude of designs can be broadly classified in two big groups: the static and the dynamic designs... [The latter has] no beginning, no end, no climax and no resolution." Dynamic design "has a conceptual meaning, that it is attempting in geometrical forms to express a system of thought whereby the parts are relevant only in terms of the constantly-changing whole.82 Applied to architecture, Worringer's tenets would render Lubetkin's significant architectural projects, including Highpoint Apartments, the London Zoo, and the Whipsnade Bungalow, as dynamic in their implied motion. The Whipsnade Bungalow reads like a pulley or a crankshaft: the eye visually rolls from one curve to another, drawn by the impetus of the complementary form. Heinrich Wblfflin, Principles of Art History. (New York: Dover Publications, 1932; rev. edition 1950) 74. 8 2 Cited in Allan, 48. 41 If the early Modern house was a machine for living in, then that presents it as a chattel: moveable, interchangeable, and able to stand on pilotis, independent of the site. Lubetkin's Modern idea, by contrast, deliberately angles the walls to "aim" the windows out at the view and transforms the dwelling into an optical mechanism for the benefit of the inhabitant within, rather than the view of the house from the outside—the more common critical perspective. In devising the house so that optical qualities would be triggered by walking through its spaces, such that the architecture is in one sense activated by the act of experiencing it. Optical perception was also a fundamental component of Lubetkin's approach to architecture and art. To Lubetkin, the integration of art and architecture was critical, as the turn of events regarding his commission for Moore illustrates: in 1939, Lubetkin asked Moore to create a sculpture for an alcove in his penthouse flat at Highpoint, the Modern apartment block which he himself had designed. Moore produced a model of the elmwood carving, titled "Reclining Figure," which the sculptor assumed would be viewed at eye level. One biographer records that since the alcove was in fact eight feet off the ground, Lubetkin rejected the model on the grounds that it would not be viewed at the appropriate angle.83 8 4 The informal commission suggests their mutual interest in and influence of the other's discipline. 8 3 Roger Berthoud, The Life of Henry Moore (London: Faber and Faber, 1987), 159. Berthoud adds that the completed sculpture, "Reclining Figure" would eventually rank as one of Moore's finest works. 8 4 William Packer, another Moore biographer, cites Lubetkin's sudden retirement and subsequent move from the penthouse as the reason for rejecting the sculpture. Henry Moore: An Illustrated Biography. (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1985), 115. 42 The "Reclining Figure" series of sculptures (fig. 4), are considered emblematic of Moore's wood carvings from the period 1936-1939, which were characterized by "opening out," and "the disruption of the volumes of the female body by holes, cavities and concavities," as one critic put it.85 One could also apply this observation to the expanding hallway and concave/convex foyer wall of Lubetkin's Whipsnade Bungalow. In the Whipsnade Bungalow, the floor plan (and, one assumes, the experience of walking through that space) suggests the embodied experience of an expanding perspective. This floor plan defies the tenets of Functionalism, the most logical and rational floorplan for economics and efficiency of inhabitation. Authors Malcolm Reading and Peter Coe argue that the design of the Whipsnade Bungalow was driven by its perennial function as an architectural paradigm for visitors in the profession: "Lubetkin intended the house to be understood as both a personal experiment and as a demonstration piece for the benefit of other members of the practice."86 (Italics theirs.) The floorplan would allow a continuous circulation for visitors in the main body of the house, or the option of a dramatic catwalk down the bedroom corridor to the washroom. The canted hallway not only presents a distinctive drama of a long walk, but would also afford an oddly elongated perspective to the person coming out of the bathroom or farthest bedroom. The house would offer the conventional exterior view to behold like a picture, but also an enhanced or exaggerated sense of perspective imbued within the interior view. This phenomenon would be Erich Neumann, The Archetypal World of Henry Moore (New York: Pantheon Books, 1959), 43. 8 6 Reading and Coe, 45. 43 aesthetic but not decorative, Modern but not Functionalist. One could consider it as a neo-Constructivist approach, mediated through Corbusian ideals, that demands its own distinct category. The optical qualities in the Binning House assume the role of traditional architecture's ornamentation in providing a lyrical quality to the dwelling-place. But its willful, nonfunctional quality is embodied in rather than tacked onto the walls; it can be read either as a homage to the science of light, or, more likely, as a more intuitive artistic approach to manipulate the experience of the house for the viewer. The mannered perspectival arrangement both defers to and challenges a visitor's expectations of perception. In most of the photographs taken of the front facade, this clerestory reads as though it were in a classical vanishing-point perspective—yet the viewer looking with particular attention will perceive it as what it is: an exaggerated perspective, like the vibrantly distorted perspective of his fishing boat (fig. 12). It is also possible that Binning did not so much draw inspiration from Lubetkin as work in accord with his ideals as a natural outgrowth from studying in London at that time. Once immersed in the idea and aesthetic of the Modern as endorsed by Le Corbusier, Gropius, Breuer et al, Binning might well have consciously employed the defining gesture of the Whipsnade Bungalow as a starting point and modified it to suit his own aesthetic ideals, practical needs, and regional setting. 44 VII . Conclusion: The Architectural Legacy The Vancouver region was distinct from eastern Canada not only in its weather but in the fact that it had little or no ancient tradition to graft onto new building, or against which the new architecture could be juxtaposed. The "clean slate" advantage was undermined by the lack of cultural and architectural standards in Canada when Vancouver was first built up. The other major distinguishing condition, perennially relevant, was the climate. The Vancouver region is, as Fred Lasserre once wrote, blanketed by moisture-laden air. The ubiquitous rainfall and winter fog means that Vancouver's winter sun lasts an average of just three hours per day, compared with five hours for Montreal and Toronto. Wind, cloudcover, and precipitation, wrote Lasserre, "have been the basic elements which are shaping the architecture of the West Coast in so far as a building is a 'shelter'."87 On the other hand, the early spring and the "breath taking view which almost every home and building can have before them demands that screening walls be pierced the utmost and that entrance or lounging terraces open out to it."88 The Binning House is thus a prototypical Vancouver Modern dwelling, with characteristics of the "shelter" on one side (the shield of the north facade) and of the open-to-the-outside terrace (the glass-doored south facade). Fred Lasserre, "Regional Trends in West Coast Architecture" Journal of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, (Ottawa: RAIC, 1955), 7. 45 What seems clear is that Binning's architectural approach was reflective of his art in its embrace of the dynamic composition. The critic Doris Shadbolt observed in a 1946 exhibition review that the contents of a Binning drawing are appreciated for their representative value—as "real objects"—but also, she added: ...they are appreciated as part of a pattern in which straight and curved lines, areas of grey texture, white spaces, dark spots, are balanced in a surface design which sports across the paper.89 This singular concern for surface organization, added Shadbolt, resulted in a panoramic layout of forms and lines. The Binning House in turn defers far more to the Whipsnade Manifesto than the Purist manifesto. The architectural values embodied in both the Binning House and the Whipsnade Bungalow reflect the architect and critic Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe's definition of Constructivism: What is Constructivism? It is not, as many still think, Functionalism. It is the poetic expression of Functionalism, which is quite different. The enquiring eye of modern man is no longer wholly satisfied with what the eye alone sees, but must feel what lies within.90 A casual sketch of the Binning House facade (fig. 17) drawn up by Binning as an instruction note to his brother-in-law years ago suggests a strong and deliberate correlation between the unusual architectural gesture of the clerestory window and his own drawing approach. The sketch is intended to show his houseguest where to rig up the auxiliary troughs in case of heavy snow, and Binning sketched in a portion of the studio wall and clerestory window to show context. Despite the relative haste and pragmatic purpose of this task compared to creating his line drawings, Binning has nonetheless Doris Shadbolt, "The Drawings of B.C. Binning," Canadian Art 3.3 (March-April 1946), 94-96. 9 0 G. Jellicoe, cited in Allan, 7. 46 clearly drawn up the window as he had designed it: as an expanding trapezoid. Yet it reads much as it would in a typical Binning drawing of a conventionally rectilinear form: with an exaggerated perspective that imparts a lyrical quality characteristic of his pictures. Although its lower level was designed to be set on a raised plinth of earth, the Binning House steps downward once on its sloped site, unlike the Whipsnade Bungalow's laboriously and strategically leveled footprint. With this partial acquiescence to its hilly environs, the Binning House evokes a boat nestled in a gentle swell of the sea. Biographer Douglas Shadbolt argues that although Binning's painting was influenced primarily by European Purists, "his house was as influenced by his long association with small boats as it was by anything he may have learned from an exposure to Ozenfant and Le Corbusier's work."91 The walls were built with west-coast cedar and trim boards were finished with high-gloss white enamel and varnished British Columbian fir.92 Certainly, the streamlined fir cabinetry of the house, particularly in the original bathroom, evoke the interior of a boat. In 1940, Lubetkin abruptly closed his London practice and withdrew to the countryside, and his international fame receded considerably in subsequent years.93 After Lubetkin's withdrawal from architecture, however, the architects in his sphere fanned out to generate their own influence. Fred Lasserre, for instance, moved to Montreal in 1940 to become the director of McGill In the 1980s, his status as a significant figure in twentieth-century architecture was resurrected, largely by the critical writings and monograph of London-based architect/scholar John Allan. Lubetkin was awarded the RIBA Gold Medal in 1982. 47 University's School of Architecture; six years later he moved to Vancouver to become the first director of the University of British Columbia's School of Architecture. Binning and Lasserre had known each other at a cursory level in London through the A.A. group.94 Eventually, they would become colleagues and close friends, with Lasserre hiring Binning as an instructor into the UBC Faculty of Architecture in 1949. "Ever since I arrived here three years ago, I have attempted to entice Mr. Binning to participate in our Department," he wrote the Dean of the university in a letter confirming Binning's appointment to the faculty.95 According to architectural historian Rhodri Liscombe: Still working in England at this time, Lasserre defined the modern movement as a process of design moulded by practical, economic, technological, and cultural function, but also as a process distinguished by the subjective "drama and excitement produced by the introduction of new forms and the associations of new materials." Lasserre did not fully understand the ideological ground of Modernism, and assumed rather than analyzed what he took to be its shared values and goals.96 Liscombe's commentary alludes to an inherent problem in considering the idea of Modernism: the term implies a constitution of shared values and goals, when in reality the Modern movement diverged into distinctive approaches. One such divergent approach was favoured by Lubetkin & Tecton, in its celebration of the "drama and excitement" generated by using new forms and materials, rather than just the pragmatic benefits of the forms and materials themselves. Oberlander, telephone interview, Vancouver, Dec. 2, 2004. 9 5 Letter from Fred Lasserre to Dean J. N. Finlayson, dated Sept. 12 1949. (University of British Columbia archives, Binning collection). 9 6 Liscombe, 30. Throughout the rest of his life, Binning used his house to enhance his efforts as a "missionary for modernism,"97 welcoming artists, architects, and other members of the local and international arts community to gather for "fireside chats" in the living room. In this way, the Binning House shared the same programmatic utility as the Whipsnade Bungalow's role as a "demonstration piece." As for its position in architectural history, the Binning House cannot be categorized under Rationalism or Constructivism; it can be more properly described as a strain of Modernism that fuses the ethos of Gropius, Le Corbusier and Lubetkin. Binning did not adhere to the doctrine that functional requirements should dominate. Rather than perceiving architecture as being technologically driven, Binning saw it as a complex collaborative art in which the architect should work with the artist, beginning at the design conception stage: The artist should refuse to be called upon at the last minute to pull a solution out of a hat. Colour, like any other element in architecture, should work its own way through the whole creative process. It is not an afterthought.98 Although Binning was focusing specifically on the use of colour in this article, his assertion implies that all the visual elements of the structure, from the shape of the windows to the design of the furniture, coalesce to generate the final architectural result. One can read the Binning House in much the same the way one reads a Binning drawing or a Moore sculpture. The influence of this strain of dynamic modernism, a collaboration of artistic and architectural sensibility, filtered through to many West Coast Jessie Binning, personal interview, West Vancouver, March 7, 2002. B.C. Binning, "Colour in Architecture", Canadian Art, vol. 11 no. 4, (Nov. 1954), 141. 49 architects who visited and admired the house. Ron Thorn cited Binning and the Binning house as critical influences on his own work, largely because of their mutual interest in the deft integration of art and architecture." As Thorn himself later said: Binning taught me to see, and he taught me to think. He was one of the most important teachers in my life. The strongest thing he taught us, which has had a profound influence on everything I've done in architecture since, was that every aspect of the design had to respond directly to the world around it, whether it be colour or form, or where the light came in, or the views looking out.100 Binning did not replicate the Whipsnade Bungalow but instead re-interpreted its theme to serve within his own context in West Coast of British Columbia, circa 1940. His year in London, however, would have intellectually prepared and creatively predisposed to understand and embrace the ethos of Berthold Lubetkin's small home in the country. In the years that ensued, the Binning House did indeed turn out to be, like the Whipsnade Bungalow, a "demonstration" house, hosting visiting and local architects painters, dancers, architects and musicians. And as a demonstration house, it was practical in its singular artfulness. Binning was clearly more interested in the fusion of art and architecture than in low-cost shelter. It was this—the failure to integrate art and architecture on a broad scale—that he deeply lamented; in 1950 he complained that the results consisted of little more than the following: ...unenthusiastic list of picture murals on haphazard recesses in office or cafe, decorative motifs scattered about public hallways and corridors, and bits and piece of sculpture stuck here and there on the face of this or that building. The same old story of unrelated effort between Artist and Architect is as characteristic here as it is all across Canada. In many cases the quality of individual effort is good, but in no case I know of has there been any real integrated relationship between the two arts. In no building does the complete result appear to be a combining of creative forces of both Architect and Artist at conception and carried through organically into a consummate whole. In no case that Douglas Shadbolt, 9. 'Cited in Shadbolt, 10. 50 I can find has that magical happening occurred where the cross-stimulation of the two arts creates a unity of expression and purpose.101 Binning might well have cited his own house as the singular exception that does in fact combine creative forces of both Architect and Artist; perhaps modesty or professional propriety kept him from doing so. The critical observation and assessment by others has often been made in a retrospective context that tends to group the various early forms of Modernism together and lacks the detailed scrutiny more often afforded to newly constructed projects. One can only conjecture whether the House might have been critiqued in the context of the London school that nourished its conception, if more professional journals were in existence at that time. But the House itself helped foster the design awareness that would soon give rise to periodicals like Western Homes and Living. Under closer scrutiny, the Binning House reads as a considerably more complex, lyrical and enigmatic structure than most cursory assessments suggest. Rather than an importation of simple, rectilinear Functionalism, it is actually the conduit of a distinct Constructivist-inspired strain of Modernism, one that emphasizes the active perspective of the inhabitant over the utility of construction and the passive perception of the architecture; one that reads more as a singular work of art than as a repeatable formula. Binning's subsequent projects in domestic architecture were respectable but not particularly compelling. • The 1947 Harrison House and 1948 Keays House (fig. 18) both featured plans that superficially resembled some aspects of B.C. Binning, "The Artist and the Architect", Journal of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, vol. 27, 1950, 320-21. 51 Binning's own house but, with their more conventionally modern rectilinear layouts, did not reach the same level of artistry and dynamism imbued within the Binning House. In these projects, Binning was no longer his own client and would not have the luxury of total artistic and budgetary control. Mr. and Mrs. Keays, for instance, favoured a more segregated approach than Binning's very open plan of interflowing spaces: "Separate living and play areas for parents and children were essential—inside and outside."102 Together with Fred Amess and other members of the Art in Living Group, Binning later tried to establish a true model of low-cost housing, but their efforts in that realm failed to produce enduring results. His greater acclaim would be garnered as an artist working within architecture: the colours of the Dal Grauer Substation interior, for instance, and the ceramic-tile design on the British Columbia Hydro Building facade. Binning's true strength was not as a practical housing expert, but as an artist, an architect manque, or a hybrid of the two. He was at his best when his artistic sensibility infused his ambition to build, as suggested in this observation he once made about his own career: As it is not within me to interpret the 'struggles, tragedies and evils' of life I have therefore turned naturally to the 'lyric idea'. In doing so I have tried to find form and colour expressive of this idea and at the same time characterize the influences of my time and place.103 It is difficult to quantify the influence of the London circle on West Coast Modernism, embodied as it is through the vehicle of the Binning House and other projects. The will to incorporate the dynamic gesture as a counterpoint to 102 "For the Keays—A Family House" Western Homes and Living (May 1951), 13. 1 0 2 Ibid. 103 Cited in Watson, 24. 52 Functionalist austerity is itself an inspirational concept. Looking back on his career, Binning had once reflected: I once said that the business of serious joy should be one of the main preoccupations of the artist. I do like joy...I do like order. I think my work plays between the two sides of me...a certain joy and fun—perhaps even wit—but this seems to vacillate between another extreme of plain coolness, which I call a classical sense.104 This vacillation, a dialectic between the austere and the dynamic, presents itself in a complex and codified manner in the Binning House, so that the visitor is not consciously aware of much of the inflection. The house thus presents a codified assimilation of various strains of architectural discourse—even those tenets that are at odds with one another, such as those found in the Purist and Whipsnade manifestos. The subliminal effect of these oblique gestures can be disquieting to a visitor, even as they soften and enrich the space. The injection of wilful dynamism into geometric clarity serves to challenge the concept of a dominant or definitive Modernism. Binning had not merely "imported" European Modernism; he mediated it through his own artistic sensibility and his region. The Binning House is not a paradigm in the sense that it can or should be replicated, but in that it shows how the dictates of Modernism can be rendered meaningful to the individual context. Cited in Anne Newlands, Canadian Art: From Its Beginnings to 2000. (Toronto: Firefly Books, 2000), 42. Fig. 1-1: (Top) The Binning House, north facade. Photo by Graham Warrington, c. 1951. Fig. 1-2: (Bottom) Living room open to terrace, with Jessie and Bert Binning. Photo by Jack Long, 1950. Fig. 2: Blueprint for Binning House, with original carport scheme. Fonds B.C. Binning, Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal. 55 Fig. 3: Alternative plan—North Elevation (top) and East Elevation (bottom). March 10, 1941, Graphite on tracing paper. Fonds B.C. Binning, Collection Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal. 56 ~~l L Fig. 4: Alternative plan, Binning Residence, south and west elevations. March 10, 1941, Graphite on tracing paper. Fonds B.C. Binning, Collection Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal. 57 UAVC <^V~ X v ^ A J ^ t w ^ " i t^ t i v * ^ M v t _ hu-u_ 7 ' o ^ U /vvo^ *rv*n Q O M . JIK~ Fig. 5: Letter from B.C. Binning to Jessie Wyllie, dated June 28 (1936) Collection of Jessie Binning, West Vancouver 58 Fig. 6: "Reclining Figure" by Henry Moore, 1938. Hopton Wood stone. Reprinted from Art in Our Time (Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1939), 321. 59 Fig. 7-1: (Top) Whipsnade Bungalow by Berthold Lubetkin. Reprinted from Art in Our Time (Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1939), 296-7. Fig. 7-2: (Bottom) Binning House layout, courtesy H. Howat and J. Grant, 2004. 60 Fig. 8-1: (Left) Villa Savoye plan and model, 1931, by Le Corbusier. Fig. 8-2: (Right) Gropius House, 1938, by Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer. Reprinted from Art in Our Time (Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1939), 294, 300. Fig. 9-1: (Left) Whipsnade Bungalow, front view and plan. Fig. 9-2 (Right) Whipsnade Bungalow, rear view and aerial view. Reprinted from Art in Our Time (Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1939), 296-7. 62 Fig. 10-1: (Top) Wartime temporary housing cottages, North Vancouver. Fig. 10-2: (Bottom) Low-cost housing, Vancouver, designed by Thompson, Berwick, Sharp & Pratt. Reprinted from A Plan for 1000 Low Cost Homes (Quality Homes Corp. and Vancouver Titles Ltd., 1942), Collection City of Vancouver Archives, 7,13. 63 Fig. 11: Alternative plan, Binning Residence, ground floor. March 10, 1941, Graphite on tracing paper. Fonds B.C. Binning, Collection Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal. I » n t i c Tea Table MHO Fig. 12: "Jessie at Tea Table", 1940, line drawing by B.C. Binning. Reprinted from Ian Thorn, Form + Meaning: The Drawings of B.C. Binning, (Charles H. Scott Gallery, Vancouver, 1997), 8. 65 Fig. 13: "Untitled", 1941, line drawing by B.C. Binning. Reprinted from Ian Thorn, Form + Meaning: The Drawings of B.C. Binning, (Charles H. Scott Gallery, Vancouver, 1997), 10. ¥ig. 14-1: (Top) View from bathroom entrance down gallery towards entrance. Fig. 14-2: (Bottom) View from dining room into gallery. Photos by A. Weder, 2004. Fig. 15-1: "Entrance with exterior mural" by Ami Haraldsson. Presentation House Gallery exhibition, North Vancouver, 2003. All figures 15-1 through 15-6 reprinted courtesy of the artist. Fig. 15-2: "Entrance hall" by Ami Haraldsson. Fig . 15-3: "Writing desk" by Arni Haraldsson. Fig. 15-4: "Bedroom" by Ami Haraldsson. 71 Fig. 15-5: "Studio" by Ami Haraldsson. 72 Fig. 15-6: "Terrace doors" by Ami Haraldsson. 73 Fig 16: (Top) Paving stones in living-room floor adjacent to glass doors. Laptop is placed exactly perpendicular to the door, indicating degree of paving-stone angle. (Bottom) Paving stones as seen from dining-room table. The angle is not overt, but subtly enhances the perspectival qualities of the space. Photos by A. Weder, 2005. -TfWG-fc /rsu ' t <ru*?Wiot UTTTP- 4 » t t l M K T * J t t J - t< f*1'0 4 +14 ft TtC P (L«l t tv i - r t 'PiPoP^ fU tjl^frl Ai - fWM- IVWI IT is W»^ £ to p>»t- t j i t A-vis • ra<sv&-u^ MJV&H "/vt fc^"-4 I'ti^'lr AUT\JG- f H E - T f M L L U K ' L j . K w t S'|tWU MfcO?*, • Fig. 17: Sketch of auxilliary eaves trough. Reprinted from personal note to Wilson Wyllie from B.C. Binning, undated. Collection of Jessie Binning. Fig. 18: Plan of the Keays House, 1948, designed by B.C. Binning Reprinted from "For the Keays—A Family House" Western Homes and Living (May 1951), 12. 76 B I B L I O G R A P H Y BOOKS Allan, John, Berthold Lubetkin: Architecture and the Tradition of Progress. RTBA Publications, London, 1992. Ball, Susan L., Ozenfant and Purism: The Evolution of a Style 1915-1930. UMI Research Press, Ann Arbor, 1981. Beckett, Jane, and Russell, Fiona (ed.), Henry Moore: Critical Essays. Ashgate Publishing, Hants, 2003. Berthoud, Roger, The Life of Henry Moore. Faber & Faber, London, 1987. Besset, Maurice, Le Corbusier. Editions d'Art Albert Skira, Geneva, 1987. Colomina, Beatriz, Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture as Mass Media. MIT Press, Cambridge,1994. Frampton, Kenneth, Modern Architecture: A Critical History. Oxford University Press, New York, 1980. Georgiadis, Sokratis, Sigfried Giedion: An Intellectual Biography. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 1993. Giedion, Sigfried, Space, Time and Architecture: The Growth of a New Tradition, fourth ed., Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1962. Gropius, Walter, The New Architecture and the Bauhaus. tr. by P. Morton Shand, 1965; Tenth Printing, MIT Press, Cambridge, 1984. Kalman, Harold, A History of Canadian Architecture, Volume 2. Oxford University Press, Toronto, 1994, Kalman, Harold; Phillips, Ron; and Ward, Robin, Exploring Vancouver: The Essential Architectural Guide. UBC Press, Vancouver 1993. La Marche, Jean, The Familiar and the Unfamiliar in Twentieth-Century Architecture. University of Illinois Press, Chicago, 2003. Le Corbusier, Le Corbusier & P. Jeanneret: Oeuvre complete 1934-1938. Editions Dr. H. Girsberber, Zurich, 1945. Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture, Dover Publications, London, 1986 edition. Liscombe, Rhodri, The New Spirit: Modern Architecture in Vancouver, 1938-1963. Canadian Centre for Architecture/Douglas & Mclntyre, Vancouver, 1997. 77 Mumford, Eric, The CIAM Discourse on Urbanism, 1928-1960. MIT Press, Cambridge, 2000. Neumann, Erich, The Archetypal World of Henry Moore. Pantheon Books, New York, 1959. Newlands, Anne, Canadian Art: From Its Beginnings to 2000. Firefly Books, Toronto, 2000. Ozenfant, Amedee, Memoires 1886-1962. Editions Seghers, Paris, 1968. Packer, William, Henry Moore: An Illustrated Biography. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1985. Ramsey, Charles George, and Sleeper, Harold Reeve, Architectural Graphic Standards, Second Edition. John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1936. Reading, Malcolm; and Coe, Peter, Lubetkin & Tecton: An Architectural Study. Triangle Architectural Publishing, London, 1992. Reid, Dennis, A Concise History of Canadian Painting. Oxford University Press, 1973. Shadbolt, Douglas, Ron Thorn: The Shaping of an Architect. Douglas & Mclntyre, Vancouver, 1995. Wolfflin, Heinrich. Principles of Art History: The Problem of Development of Style in Later Art. Dover Publications, London, 1932. ARTICLES Allan, John, "Berthold Lubetkin 1901-1990", The Architectural Review, vol. CLXXXVm no. 1126 (December), 1990, 4-10. Allan, John, "Berthold Lubetkin: Pioneer Modernist," Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects, vol. 97 no. 12 (December 1990), 30-32. Binning, Bertram Charles, "Colour in Architecture," Canadian Art, vol. XI no. 4,1954,141. Bronson, Susan, "The Binning Residence, West Vancouver," Journal of the Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada, vol. 27 no. 3, 4, 2002, 51-64. "Deux Maisons de Vacances a Whipsnade, L'Architecture d'aujourd'hui, no. 1 (January) 1938, 45-48. "For the Keays—A Family House," Western Homes and Living, May 1951,13-14. Lemon, Robert, "Modern living: 4 west coast houses," Arcade Vol. 20 no. 1 (Autumn), 2001, 24-25 Lubetkin, Berthold, "Two Bungalows at Whipsnade Bungalows," The Architectural Review, vol. LXXX no. 12 (December) 1936, 60-65. 78 McMordie, Michael, "Modern Architecture in Vancouver." Canadian Architect, vol. 29 no. 3 (March) 1984, 22-27. Ozenfant, Amedee, "Colour and Method." The Architectural Review, vol. LXXXI (January) 1937, 89-92. Shadbolt, Doris, "The Drawings of B.C. Binning," Canadian Art, vol. 3 no. 3 (March/April) 1946, 94-96 Watson, Scott, "B.C. Binning: Modernism in a Classical Calm." Vanguard, vol. 15 no. 3 (Summer 1986), 23-27. Woodworth, John, "The B.C. Binning House," Western Homes and Living, October-November 1950,15-18. Yamanaka, Kaori, "Leisure and Pleasure as Modern Utopian Ideal: B.C. Binning's Drawings in the midl940s," Collapse, vol. 5,145-176. Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver,. E X H I B I T I O N C A T A L O G U E S Art in Our Time. Museum of Modern, New York, 1939. Plan to Build 1000 Low Cost Homes, Quality Homes Corp. and Vancouver Titles Ltd., Vancouver, 1942. Carrington, Noel, Mark Gertler: the Early and Late Years, Ben Uri Art Gallery, London, 1982. ' • \ Shadbolt' Douglas, "Postwar Architecture in Vancouver," Vancouver Art and Artists 1931-1983, Vancouver Art Gallery, 1983. Thorn, lan, Form + Meaning: The Drawings of B.C. Binning. Charles H. Scott Gallery, Vancouver, 1997. Tuele, Nicholas, B.C. Binning: A Classical Spirit. Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, 1986. 

Cite

Citation Scheme:

        

Citations by CSL (citeproc-js)

Usage Statistics

Share

Embed

Customize your widget with the following options, then copy and paste the code below into the HTML of your page to embed this item in your website.
                        
                            <div id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidgetDisplay">
                            <script id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidget"
                            src="{[{embed.src}]}"
                            data-item="{[{embed.item}]}"
                            data-collection="{[{embed.collection}]}"
                            data-metadata="{[{embed.showMetadata}]}"
                            data-width="{[{embed.width}]}"
                            async >
                            </script>
                            </div>
                        
                    
IIIF logo Our image viewer uses the IIIF 2.0 standard. To load this item in other compatible viewers, use this url:
https://iiif.library.ubc.ca/presentation/dsp.831.1-0091945/manifest

Comment

Related Items