Abnormal for Norfolk

A lot of what I will write on this blog will relate, albeit circumstantially, to a selfish interest in memory and the East Anglian landscape. To put it simply, I grew up here, I left to study architecture, and I came back a decade or so later with a mind full of architectural prejudice and vocabulary with which to re-examine the built environment of my childhood. No blog on architecture in Norfolk is complete without a nod to the work of Herbert Tayler (1912-2000) and David Green (1912-1998), who are responsible for more than seven hundred houses in the area covered by the former Loddon District Council, south-east of Norwich.

There has been an increasing amount of interest in the work of T&G in recent years. Elaine Harwood and Alan Powers published Tayler and Green 1938-1973; The Spirit of Place in Modern Housing in 1998 to accompany an exhibition of the two architects’ work at the Prince of Wales Institute and the RIBA in Cambridge. The book, which is probably the only substantial piece of writing on Tayler & Green, is not widely available online, but as of this week there are copies available in both Jarrolds and Waterstones bookshops in Norwich.

More recently, Matt Wood has blogged extensively about Tayler & Green from the informed perspective of a practitioner who is deeply familiar with this place and the way that its architecture sits in the landscape. I encourage you to start your introduction to Tayler & Green on his blog before absorbing my glib impressions. In addition to his own appreciations, Matt has been responsible for introducing a number of other architects to the work of Tayler & Green by generously giving up his time to become something of a tour guide. Charles Holland of Fashion Architecture Taste accompanied my colleague Adrian Friend from NUA on just such a trip last summer; Charles subsequently wrote this and Adrian wrote this. Matt also accompanied architectural photographer Jim Stephenson to a number of key projects.

Unlike all of the esteemed folk mentioned above, I didn’t have the fortune of a summer’s day when I made my first trip out of Norwich to discover the work of T&G in their natural habitat. I did however, have Matt to accompany me, for which I am extremely grateful, and I’d like to apologise publicly for keeping him in the pub to the point of almost (but not quite) missing his train home.

As has already been noted by someone significantly more informed on the nature of architecture and decoration:

“The thing about T&G’s stuff is that it is very normal. Not just in the sense that it looks familiar and unremarkable – which it does if you aren’t looking at it particularly closely – but also because in this part of Norfolk it’s everywhere. If you drive around without particularly looking for it you still notice random outcrops of their work. They built a lot in a small place and it has in some senses become that place.” – Charles Holland (clicky)

To put it another way, there is an odd tension between how these buildings are both completely normal yet completely abnormal for Norfolk. As Matt pointed out to me, their roof pitches are without precedent in the rural architecture of the county. Yet in a strange way the sheer number of these buildings means they are now intimately tied to our collective understanding of twentieth century housing in rural Norfolk. Had T&G not returned “home” from an early career in London to help Green’s father with post-war reconstruction in and around Lowestoft, they could conceivably have made this the predominant architectural typology of new rural housing in Sussex, Yorkshire or Cornwall.

Housing in Ditchingham, Norfolk by Tayler & Green

T&G’s projects are rich in detail and efficiency. Why have a straight brick wall (which will need lateral support) when a curvy one creates alcoves for planting and needs no buttressing?

Housing in Woodton, Norfolk by Tayler & Green

A consistently admirable feature of almost all T&G developments in Norfolk is a commitment to the massing of houses in terraces (as opposed to the contemporary favour for semi-detached). Above, in Woodton, a terrace steps up a gentle rise before terminating in a double pair of houses at the crest.

There will be more to come on T&G in the coming months, but to end this instalment with a spring in our steps, a reminder of the efficient generosity of decoration with which T&G imbued their projects. In addition to always ‘signing’ and dating their projects, a gable wall was never allowed to go to waste.

Housing in Ditchingham, Norfolk by Tayler & Green

Housing in Ditchingham, Norfolk by Tayler & Green

Housing in Loddon, Norfolk by Tayler & Green

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