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Welwyn Garden City
Author: Mervyn Miller (Introduction and Editor)
Published: 1979 by Hertfordshire Association of Architects
Format: Paperback 5¾" by 8¼" with 80 pages
To celebrate its Golden Jubilee, the Hertfordshire Association of Architects put on an exhibition which was displayed at various venues throughout the county in 1980. The exhibition featured notable buildings erected in Hertfordshire in the period 1929-1979. There were 56 panels of photographs in the exhibition. Each panel featured one or more related buildings.
The catalogue shows for each panel one or more photographs
and a passage of writing about the buildings and their architects. Six
of the panels relate to buildings which are in Welwyn Garden City. The
text and photographs from the catalogue for these six items are reproduced
(a) 76 Brockswood Lane. (b) Parkway Close. 1927-29.
The individual and grouped housing designs of Welwyn Garden City are classics of the interwar period. The use of traditional materials and forms and sensitive, well-proportioned Neo-Georgian detail, allied to a plan which retained and exploited the natural features of the site as far as possible created a unique environment. Louis de Soissons and his partner Arthur Kenyon (later a distinguished public practitioner at Manchester and Newcastle-upon-Tyne), were adept at co-ordinating the work of others into the overall framework of their master plan (1920). Charles James had served articles with Barry Parker and Lutyens and by the 1920s, in partnership with C. M. Hennell, contributed a number of designs and layouts to Welwyn. The Brockswood Lane house is a classic, dominating a deep wooded cleft on the west of the town, by its overhanging tiled roof. The projection on the south, now glazed at first floor level, was a typical Garden City 'open air sleeping balcony'.
The cul-de-sac layout was developed to a high degree of visual and functional sophistication. Parkway Close is an attractive quadrangle to the west of Parkway, with a footpath system comparable with the contemporary (1929) Radburn development in USA. The original layout included large houses on the frontage which would have given the group a 'backland' character: the linked corner blocks completed about 1929 are visually preferable.
(a) Howard Memorial Plaque, 1966. (b) Barclays Bank, 1929. (c) Howardsgate and Station, 1926
The formal layout of the commercial centre of Welwyn Garden City was complemented by the axial landscaped boulevards of Parkway and Howardsgate, which form one of the finest twentieth century townscapes. Howardsgate was appropriately named after the founding father of the Garden City movement, Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928), who courageously purchased the site for the second Garden City in 1919. A modest memorial was unveiled in 1930 and was replaced in 1966 by the handsome bronze plaque by James Woodford.
The buildings of Howardsgate were neo-Georgian: Barclays Bank was one of the first to be completed, appropriately so for Barclays had opened the first bank in temporary premises a few years earlier.
The terminal feature of Howardsgate is the modest, pleasantly designed LNER Station, opened in October 1926 by Neville Chamberlain, then Minister of Health.
Roche Products: (a) Offices, 1938-40. (b) Administrative Offices, 1978
From the 1920s, an increasing emphasis was placed on industrial architecture, following the pioneering of the Bauhaus in Germany. The Swiss drug firm Hoffman la Roche commissioned Otto Salvisberg of Zurich to design their original Welwyn complex, and with their sheet white walls and immaculately proportioned windows, they promoted an image of health and precision appropriate to their function - reminders of the forcefulness of the 'heroic' pre-war modern architecture.
In the late 1950s, James Cubitt and Fello Atkinson prepared a master plan for the further development of the site, and the extensive recent additions now act as a backdrop to the original buildings on the frontage of Broadwater Road. The recent additions emphasise sophistication of form and detailing, occasionally verging on mennerism such as the large circular vents and tall sculptural service towers of the Research Building.
In 1977, the headquarters, Building 40, was constructed to the east of Broadwater Road, incorporating twin planning grids set at 45º, with the main office floors raised above the podium, their bold horizontals and set back glazing contrasting with the smooth brown and bronze of the service tower which rises to serve the executive suites on the first floor. The entrance staircase boldly thrusts forward with an almost Baroque prominence beneath the main office floors, its angularity emphasising a visual tension between the twin planning grids.
The building won the Office of the Year award in the New Buildings category 1979.
Templewood JMI School, Pentley Park, 1949-50
The School built for 200 juniors and 120 infants is set in a well treed housing area. Its site falls steeply to the north and one-third consisted of woods, mostly birch and hornbeam. The exact position of the building was determined by two large oaks and a fir tree. This is an early example of the internationally renowned Hertfordshire system built schools. The basic structure is a light steel frame on 8' 3" grid, externally finished in metal window walling with coloured infill panels and precast concrete cladding units arranged vertically. The overhanging eaves to flat roofs are reminiscent of pre-war French and Swiss buildings. Internally lattice steel beams are exposed in rooms with wood wool ceilings to reduce sound reverberation up to the underside of concrete floor or roof planks. Hertfordshire schools have often been experimental in plan form as a result of close collaboration between client and architect. In Templewood School each classroom is a self-contained unit with its own corridor, store and cloaks separated from the next one by sliding and folding doors. There are also sliding and folding doors between classroom and corridor so that when required the corridor can become an extension of the teaching space. Junior classrooms are 12' 0" high with clerestorey windows and Infants classrooms are 8' 0" high with toplights in the recessed back areas. The interior has cheerful colours and stimulating views through glazed screens and corner windows. Of particular interest are three murals - "Russian Fairy Tales" by Pat Tew.
Campus West, 1974
The Campus, the northward termination of Parkway was laid out by Louis de Soissons as part of his 1921 Master Plan for Welwyn Garden City, its striking semi-circular curve suggested by the old branch railway line to Luton. Implementation proceeded slowly, generally along traditional lines but in the early 1970s a bold decision was made to abandon the Georgian style in favour of a frank modern design for the Campus West complex.
Welwyn Garden City leisure and amenities centre and County Library provides for a wide variety of cultural and recreational activities and is also a focal point for the town centre.
This multi-purpose community centre consists of a hall for dancing, civic functions and banquets; an auditorium seating 250 for drama, cinema and conferences; bars and dining facilities together with a library of 24,000 square feet and administrative offices. There is also a separate large exhibition hall.
The use of rich red bricks ensures compatibility with the more traditional image of the Garden City and the vigorous modelling and bands of dark painted timber windows provide visual variety. A reinforced concrete coffered slab covers all ground floor public areas and forms a platform above which the structure continues as load bearing brickwork. The structure of the exhibition hall is exposed inside and visible from the outside through the patent glazing.
Panshanger Golf House, 1975
Provision of leisure facilities and their associated buildings has become an important aspect of local authority and new town development corporation services. Panshanger Golf Course was developed by Welwyn Hatfield District Council. The Golf House - "Fairway Tavern" - occupies a prominent skyline position on the escarpment of the Mimram Valley, a simple, stark building consisting of a glass box, with projecting overhanging flat roofs, poised above a long low podium containing service rooms. The restaurant and picnic rooms have wide uninterrupted views across the course, with the viewing terraces creating a shipboard atmosphere. An associated range incorporates changing facilities and professional shop.