Logo

Review: Ornament is crime celebrates our Modernist architectural heritage

PUBLISHED: 11:00 10 July 2017 | UPDATED: 12:33 10 July 2017

Tadao Ando: House in Monterrey, Monterrey, Mexico, 2011 (Courtesy of Ornament is Crime/Phaidon)

Tadao Ando: House in Monterrey, Monterrey, Mexico, 2011 (Courtesy of Ornament is Crime/Phaidon)

© VIEW Pictures Ltd

In a much needed re-evaluation of Modernist architecture, Ornament is Crime celebrates the enduring architectural legacy of the last century. Frankie Crossley speaks to co-author Matt Gibberd.

Ornament is Crime, Matt Gibberd and Albert Hill, Phaidon, £29.95 Ornament is Crime, Matt Gibberd and Albert Hill, Phaidon, £29.95

Crime of passion

In a much needed re-evaluation of Modernist architecture, Ornament is Crime celebrates the enduring architectural legacy of the last century. Frankie Crossley speaks to co-author Matt Gibberd.

Modernist architecture doesn’t get an easy ride when it comes to critics. With its roots firmly in the early 20th Century, Modernist buildings have ever since been somewhat a ‘marmite topic’; either loved or loathed. Now, a new book breathes life into Modernist work past and present, reflecting on its ideals and infused with a furious aversion to the perils of unnecessary ornament.

Walter Gropius: Gropius House, Lincoln, MA, USA, 1938  (Courtesy of Ornament is Crime/Phaidon) Walter Gropius: Gropius House, Lincoln, MA, USA, 1938 (Courtesy of Ornament is Crime/Phaidon)

Ornament is Crime title takes its name from a renowned 1908 essay written by Adolf Loos, delivered to reject the prevailing style of Art Nouveau. “The evolution of culture marches with the elimination of ornament from useful objects,” wrote Loos.

Author of the introduction to this impressive volume, Matt Gibberd grew up in a Georgian house. With a renowned architect for a grandfather in Sir Frederick Gibberd, the man behind the Liverpool Cathedral, as well as an architect for a father, Gibberd was always attuned to Modernism. “I suppose I grew up with modern architecture as part of my surroundings,” he says.

His late grandfather’s former garden on Downshire Hill in Hampstead is now the site of the famous Hopkins House which features in the book and is still lived in by its 1970s architects Michael and Patty Hopkins. “It’s a very high tech piece of architecture as they call it, a high tech style in amongst the beautifully preserved Georgian street. It’s very unusual,” says Gibberd, who would go on to establish The Modern House agency with co-author Albert Hill, now based in Islington.

“My interest came after graduating from university. I went into magazines, I worked at the World of Interiors magazine and got a very good grounding there in all forms of aesthetics. I ended up writing a lot of their house stories, the modern ones for them, and I still do that. So I guess that’s where it stemmed from,” he says on his road to becoming an agent and Modernism connoisseur.

�ebo Lich� Architects: House Among the Trees, Bratislava, Slovakia, 2013 (Courtesy of Ornament is Crime/Phaidon) �ebo Lich� Architects: House Among the Trees, Bratislava, Slovakia, 2013 (Courtesy of Ornament is Crime/Phaidon)

Now living in a Modernist home in Highgate designed in the 1960s by and for Swiss architect Walter Segal, Gibberd is planning his own project. “I’ve been working with Assemble, the architects who won the Turner Prize, to build a house at the bottom of the garden. So we’re trying to add our own small form of architectural legacy as well,” he laughs.

There’s quite the back catalogue to add to. With a canon of Modernist homes in the area, from the well known Isokon Building to the Highpoint Estate to the less well known Highgate Spinney and Spedan Close, “Hamsptead and Highgate has a particularly large amount of interesting housing stock,” Gibberd affirms.

With the book only featuring standalone homes, local Modernist gems featured in the book include 66 Frognal, a 1938 home of much contention due to its International style and cacophony of colour, as well as the 2007 Sunken House in De Beauvoir, and Newington Green House built in 2005.

Why might north London be such a mecca for Modernism? “There are a couple of reasons,” he explains. “Firstly, Hampstead and Highgate are where the liberal minded have tended to congregate and I think you’ve always had an artistic community, particularly in Hampstead.

“There’s also been a bit more of an availability of land there, so people since the 60s have built some really amazing larger scale projects and one off houses, and continue to do so. I think it’s a bit more of an open minded area design-wise than other parts of London.” Liberal has certainly been a term lathered over the residents of north London, in both positive and negative incarnations in equal measure.

Once written off as ugly or plain, distance and perhaps a new more open minded attitude has seen a renewed interest in the much maligned architectural style. “Having run the modern house for the last 12 years I would say the general understanding of and interest in Modernism has exploded in that time frame,” Gibberd says..

“And I think that that’s because it’s only with some kind of historical analysis and perspective that we can actually appreciate the merits of something and work out what the best examples are. I think the answer is we’ve not got enough perspective on it; we’re far enough away to be able to appreciate the good ones.”

There are a whole host of examples to choose from, with examples plucked from every corner of the globe and illustrated in equalising black and white. “I would describe it as a book for the Instagram generation in that it’s very visually led. And the idea was that we’ve given it a deliberate lack of hierarchy I suppose, so what the book does, it juxtaposes houses from different years and different parts of the modern movement.

“You might have a house from the 1930s next to a house built last year and it shows the aesthetic similarities between them without any comment. But the idea is that it shows how modernism has remained remarkably consistent and still is very much thriving in architecture now.”

Gibberd explains that, although timeless, each building must be built to suit its context. “I think it’s important that we build things that are of our time so that we can progress, rather than pastiche. I don’t believe in building in a pastiche way. I also think the best modern buildings are very sensitive to their context.”

Indeed, to demonstrate just how different those contexts can be, the book integrates the more recent and subtly differentiated work of Sou Fujimoto, Tadao Ando and John Pawson, with contemporary architecture ensures the lingering legacy of the style pervades into the present. It also has a global appeal, with examples drawn from Mexico to Chile to Japan’s Moriyama House.

And why has it remained so timeless and uniform even on a global scale? “I think because it has very enduring qualities. I think because modernism is about the landscape, bringing the outside in, it’s about living with natural light. It’s about the new possibilities of concrete and steel to enable people to live in an open plan way if they wanted to. There’s a lot of variation in the way that people live in modernist houses as a result of those materials. I think as a style it has an innate longevity to it.”

Gibberd and Hill cultivate a sense of context with quotes and lyrics from popular culture, drawing on a range of figures and groups from Oscar Wilde to The xx. “Really the quotes are a way to provoke the reader a little bit but also to provide a counterpoint to the images. And they’re all in some way inspired by this idea that ornament is crime. Albert put the quotes together and they’re from all sorts of sources from films to music lyrics to all sorts of things, and of course quotes from architects themselves.”

“To be honest it’s to add a bit of colour throughout the book because the way that it’s formatted is there’s an introductory essay that I’ve written which is a very personal account of my own experience of Modernism.”

Ornament is Crime isn’t billed as a follow up to Phaidon’s This Brutal World, but it certainly follows a similar format, and targets a form of marmite architecture that’s either loved or hated. “I’m a great believer in preserving the best examples of every era,” says Gibberd. “I agree there are some very bad examples of modernist building, but that we need to safeguard the very best examples.” Of that, there are clearly plenty.

Ornament is crime is published by Phaidon and is available for £29.95.

Property search


e.g. Oxford or NW3
Powered by Zoopla

Other Hampstead and Highgate property news

5 issues landlords should consider in 2018

2017 saw a number of changes made to regulations governing the private rented sector and a record number of government consultations held in relation to letting in the UK, meaning there is plenty for landlords to consider and act upon in the new year.

Three great properties for sale in Little Venice

Grand stucco-fronted houses and large Georgian and Victorian brick constructions line the wide streets of Little Venice, whilst charming mews houses can be found on the cobbled street of Bristol Gardens. For the ultimate canalside location nothing can beat a narrow boat.

Little Venice area guide: Canalside lifestyle, cafés and bars, shopping, property and more

Your guide to all the things to do in Little Venice, including the best restaurants, shops, pubs, schools and things to do by the canal. PLUS our guide to property in the area

New two and three-bedroom homes in Hampstead reflect Arts and Craft architecture of area

Thirty nine new two and three-bedroom homes, influenced by the Arts and Crafts architecture of the area, have been launched in Hampstead.

Comment: How to set the asking price for your property

Simon Gerrard, MD of north London estate agents, Martyn Gerrard, offers advice on pricing your house to achieve the best possible result

What you should know about inheriting property

There’s much to consider when inheriting property, writes Fiona Brandhorst

Camden area guide: Market, food & drink, entertainment, property and more

Your guide to all the things to do in Camden Town, including the best restaurants, shops, pubs, live music venues and Camden Lock Market. PLUS our guide to property in the area

Home of the week: Regency villa in picturesque Downshire Hill

Situated on the prized and picturesque Downshire Hill, this early 19th century Grade II-listed Regency villa is on the preferred south side of the road.

Comment: They call me the House Whisperer

Trevor Abrahmsohn, managing director of north London agents, Glentree Estates, writes about his special skills for closing a deal, which, he says, include “psychotherapy, extreme cajoling and applied salesmanship”. We’re intrigued...

How best to clear your unwanted junk

Richard Burr reveals how to clear your clutter.

Do it yourself! Great short and part-time courses in DIY, interior design, carpentry and more

With a whole new year stretching ahead of you, instead of making resolutions and not sticking to them, why not pick a fresh interest which will not only hold your attention, stimulate your creativity and keep your mind active, but improve your home, too.

What’s in store for the housing market in 2018 and how it will affect house prices, mortgages and first-time buyers

If you’re considering whether to move home this year, Ella Walker looks at potentially the main influences on house prices in London and further afield, and how they may affect buying and selling.

10 gardening trends set to blossom in 2018

These are the themes and plants predicted to dominate in the coming 12 months, writes Hannah Stephenson.

How to brick up a window like a pro

Being a brickie isn’t easy. Richard Burr reveals how to master the moves.

It’s time to get your home back in order after the festive season, but where do you dispose of your Christmas tree? We offer 3 recycling tips.

Festive season is in full flow, but soon it will be time to think about ditching the decorations and making more space for your home once again. But how should you dispose of your tree?

Comment: Stamp duty rises may be hitting more than just the property market

Are the stamp duty hikes doing more harm to the UK economy than just strangling the residential property market, asks Glentree Estates director Trevor Abrahmsohn

Landlord offers two-bedroom flat in King’s Cross to homeless for free over Christmas

Laurence Lameche, who now runs a property business but was formerly homeless himself, is looking for a single person, couple or family in need of somewhere to stay during the festive period

For sale: Highgate Mansion formerly home to Nobel Prize winner

An exceptionally restored Victorian mansion that was formerly home to a Nobel Prize winner is now on the market on Bishopswood Road, Highgate.

London design agency Studio Carver’s extensions in Belsize Park shortlisted for architecture awards

When Keith Carver, founder of design and architecture practice Studio Carver, was asked by a couple to help them realise a dream project for their retirement, he immediately saw the potential.

Average asking prices rise 19.2 per cent across borough of Camden

The borough of Camden bucked a trend of falling house prices across London in 2017, according to new statistics published by Rightmove.

How to insulate your own loft

Cold, isn’t it? The days have got shorter, summer feels a long way away, the sofa seems comfier - and the last thing you want to do is go outside and do more DIY (unless you absolutely have to).

Home of the week: Arts and Crafts style house in Hampstead

A spectacular interior designed Arts & Crafts style house, built circa 1905 for the artist Samuel Fry, a Royal Academy exhibitor

Alexandra Palace area guide: the hills, the houses and hunting for a bargain

Your guide to things to do in Alexandra Palace, including the best shops, cafes, restaurants and schools. PLUS our guide to property in N22

Comment: What’s in store for 2018?

Trevor Abrahmsohn, managing director of estate agents, Glentree International, offers his predictions for 2018 on everything from property to the World Cup

Primrose Hill family selling historic home after more than 60 Christmases

Originally constructed by renowned Victorian builder William Willett, the seven bedroom house, in Primrose Hill, is now on the market for £15,000,000

North London extensions shortlisted for top design award

Two north London extensions have been shortlisted as among London’s best and most innovative home improvements.

Three table setting themes to inspire you this Christmas

Gabrielle Fagan reveals how to create a Christmas table that’s a feast for the eyes

How to grow your own garlic

If you’re finding that shop-bought garlic doesn’t have the intense flavour you require, then it’s time to start growing your own, which will give you more choice and more flavour.

London house prices now a record 14.5 times higher than average income, figures show

Average house prices reached £496,000 and average earnings were £34,200 in London this year, yet a north London agent says the comparison is not an accurate representation of the capital’s property market

Decor experts Rockett St George reveal their recipe for stunning style

Jane Rockett Lucy St George share their vision for imaginative, inviting interiors with Gabrielle Fagan

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

2018 © Archant Community Media Ltd

Terms and conditions | Cookie policy | Jobs at Archant