Home   Architects   Schools   Objects   Library
 

 

 

 

 

 

WORKS / BIOGRAPHY / BOOKS

 

 

LUBETKIN AND TECTON
 
 
 
 
  Name   Berthold Romanovich Lubetkin
       
  Born   December 14, 1901
       
  Died   October 23, 1990
       
  Nationality   UK
       
  School    
       
  Official website    
     
 
BIOGRAPHY        
    Berthold Lubetkin (1901-90) and the Tecton group were
among the leading practitioners of modern architecture in Great
Britain in the 1930s and the years immediately following World
War II. Lubetkin is credited with introducing into the United

Kingdom progressive architectural ideals from the Continent.
Although the firm’s influence declined in the late 1950s, its
reputation remained intact, having created iconic images of the
International Style in England.

Lubetkin was born in Russia (Tiflis, Georgia) in 1901 and
received his initial architectural training at the Vkhutemas in
Moscow, a leading art and design school of the newly formed
USSR. From 1920 to 1922, he studied under Constructivists
Vladimir Tatlin, Alexander Rodchenko, and Alexander Vesnin,
absorbing the lessons of their geometric and spatial configura-
tions as well as their revolutionary social ideals. He left the USSR
in 1922 and traveled across Europe, working briefly for Bruno
Taut and Ernst May. In Paris in 1925, he assisted in the con-
struction of Konstantin Melnikoy’s Soviet Pavilion for the Exhi-
bition des Art Décoratifs and was exposed to the work of Le
Corbusier. While in Paris, Lubetkin established a small practice
and studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in the studio of Auguste
Perret, where he learned the techniques of reinforced-concrete
construction. In 1931 Lubetkin ele permanently in Great
Britain, becoming an influential member of an émigré circle that
eventually included Serge Chermayeff, Ernd Goldfinger, Walter
Gropius, and Erich Mendelsohn. In 1932 Lubetkin established
the firm of Tecton with recent graduates of the Architectural
Association, including Lindsey Drake, Frances Skinner, and An-
thony Chitty. Although Tecton was intended as a Soviet-style
collective, Lubetkin was its principal designer, theorist, and
spokesperson.

Tecton’s first significant projects were buildings for the Lon-
don Zoo with programs requiring specialized research into the
users’ behaviors and habits, which Lubetkin regarded as crucial
to acommitted modernist practice. In the Gorilla House (1932)

and the Penguin Pool (1934), rigorous programmatic analysis
(of animal occupants and human visitors) was wedded to precise
formal geometry—a two-part, rotating cylinder for the apes and
spiral ramps suspended above an oval pool for the birds. The
abstract composition of the Penguin Pool has the dynamism of
modernist sculpture and evokes the Constructivism of Lubet-
kin’s early teachers. Structurally, the Penguin Pool is a tour de
force of reinforced-concrete construction. Engineered by Ove
Arup, its 46-foot-long unsupported ramps utilized the most ad-
vanced methods then available. Embraced on its completion by
both the architectural avant-garde and the mainstream public,
the Penguin Pool was one of the first modernist structures in
Britain to receive landmark status. It was restored in 1987.

Tecton followed the critical and popular success of the zoo
buildings with a series of private houses and apartments blocks,
including Highpoint I and II. Highpoint I (1935) was one of
the first large-scale British buildings to manifest Le Corbusier's
“Five Points of Architecture.” It featured all of the elements that
would become clichés of the International Style but utilized
them with a remarkable degree of functional clarity and compo-
sitional sophistication. Lubetkin planned the eight-story build-
ing as a double cruciform, providing ample light and ventilation
to all 64 apartments. Although Highpoint I was praised by Le
Corbusier himself as a vertical garden city, it fell short of Lubet-
kin’s social ideological aspirations, quickly becoming a luxury
housing complex with only a few low-rent units.

After Highpoint I, Lubetkin’s use of the Le Corbusian syntax
became increasingly formalist and mannered, as in Highpoint
II (1938), which adjoins the original building. Here, Lubetkin
utilized tiles and glazed brick as a contextual gesture and intro-

duced reproduction caryatids in place of piloris (stilts) to support
the porte-cochére (carriage entrance). This classical motif has been
variously interpreted as an example of bricolage, or pastiche
(Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter) and as a harbinger of ironic
postmodernism (Charles Jencks). Inside Highpoint II, Lubetkin
continued to explore Le Corbusian planning with duplex apare-
ments and double-height living rooms. Highpoint II achieved
cult status as the home of special agent Emma Peel on the 1960s
television show The Avengers.

Besides working with Tecton, Lubetkin was a founding mem-
ber of the Modern Architectural Research (MARS) Group in
1933. Aligning itself with CIAM (Congrés. Internationaux
d’Architecture Moderne) against the RIBA (Royal Institute of
British Architects) establishment, MARS promoted the ideals of
modernism in the broadest possible technical, social, and eco-
nomic contexts, Eventually, Lubetkin grew dissatisfied with
what he perceived as the MARS Group’s unfocused social com-
mitment, especially with the worsening political situation in Eu-
rope. In 1935, along with several Tecton members, he founded
a more militant group with an explicit socialist agenda. The
short-lived Architects’ and Technicians’ Organization (ATO)
dedicated itself to housing and town-planning issues and en-
gaged in direct, although limited, community action and politi-
cal organizing. For Lubetkin, the ATO provided a forum for

his ideas on the social efficacy of architecture and offered an
opportunity for promoting the social dimension of Tecton’s
practice, as in its Finsbury Health Centre (1938), a facility com-
missioned by the socialist Borough Council of Finsbury for its
blight-stricken neighborhood.

As a collective firm, Tecton dissolved in 1948, although sev-
eral of its members formed new partnerships, including that of
Skinner, Bailey and Lubetkin. Increasingly after World War II,
Luberkin turned his attention to planning, although his attempt
to design the Peterlee New Town (project, 1948-50) was ulti-
mately unsuccessful. During the 1950s and 1960s, he designed
a number of low-income residential complexes in and around
London, including the 16-acre Cranbrook Estates (1955-66),
an adroit composition of high-rise towers, low-rise terraces, and
detached houses. By the time Lubetkin retired from practice in
1970 to devote himself to farming, his contributions to the Brit-
ish Modern movement had been largely forgotten. He was
awarded the RIBA Gold Medal in 1982, which occasioned his
return to public life as a vocal critic of Postmodernist architec-
tural excess. The RIBA award also prompted a scholarly reap-
praisal of Tecton’s work that established the firm’s crucial role
in the promotion of modernist architecture and ideology in the
United Kingdom. Lubetkin died in 1990.

GABRIELLE EspERDY


 
 
 
 
 
 
TIMELINE        
   

Born in Tiflis, Georgia, 14 December 1901; immigrated to Eng-

land 1931, Educated at the Tenishevskaya Gymnasium, St. Pe-
tersburg, and Miedvendikoy Tenishevskaya, Moscow, 1910-17;
studied under Kasimir Malevich, Aleksandr Rodchenko, Alek-
sandr Vesnin, and Vladimir Tatlin, Vkhutemas, Moscow and
Svomas Petrograd (St. Petersburg) 1920-22; attended the Tex-
tile Academy, Berlin and Building School, Charlottenburg, Ber-
lin 1922-23; studied at Warsaw Polytechnic School of Architec-
ture 1923-25; studied at the Ecole Spéciale d’Architecture, Paris
1925; attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris 1926-27; at-
tended, Ecole Supérieur de Béton Armée, Paris 1927; studied
at the Institut d’Urbanisme, Sorbonne, Paris 1927—29. Married
Margaret Church 1931 (died 1969). Reservist, Red Army, Mos-
cow 1919-20. Worked with Bruno Taut, Berlin 1922-23,
worked with Ernst May, Frankfurt 1924; assistant to El Lissiteky
and David Shterenberg, Berlin 1922; architect, with Konstantin
Melnikoy, Soviet Pavilion, Exposition Internationale des Arts
Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, Paris 1925; architect, USSR
Trades Delegation, Paris 1926-29. Private practice, Paris 1926—
30; partner with Jean Ginsberg 1928-30; founder, partner, Tec-
ton group, London 1932-48; member, editorial board, L‘archi-
tecture daujourd hui, Paris 1930-31; partner, Skinner, Bailey
and Lubetkin, London 1948-52. Retired to Upper Kilcott,
Gloucestershire 1952 and Clifton, Bristol 1969. Founder, mem-
ber, MARS (Modern Architectural Research) Group, London
1933. Royal Gold Medal, Royal Institute of British Architects
1982. Died in Bristol, 23 October 1990.


 
 
 
 
 
 
FURTHER READING        
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
RELATED
 
 
 

 

 

 

       
 

Architects

Schools

Objects

Library

New Projects

About

Contact

Support us