Fry and Drew: Conference

‘The Influence of Fry and Drew’ Conference, Keynote 2

Elizabeth Darling, ‘The Conditions for an Architecture for To-day: A discussion of the inter-war architectural scene in England’

Taking its cue from the title of a 1938 lecture by Wells Coates, this paper considers the conditions that created the generation of architects in inter-war England that included Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry. Its ultimate concern is to offer some conclusions about how such conditions shaped Fry and Drew’s desire to transform space and society in particular, and, at a broader level, the nature of English modernism as a whole.

The paper will explore several conditions in order to achieve this goal. Chief among them are the educational contexts in which Drew and Fry studied, and hence what this might tell us about the modernisms they would practise. Among the earliest of the generation of women to train professionally, Drew attended the Architectural Association at a time when it was just beginning its shift towards a more avowedly ‘modern’ stance. Fry, by contrast, was a product of the Liverpool Beaux-Arts system that the AA would eschew not long after Drew graduated.  Important too, were the intellectual milieux which the pair inhabited, and their friendship networks. This is evident in the comradeship of Coates and Fry, an alliance forged following their first meeting some time in 1923-4. Out of this emerged a commitment to training themselves in modern culture and to make connections with allied avant-garde groups, a strategy which allowed them to become the natural leaders of an institutionalising English modern movement. Drew, likewise, shared a network of progressive friends – such as the Communist architect Justin Blanco White –an engagement particularly with modern art, and an equal skill at organisation and propagandising, something which did much to keep the movement alive during the war years.

Referencing other collaborations, and key inter-war architectural projects, particularly by Fry, the paper concludes its concern to contextualise the English side of Drew and Fry’s modernism.


Elizabeth Darling works on 20th century British architectural history with a particular interest in inter-war modernism, social housing, and gender. She has published on the nature of authorship in the design process; the innovative practices of the inter-war voluntary housing sector, the housing consultant Elizabeth Denby and the relationship between citizenship and the reform of domestic space in inter-war Britain. Her book, on British architectural modernism, Re-forming Britain: Narratives of Modernity before Reconstruction, was published by Routledge in early 2007 while an edited volume (with Lesley Whitworth), Women and the Making of Built Space in England, 1870-1950 was published by Ashgate in autumn 2007. Her research focuses on three main areas: the link between urban renewal and social (especially child welfare) reform in the slums of Edinburgh in the early 20th century; the arena in which progressive ideas about design and space were developed and disseminated in 1920s Britain, and an in-depth study of the work and life of the architect-engineer Wells Wintemute Coates, which research is supported by funding from the Paul Mellon Centre for the Study of British Art and the RIBA Research Trust. She is most recently the author of Wells Coates, published by the RIBA in collaboration with the 20th Century Society & English Heritage (2012).

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