4 July 2012

A local humanist architect in a brutalist era

The monthly talks arranged by the Kingston upon Thames Society are always interesting to anybody who is cares about Kingston and/or architecture and that is why I go to as many of them as I can.

This one proved to be even more interesting than usual as was demonstrated by the extensive questions and comments from the audience after the talk.

Our guide for the evening was Dr Fiona Fisher of Kingston University Faculty of Arts, Design and Architecture, and her topic was local architect Kenneth Wood who was active between 1950 and 1980.

I had not heard of him before, and that was kind of the point.

He was not untypical of suburban architects at that time who were doing some interesting and innovative work but who did not get the same attention as the urban architects responsible for flagship projects.

Kenneth Wood went in to architecture after first training as a sanitation engineer.

He worked initially with Eric Lyons on Parkleys. That strikes me as being exceedingly good fortune as Parkleys won awards then and still looks good now.

A few years later (1955) he formed his own practise in East Mosley where his first jobs were two church halls before getting a residential commission for Whitewood in Strawberry Hill.

A major step forward came when he was one of ten winners of a national competition to design kit houses made out of wood. The competition was run by a Canadian lumber firm that wanted to increase the market for its wood in the UK. Kenneth Wood then went to Canada where he learnt a lot about house building in general and about wooden framed houses in particular.

He designed Wildwood in Oxshot in 1958. This has changed very little since it was built and one of the original owners still lives there. This was a relatively grand house at the time and it featured in Woman Magazine. In the years since then all the contemporary houses have been demolished and replaced by the familiar large brick houses of today.

Several similar houses followed including Vincent House in Kingston, now sadly demolished, and Picker House on Kingston Hill. Another award was won, this time for the first house to be constructed under a tent.

He designed houses to be flexible to meet the changing needs of families as children come and grow. One house was extended twice as part of the original design. As was the practise then, he also designed much of the interior of the houses including the furniture.

I was engrossed by the talk. Dr Fisher was knowledgeable and engaging, and she came prepared with lots of pictures of the buildings, their interiors and the articles they featured in.

Some of Kenneth Wood's buildings will feature in the next Heritage Open Days and I think that everybody there vowed to see them,. I know that I did.

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