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Modernist architecture by Patrick Gwynne

July 24, 2013
2013-05-17 11.48.58 (2)

Patrick Gwynne’s The Homewood, Esher, Surrey

Between the tranquil stockbroker-belt town of Esher in Surrey and the roaring traffic of the A3 dual carriageway lies The Homewood. Architect Patrick Gwynne designed this superb, Le Corbusier-inspired house for his parents in 1938 but lived there himself for much of his long life. The house is now in the care of the National Trust, who organise pre-booked tours. It is certainly worth a visit, especially as the interiors are still largely intact. There are, however, other Gwynne buildings accessible without arranging a tour or paying admission charges (except perhaps buying a cup of tea) and I happen to visit two of them earlier this year.

Dell Restaurant (now the Serpentine Bar & Kitchen, who kindly allowed me to use this photo)

The Dell Restaurant, Hyde Park (photo courtesy of the Serpentine Bar & Kitchen)

One freezing Sunday in February, I visited Gwynne’s Dell Restaurant in London’s Hyde Park. Built for the Trusthouse Forte catering group, it opened in 1965 and is the remaining of two restaurants by Gwynne in the park. The bigger and more dramatic Serpentine Restaurant was demolished in 1990. The Dell (confusingly renamed the Serpentine Bar & Kitchen) sits at the end of the Serpentine Lake and is thankfully now protected by its listed building status. The listing notes praise the Dell as “particularly imaginative in its light weight, tent-like form and use of materials”. These materials include an unusual floor clad in rare Brescia Violetta marble and a balcony with pre-cast terrazzo seating that cantilevers over the lake.

The Dell, floor of Brescia Violetta marble

The Dell Restaurant, floor of Brescia Violetta marble

The Dell, Terrazzo seating

The Dell Restaurant, Terrazzo seating

Gwynne’s connections to Trusthouse Forte also led to two designs for a less romantic building type – the motorway services. One of these, Burtonwood on the M62 near Liverpool, was a favourite spot for autograph hunters in the 1980s, who were seeking out bands travelling between gigs, such as Yazoo and Tears for Fears.

Burtonwood Services, M62

Burtonwood Services, M62

Burtonwood is located in a landscape that Gwynne described as “flat uninteresting country”. The two polygonal-shaped pavilions were placed on mounds next to the road, their raised presence advertising the services in the absence of commercial signs at the time. Gwynne also wanted the distinctive conical roofs to be painted lipstick red to highlight their presence but the Royal Fine Art Commission – who vetted the design – blocked this idea and copper sheeting was used instead, which has weathered to beautiful verdigris. Combining dramatic form with practical function, the roof shape not only advertise the services to passing traffic but also hide chimneys and water tanks.

Burtonwood's distinctive roof

Burtonwood’s distinctive roof

Architectural pilgrims might be disappointed to find only one pavilion at Burtonwood today. The southern one was demolished in 2008, but its footprint is still visible on Google maps, where the extant pavilion resembles a flying saucer about to depart. Recession hit Liverpool hard as the services opened in 1974 and they were not as successful as intended. This economic slump meant Gwynne’s other services, intended for the M11 near Chigwell in Essex, were never built. Gwynne’s sketch is included in David Lawrence’s Food on the Move and shows low, circular buildings with a distinctly “Moderne” look, and tease us with a Gwynne design that we sadly cannot visit.

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