Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Red House: A Brief Outline

 Name: The Red House

Address: Red House Lane, Bexleyheath, London, DA6 8JF

Site painting by John Tenant 

Location:  The site was carefully selected by both the commissioner, William Morris, and the architect, Philip Webb. It is located in Upton, Northern Kent, surrounded by markets, orchards, and gardens, facing south to the valley of the River Cray. The site was ideal  Morris and Webb found the site ideal for its dense greenery and controlled humidity. Morris deeply admired the English landscape so many Victorians found dreary. In 1860 Upton was only a small settlement, today it is a dense London Suburb. Artist and biographer John Tenant portrayed the site in an idyllic painting (see image on right).


The Purpose: The construction of the Red House was a response to the mass production in the Industrial Revolution. By the mid nineteenth century, people were beginning to see the revolution's impact on social and environmental aspects of their lives. For the first time, a large proportion of consumer goods sold in stores were mass produced in factories. Many people, such as English art critic John Ruskin, criticized the manufactured goods as soulless, cheap and lacking creativity. As a reaction of this, the design of Red House had sparked the start of the Arts and Crafts movement. Ruskin and his followers believed and followed the medieval guild model, promoting the idea that everyone should hand make the things they need from start to finish. The home owner and designer of the Red House, William Morris, was one of the followers of Ruskin; as a result, the Red House was created in a way that promoted the Arts and Crafts Movement that began shortly after. 



Note the windows with different shapes on the Red House
Construction: The exterior of the Red House was heavily influenced by the handcrafted characteristics of Gothic and Medieval style architecture. Various elements of the house, such as the different looking windows (see image on right) and the locally manufactured bricks, all contribute to its Medieval and handmade appeal. The layout of the house is a L shaped courtyard, where in the center stands a well, one which provided a major source of water when the house was first built. Directly adjacent to the well is the stairwell inside the house, giving the space a nice view of the courtyard. The design of the house incorporated the practical idea of John Ruskin that the function of each room inside the house is directly reflected by the exterior of the space. The nature of such design gets rid of any unnecessary fancy decoration that takes away from the practicality of the rooms.


Architect Biography: The commissioner and co-designer of the house was William Morris, who was born in Walthamstow in 1834. Morris studied to become an architect, and for a short term of his life, he worked at the office of George Edmund Street, where he met his co-worker and soon-to-be close friend, Philip Webb. Growing up, Morris had always had strong interests in arts; as a working architect, Morris found that it was not possible to continue perusing his passion with the amount of work he received everyday as an architect. He soon decided to quit his job and became a full-time painter instead. Throughout his life, Morris had worked on various mural paintings across the country; such includes the Oxford debating chamber, where he painted the tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Morris later married Jane Burden, an artist's model for Morris, and that was when the couple decided to settle down by beginning the design of the Red House. The second architect who also worked on the house was Phillip Webb, the Red House was the first house he had ever designed, and for this, he was also known as the Father of the Arts and Crafts movement. Webb was fond of simplistic design with high quality, and his motto was "to consume the least possible, yet without impoverishment".


Narrative: The English Enclosure Acts (18th - 19th century) were a series of English acts that enclosed/took away the farmland of the peasants. Before this act took place, the English peasants rented land from the rich in order to produce food for survival. As time passed, the rich realized that raising sheep for wool was much more profitable than farming, and therefore they used the Parliamentary Act to take back their land from the unneeded farmers. Without space to grow their food, the farmers sought new factory jobs located in the city. The Enclosure Acts thus fueled the progression of the Industrial Revolution, which promoted the production of manufactured goods. The Red House architects desired to counteract the impact of the Industrial Revolution and therefore designed the Red house. In 1851, the Great Exhibition took place in England. Also known as the Crystal Palace, the exhibition was aimed to display the wealth of the European country as a result of their successful industrial revolution. It was an event created for England to show off to the world, a purpose which Ruskin and Morris were horrified by.



"I got a friend to build me a house, very medieval in spirit in which I lived for 5 years, and set myself to decorating it; we found, I and my friend the architect especially, that all the minor arts were in a state of complete degradation, especially in England..." 
William Morris, to Andreas Scheu, September 1883


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Citation:


Jan, Marsh. Marsh, Jan. William Morris & Red House. London, UK: National Trust, n.d.

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