A Modernist in Suburbia, Kenneth Wood Architect


Usually I try to find some sort of film to inspire me each week, it’s been a category on the site that we’ve enjoyed filling up over the years. It also seems like a lot of people respond to film in a positive way, I guess when you can see and hear at the same time all the senses come alive, even if you are looking at a computer screen. Hopefully you’ll admire and pick up some inspiration from this film today, I certainly did myself, and it’s given me lots of ideas on the architecture front.

Today I’m going to highlight a documentary type film based on the work of Kenneth Wood, an architect whose designs helped shape the outskirts of London. The piece itself was commissioned by Dr Fiona Fisher, funded by the AHRC, and supported by Kingston University in London, where Kenneth recently donated archival materials, including models, plans and drawings. As you’ll see in this film below, Kenneth was quite an architect and won a fair amount of awards throughout the 60’s. It’s pretty obvious looking at his works that he was inspired heavily by modernism, also taking on an ‘international’ influence, thanks to his travels through Canada and America. Two places that stuck out in my opinion were his trips to Vancouver and Toronto, where he was influenced by timber-framed architecture, confirming his view that there had to be more respect for the environment. Also his trip to Chicago, where you had the ‘stamps’ of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe, all of these experiences must have led him to come up with his own conclusions on what was right and what was wrong in the design field.

The film starts off by showcasing some fantastic archive imagery that Kenneth Wood snapped himself on his travels around the globe, after we get to hear what Kenneth has to say about his time as a designer, we also view one of his most famous houses designed for Stanley Picker. Stanley’s impeccable late-modernist house in Kingston upon Thames was designed in 1968 by Kenneth, and was very open plan in its nature, it was also a place where he could build a private gallery to store his art collection. Stanley died in 1982 leaving the house and its collection under the Stanley Picker Trust umbrella, an enduring legacy that ensures his passion for the arts lives on to this day.

I have to say that the directing and editing by Gilly Booth of hijack is both compelling and exciting, in a lot of ways it reminds me of the Eames duo with their recent movie. Snappy and short, with some nice jazz music to go alongside which makes the piece flow from one scene to another. Overall a common theme with Kenneths architecture is repetition and a grid like structure, but most importantly he wanted to create flexible living so he introduced variation, for example partitions that move around and divide the space depending on the owner. This is something that I myself am trying to implement in to my own design work, to follow a pattern but have the concept of changing and moving when the user needs to. It always reminds me of that Bruce Lee quote, “Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water”. I think more of us need to think like this and bring it forward in to all walks of design.