On the cusp of September and October around thirty intrepid C20 members packed their sou-westers for a two-day visit around the finest architecture of the far west tip of England. Starting off in Penzance – ‘the Cannes of the Cornish Riviera’ – the group were given a tour from Newlyn Art Gallery (opened 1895 as the Newlyn School of Art, and redeveloped in 2007 by McInnes Usher McKnight Architects (MUMA) through the back alleys and interwar housing estates not usually visited by the sea-air hunting visitor, through Morrab Gardens, and out into the bustling Saturday morning shoppers on Market Jew Street. Our guide for the day was Nick Cahill, always an engaging fount of knowledge, and a Penzance resident. There was so much to see from the start, including Acland House on Lidden Road of 1936 (ascribed to Geoffrey Bazely but maybe instead by Colin Drewitt), and its neighbour just up the hill, Coast of 2008 by Jonathan Hosking Design, which references the Art Deco forms and materials of its younger sibling. As the views towards St Michael’s Mount started to fade as the sea mist rolled in, we admired several buildings in the town centre, including the former Penzance and District Electric Supply Co. Showroom of 1935, with most of its original Vitrolite panels surviving; The Exchange Art Gallery, the sister to Newlyn and also by MUMA converted in 2007 from , you’ve guessed it, a telephone exchange; and Cowell, Drewitt & Wheatley’s St Michael’s Cottages of 1932, which strangely gave the air of today’s small new housing developments with its hipped roofs, white rendered walls and granite quoins. We were given access to the Ritz cinema (A.H. Jones, 1935), now closed, in line for renovation, and as such without electricity. This was a strange and slightly spooky experience as everyone tried to figure out how to use the torches on their phones to see the original plaster mouldings, grilles and details in the dark. Our morning ended with the divergent three-storey houses of Regent Court (1934) and Sunholme (1936) by F.G. Drewitt and Colin Drewitt respectively. And what a contrast! Curved Crittall corner windows on the latter were up against a mansard roof and dormers on the former. Throughout Penzance the differing tastes and experiments of the Drewitt family were evident. Lunch was at the 1936 Yacht Inn, again by Colin Drewitt, where we were treated to a surprise visit from Martin Nixon from Friends of Jubilee Pool, our next stop. Jubilee Pool is perhaps the twentieth-century highlight of Penzance, designed by the Borough Engineer Captain Frank Latham, opened in 1935 and Grade II listed. Despite a severe battering by the 2014 storms, it has been beautifully repaired and is a popular destination for locals and visitors. Our afternoon was cut short by a howling gale and horizontal rain, although a few hardy delegates managed to peep under their hoods and umbrellas at the Moderne 4 South Terrace on the promenade, 1938 by Colin Drewitt for Norman Fletcher.
On day two, and still drying out from the day before, we boarded our coach and headed east to the Fal estuary, where we visited Otter Creek, 1961 by Giles Blomfield, and Shooldarry, 1962 by Michael Whitham. These two modernist houses are built into a slope, one above the other, looking towards Calenick Creek. The former won an RIBA bronze award in 1964, and is currently being restored to its original form, revising some previous totally inappropriate alterations. Shooldarry was designed and built by Whitham for his young family, and he continues to live there with his wife today. The essence of the design of both houses remains fifty-three years on, influenced by Bauhaus and Scandinavian design, with monopitch roofs, white walls and simple shapes that were trademarks of the John Crowther & Associates practice, of which Whitham and Blomfield were young assistants. As the rain started to ease, we made our way to Feock where the first stop was Gillanglaze, by John Pardey Architects, 2014, and commended in the 2015 Cornish Buildings Group awards and the recipient of an RIBA South West Award in 2016. The house is positioned above Creek Vean, the famous Team 4 house of 1967, and is sensitive in its massing and positioning. The giant cantilevered wing with full height glazing looking down the estuary was certainly impressive. Across the estuary is Pillwood House, and for many this was the highlight of the trip. Designed by John Miller with Su Rogers in 1971-4 for Su’s parents as a holiday hideaway, Pillwood has been described as ‘a pioneering hi-tech structure’, and indeed this hi-tech approach included the first use of fibreglass in a house. Located on a secluded and wooded site overlooking the estuary, the house is entirely glazed to the living areas at the front, almost like a traditional glasshouse in design, with enclosed bedrooms, divided by movable screens, and a small kitchen and bathroom behind. The two floors are linked by a rather space-age spiral staircase at the rear, and a dizzying spiral with no balustrade at the front. Pillwood won the RIBA South West Award in 1975, and its recognition continues with its successful Grade II* listing in August 2017. Our final stop was the National Maritime Museum Cornwall in Falmouth, designed by Long & Kentish in 1996 and opened in 2003. We were privileged to have a short talk by MJ Long herself on the development of the museum’s design, followed by a short tour.
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