10. ART AS ARCHITECTURE, ARCHITECTURE AS ART
This month I was going to write about an art project, but in May Chris and I had the pleasure of staying in Portmeirion Village in North Wales and as a result I have been inspired to write a short piece about architecture instead!
Being in the village itself was like walking around a painting. Shapes, angles and colour have always held a fascination for me - and this village is a feast! I found myself getting up at the crack of dawn to see as much as I could in all sorts of light.
Portmeirion is a charming and extraordinary village built by Sir Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis in two phases - 1925 to 1939 and 1954 to 1976. It is perhaps most famous as the backdrop for cult TV series ‘The Prisoner’, featuring Patrick McGoohan, in 1967-68. It is also world renowned for its pottery. His eldest daughter, Susan, co- founded the Portmeirion Potteries Ltd. in 1960.
The Italianate architecture is beautiful and sits it its environment as if it has always been there. Clough himself said about town planning that “...it should be possible to develop and exploit even a very beautiful place without thereby spoiling it...”
American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, who had Welsh heritage, visited Williams-Ellis in 1956. His ideas on architecture were similar in that he believed that buildings should “serve to honour and enhance the natural beauty surrounding them.” Lloyd Wright developed a style known as the Prairie School in the late 19th / early 20th century derived, in part, from the Arts & Crafts Movement. He aimed towards ‘organic architecture’.
Without delving too deep it would seem there are a number of parallels between the work of these two architects. Both incorporated Art Nouveau into their designs, both had a respect for the environment, building in harmony with the surroundings and considering the people who would inhabit their creations. Both made use of natural materials and water features and used colour to great effect.
Architecture has power! It is an artform that surrounds us - for good or bad. It can affect our outlook, our mood, our way of being, our health, our productivity.
Portmeirion seems to have a history of attracting creative minds and facilitating creative work.
Noel Coward wrote Blithe Spirit there. Other famous guests included H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, Brian Epstein and more recently Jools Holland, who loves the place.
It is always possible to find beauty in brutalist architecture in terms of light and shadow, lines and angles, but there is something about architecture that is built with the intention of allowing us to interact with or appreciate nature, colour, shape and natural light that feels fundamentally good for the human soul.
So, our thanks go to Cat and Bruce Frumerman who invited us to Portmeirion, and who were our ‘seriously expert’ guides whilst there.