The Real Story Behind Bowellism

FurnitureFactoryside

DID YOU KNOW that there was a movement within the continuum of modern architecture called Bowellism? Actually, there wasn’t. But a one Michael de Web* and a fellow student, name of John Davidson, back at the Regent Street Polytechnic school of architecture in 1958 started one as a joke, pour epater their instructors some of whom tended to get a trifle too serious about the history of architecture.

The situation arose in the 4 th year when they, in the words of their critic Jim Stirling, were ‘invited’ to present a design for an association of furniture manufacturers. John and the newly fledged monsieur, being intrigued by Frederick Kiesler’s ‘Endless House’, decided that chicken wire and cement mortar was just what the manufacturers needed for their new building. John‘s preliminary design mimicked the forms of which the Endless House was composed whereas Michael’s involved turning a more conventional building inside out, such as what Kahn did at the roughly contemporaneous Richards Laboratory in Philadelphia; so that the services (toilets, broom closets, elevators, staircases) which used to be tucked away in the building’s core were now displayed for all to see on the outside.

Their two buildings, while ripping each other off, were sufficient to raise the ire of noted historian Nikolaus Pevsner. In a lecture on the return of historicism at the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1961 and later broadcast by the BBC Pevsner, according to Web, said ‘within the schools there are disturbing trends; I saw the other day a design for a building that looked like a series of stomachs sitting on a plate. Or bowels, connected with bits of gristle’. This might have been what Pevsner said but the printed records differ. Here is the erudition of Prof. Robyn Middleton: the building was an abstract sculpture of doughy, rooty, bony or gristly kind, not functionally the best solution, not [an] economically justifiable solution, nor acceptable in terms of townscape’.

Michael was stenciling in ink his name on a drawing. When he came to write his middle initial by mistake he used the lower case d rather than the upper case D. Rather than get into trouble for scratching out on a finished drawing he added a lower case e and removed the last b from Webb. Voila! By such absurdities did Andy Warhola become Andy Warhol.

FurnatureFactoryMoma

DID YOU KNOW that Reyner Banham, Architectural Review, passed on Webb’s Furniture Manufacturers Association Building (Furniture Factory) to MoMA curator, Arthur Drexler, for MoMA’s exhibit, Visionary Architecture, Sept. 1960, while Webb was still a student at the Regent Street Polytech?

We welcome your comments and questions.  Do you have a subject for the Did You Know Series?  Let us know.  Visit Michael Webb Two Journeys at https://michaelwebbtwojourneys.com

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