The Real Story Behind Bowellism

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.

For more go to Furniture Manufacturers Building at https://michaelwebbtwojourneys.com/furniture-factory

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FurnitureFactoryoil

Recent oil of the Furniture Factory done in 2007 for a Nat Chard article.

By
Nancy Wozniak with Michael Webb

  1. Webb, Michael, Personal Interview, May 2019
  2. Webb, Michael, (2018), Michael Webb Two Journeys, Zurich, Switzerland, Lars Muller Publishing
  3. Greene, D. and Hardingham, S. (2008) L.A.W.U.N. PROJECT #19, London, England, AA Publications

 

Visit Michael Webb Two Journeys at https://webbtwojourneys.com

One comment

  1. We welcome your thought and comments on The Furniture Manufacturing Building and your thoughts on architecture and design projects assigned to students. If you’ve never been an architecture student, it might be hard to understand the rigors and surviving the crits. Share your experiences.

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