Obituary: David Green

Norman Scarfe
Thursday 08 October 1998 23:02

LAST MAY, in the galleries of the Prince of Wales's Institute of Architecture at Gloucester Gate, Alan Powers and Elain Harwood mounted an exhibition entitled "Tayler and Green, Architects 1938-1973: the spirit of place in rural housing". It was, I suppose, years overdue, for the architects retired (disenchanted) a quarter of a century ago to a house they designed for themselves in Spain. Meanwhile, the need for architects with a sense of place in house-building has become progressively more urgent in the face of official warnings of dire housing shortages. However belated, this exhibition was spectacular, an eye-opener even for those of us who not only live in East Anglia but actually know the wide claylands above the Waveney in which Herbert Tayler and David Green worked for three decades with dedication and genius.

The exhibition's handsome, generously illustrated catalogue set out the careers and achievements of the two architects. They had made the organisers' job easier by depositing in the Suffolk County Record Office, when they retired, their entire professional archive. Yet students of their architecture will be hard put deciding who contributed what in any of their housing designs: it is almost as hard, and as thankless, as trying to appreciate what Somerville and Ross contributed individually to The Real Charlotte.

The architectural historian Alan Powers has recognised that Tayler and Green's student drawings at the Architectural Association (from 1929) are the most complete set surviving from any school of architecture before the Second World War. (Nor are their notes on their tutors and lectures without interest.) Tayler was reckoned the best student in his year, but Powers rates Green's drawings "often equally good", and already revealing his strong interest in building construction.

Throughout this lifelong partnership, Herbert Tayler (Bertie) tended to take the lead in visual decisions, the way buildings looked, in the landscape and with one another, designing their shapes, settling on their materials and colours (not that there was much choice of materials in the years of post-war scarcity). This doesn't mean that decisions weren't fruitfully agreed. David Green looked after engineering matters, such as footings and weight-bearing and drainage.

Green, born in 1912, was the son of a well-established Lowestoft architect. On 25 April 1916, fortunately no one was at home when a shell from a German battleship converted their house into a bungalow at a stroke, the source, possibly of his lifelong preoccupation with the single and multi-storey dwellings. At prep school in Lowestoft, he was a year senior to Benjamin Britten, for whom they designed a beautiful little opera house in 1950, to replace Aldeburgh's Jubilee Hall. Alas, the money couldn't be found. (Green and Britten shared an enthusiasm for fast cars, derived from the period rather than their prep school.)

Tayler, who had a Scottish father and a Dutch mother, was born in Java, and needed ultimately to retire to a climate warmer than East Anglia. He and Green first worked together on his thesis-design for a "National Opera House" in Regent's Park, Green helping with mechanical drawings. They were always passionate about the opera. Driving with them to Glyndebourne was lovely when you arrived: both were incorrigible back-seat drivers. By nature David was open-hearted and very congenial.

The beauty of their work lies in observing the detail. Gavin Stamp lately described Tayler and Green as "a significant part of modern British architecture, but not in terms of the cult of the superstar, or an obsession with style". He saw that "their drawings reveal how a slight recession or projection in a terrace can produce poetry", and testified: "Their work has much to teach us all still".

They first made a name for themselves in 1937-38 with a Modern Movement studio-house in Highgate. It may be that their natural development, in Norfolk, into what Pevsner in 1960 admiringly called "almost post-modern", is what dis-endeared them to so many of their indoctrinated colleagues and accelerated their regrettable retirement.

In 1941-42, they were directed to work on Lowestoft's Blitz damage: Green's father had died. Much rebuilding, and new agricultural building, was needed. Tayler was himself badly injured in a Lowestoft raid, and they moved to Ditchingham and then Alburgh, their home for 30 years. They were appalled by the existing standards for rural dwellings, saw that they must work with "low cost" and local building materials.

And so they devised their celebrated rural terraces, often long, but never rigid, and made particularly attractive to their council tenants (now often the proud owners) chiefly by supplying a wide frontage, individually recognisable, and embracing a "through store", an enclosure for prams, bikes, and space to barrow a muck-load through.

As early as 7 February 1983, the Eastern Daily Press was uneasy about the effects of privatisation on these robust yet vulnerable architectural masterpieces: why are the best not listed by English Heritage? The greatest memorial to David Green's life is the cordial and effective way he and Herbert Tayler worked with the Loddon Rural District Council - Sherban Cantacuzino has called it "a triumph of artistic patronage"; few District Councils are accused of that - and enhanced the landscape of Loddon in his native Waveney for all of us.

David John Green, architect: born Lowestoft, Suffolk 11 September 1912; died Altea, Spain 3 October 1998.

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