Lubetkin: Whipsnade’s manifest | José Ramón Hernández Correa

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On November 7, 2003 my friend Ángel Sanguino gave me a book published by the Universitat Politécnica de Catalunya titled Aprendiendo de todas sus casas. It gave it to me during a food that a group of friends architects we were doing in Toledo on the first Fridays of every month, and to whose desserts we were reading an article (about this maybe speak another day).

It gave it to me with the exigency of which he was reading loudly The Manifest of Whipsnade, of Berthold Lubetkin. He liked much how this architect had been capable of writing a manifest in negative: With what eloquence it was enumerating what things it was not the house that he had constructed for yes same during his works in Whipsnade’s zoo, between 1933 and 1935, and how, by means of these denials, it was doing implicit very interesting affirmations.

Berthold Lubetkin (1901-1990) |
Berthold Lubetkin (1901-1990) |

It was required from me that he was reading it loudly for the general knowledge of the rock. (And because it knew that my good moderate voice of baritone is irresistible).

I read (I had forgotten) the dedication-ejaculatory that I wrote in the book:

“When my death comes that my executioner, put for you, be bloodthirsty”. (No coment).

As I am easy prey of praise, and I am even willing to sing a bolero if someone tells me that I do it well, I got up and read:

-It is not a ‘Modern House’, a ‘Refuge’, which, according to the masters, should be impersonal, unconscious and insignificant in its hygienic anonymity; something that can only be said to be made of Reinforced Concrete.

It is not the direct functional result of a successful choice of place and materials; or of the digestive or hygienic habits of its inhabitants; in fact it is not a kind of mixture of philosophy, gastronomy and structure.

It does not pretend to be the last, modest, silent and objective link of any chain of the Nordic or English tradition.

No trata de mostrar que su planta venía determinada por alguna regla trigonométrica de las trazas de circulación de la cocina, o por algún destemplado intento de atrapar la luz del sol dentro de He does not try to show that his plant was determined by some trigonometric rule of the traces of circulation of the kitchen, or by some intemperate attempt to catch the sunlight inside a dusty corner, or by the standard length of the reinforced concrete beams .

He does not try to prove that his design sprang ‘naturally’ from the conditions received, such as a common pumpkin, a Victoria Regia or a deep-sea fish.

It does not pretend that your podium, which effortlessly raises the house 30 cm around its perimeter, avoiding the contact of the walls with soil moisture, is designed for structural reasons; although it would be quite easy to explain in this area, since it is evident that the flight of the slab reduces the positive moment in the center of the span.

It does not pretend that the framework of prefabricated concrete elements that support the roof, filled with insulation, fiberglass or heating panels, is a logical or rational system for building walls. This is despite the fact that the horizontal elements of the framework reduce the free height of the verticals and therefore their risk of buckling, allowing the thickness of the supports to decrease. An enclosure made in this way does not have to be the most economical, logical and rational solution. In fact, other walls in the same house are built monolithically with reinforced concrete 10 cm thick – insulated with 4 cm cork, plastered to the interior – where an effect of solidity deserving of a family portrait was intended.

The flat roof is not a sign of the exhibitionist tendencies of nudist inhabitants; the bathroom is not illuminated overhead to jealously preserve the privacy of the user; the auctions are not specially designed for local cats or for sleepwalkers; and the kitchen sink has never worked properly.

On the contrary, the author admits that there is, on the bathroom walls, a collection of tropical butterflies; and that the bedspreads have small bells stitched to brighten the sleep of their occupants.

The author also admits that he has not capitulated to the accidents of a land that was imposed on him; that he excavated 800 cubic yards of dazzling plaster, full of megalithic fossils, to get a flat platform and a horizontal house – where any Czech would have made a tiered house with a garden roof.

I confess that some of Lubetkin’s slippery allusions do not get them. I’m not as sharp as Angel. But I like, in general, how he throws puzzles at both the Corbu and organic architecture (ah, the terrain), and how it takes away all transcendence to the act of projecting.

But it is a false modesty and a false denial of transcendence, as when John Ford said he was not an artist (and you have to see what camera frames, what precise gusts of wind). In fact, denying all the qualities, Lubetkin wants them all and proclaims them all. But I like his detachment, his bad mood and his cramped mood.

In any case, it is a good lesson to design a house as you have to project a house, and nothing else. And nothing less.

José Ramón Hernández Correa
PhD Architect and author of Arquitectamos locos?
Toledo · july 2012

José Ramón Hernández Correa

Nací en 1960. Arquitecto por la ETSAM, 1985. Doctor Arquitecto por la Universidad Politécnica, 1992. Soy, en el buen sentido de la palabra, bueno. Ahora estoy algo cansado, pero sigo atento y curioso.

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