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Smithson, Alison

Smithson, Alison (1928–93) and Peter Denham (1923–2003). British architects and polemicists. A husband-and-wife team (married 1949), they formed a partnership in London (1950). As members of Team X (10) and CIAM they established themselves as leaders of the Modern Movement in Britain during the 1950s and 1960s. Their steel-framed Secondary School at Hunstanton, Norfolk (1949–54), the panels filled with bricks and glass, owed much to the style of Mies van der Rohe, and, with its exposed internal services, was claimed in some quarters to be an ‘honest’ expression of Functionalism, a rejection of New Empiricism, and a paradigm of New Brutalism: it was much admired by Banham and others, even though its problems were many in terms of solar-heat gain, lack of privacy, distortion of the steel frame through heat, and breakage of windows due to that distortion (all indicative that the building failed to function, and indeed one contemporary critic suggested that the ‘building seems to ignore the children for which it was built’). Their Economist Building, St James's, London (1962–4), was perceived as architecture of high quality in an established setting. With developments such as the Robin Hood Gardens Estate, London (1972), their use of exposed raw concrete derived from Le Corbusier's work confirmed them as exponents of ‘New Brutalism’, in a different sense to that used in relation to Hunstanton not unconnected with P. D. Smithson's nickname ‘Brutus’. The high-level corridor-streets, making a spurious connection with streets of terrace-housing, together with the character of the buildings, have not been universally admired and indeed have attracted opprobrium from many. Prolific writers, they published Urban Structuring (1967), Without Rhetoric: An Architectural Aesthetic 1955–72 (1973), and The Heroic Age of Modern Architecture (1981), all of which seem curiously dated, yet were influential at the time. They denounced architects of the stature of Lutyens, perceiving him as ‘irresponsible’, which is revealing of their attitudes.


Anno Domini, xxxii/12 (Dec. 1962), whole issue; xli/8 (Aug. 1971), 479–81; xliii/8 (Aug. 1973), 524–9 and 621–3; xliv/9 (Sept. 1974), 573–90; xlvi/6 (June 1976), 331–54;
Domus, dxxxiv (1974), 1–8;
Kalman (1994);
Smithson (ed.) (1968, 1982);
Smithson& and Smithson (1967, 1968, 1975, 1981, 1982, 1991, 2001);
van Vynckt (ed.) (1993);
Vidotto (1997);
Vidotto et al. (1991);
H. Webster (ed.) (1997);
Zodiac, iv (1959), 73–83

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