Arts and Crafts architecture is a romantic style of architecture that celebrates the handmade and bespoke. It uses materials and finishes to create a rustic effect and it breaks away from the formal symmetry of classically influenced compositions. There are good examples of rural houses but right here at the heart of things there is a wealth of amazing buildings using the style and technique of this artistic movement. Like this one on Oxford Road. We can see the waney edge oak boarding, brick and timber base with blackened oak timbers and render to the first floor. Leaded windows and low eaves with lots of roof above add to the cottage effect. It brings an anti industrial rural style into a suburban setting, in terms of materials but also in terms of spatial arrangement.
For a little mental contrast think of a towny type building with a formal street frontage and a symmetrical composition. Such buildings present an arrangement of the facade that shows regularity and often use cut stone mouldings to show prestige and dignity. Arts and crafts goes against all of that with big gables breaking out all over, porches, set backs, dropped roofs projecting features and special windows, often revealing, or at least telling a story about, the internal arrangement of rooms such as the hall and stairs.
I didn’t have the privilege of seeing inside this one except in my own imagination. Into the shelter of the porch after a long trek across the wild moorlands of Moseley and after knocking the great knocker on the heavy oak door, I was admitted to the oak panelled hallway. As my eyes adjusted to the coloured light filtering through the stained glass windows, through a half open panelled door I saw the light shining from the great fireplace in the hall, where, dressed in his smoking jacket and Turkish slippers stood mr Witchington reading a letter with the dark look of conspiracy in his eyes.
The Moseley School of Architecture is a private architecture school based in Moseley, Birmingham. It is a postgraduate school but unlike other schools of architecture in the UK, students do not train to be diploma graduates ready to serve time as assistants in practice, but complete the course as fully qualified architects competent to work as sole practitioners or as project architects in practice having both the ARB part 2 and part 3 qualifications and becoming registered architects.
Teaching and course structure
The Moseley School diploma combines both the ARB part 2 and part 3 courses which are studied in combination over four years of part time attendance. The coursework is divided into two parts – design and technical knowledge, theory and practice. For the design and technical knowledge all years are taught together in small groups on a design unit system, led by individual tutors, with each unit having it’s own agenda and students being free to set their own project briefs in response to the unit investigation and ambition. Assessment of the design element will be by portfolio and presentation of the final scheme.
The theory and practice branch of the course is taught through a mixture of compulsory and optional lectures, seminars and workshops which will develop the students individual investigations in architectural writing and analysis as well as the understanding of the legal and contractual framework of architectural practice.
Throughout the course students will be expected to work in architectural practice either as sole practitioners or in groups and design and deliver real built projects as part of their practical experience required for their professional qualification. These real projects will be used to form the practical experience and analytic elements of the ARB part 3 requirements for professional practice. As well as the technical and contractual knowledge gained the students are required to develop understanding in the business element of practice including finance and accounts.
Applicants will be expected to have a degree in architecture with exemption from the ARB part 1 qualification. Students with alternative relevant qualifications and suitable experience will be considered and supported to achieve ARB part 1. Attendance is four years part time but may be reduced in cases where the student shows advanced progress.
At the beginning of the twenty first century we find ourselves in a situation of both looking forwards into an imagined consumerist utopia and backwards into a state of economic and political regression. The concrete ambitions for international development in terms of global health, culture and emancipation of the second half of the twentieth century have given way to inequality, violence and ideological backwardness. As architects and educators the founders of the Moseley School believe that the profession of architecture cannot tolerate or condone this economic and political culture and that by creating and disseminating an architectural culture which is socially relevant, environmentally responsible and founded on the development of the architect’s real craft and knowledge, we are able to positively influence our social, political and economic environment in a way which reflects the twenty first century we would like to see.
Please note that the Moseley School of Architecture is entirely fictitious
The more I look at older houses the stronger my belief becomes that architects in former times were carpenters by training. The walls present certain technical problems in terms of structural requirements, but they mainly serve as a stage for the finer items – windows, doors, stairs, skirtings and mouldings. Look also at the use of the floors not just as structure elements but also the detailing of the openings – at the landings for example. In carpentry, once the need for robust sections and strong joints is understood, the opportunities for variation and decoration present themselves very readily. The timber can be easily worked to create profiles, returns (where a timber element turns a corner) and fancy work such as relief carving, applied and cut in patterns. The hierarchy of structural elements – stronger and thinner – suggests a related hierarchy in terms of the decorative elements – delicate, fine or robust – which seems to have a proportionate and natural sense of rightness about it.
Follow the fireplaces through the house and we can see that the dark and heavy relief carving of the reception rooms progresses to a lightness and delicacy in the bedrooms. Nice.
Another reason why I see carpentry in the design of these buildings is in the roofs. I have talked a little about this before but a pitched roof, made of timber, follows certain key principles in it’s design. In it’s simplest form horizontal timbers are laid on to the top of the walls and a long horizontal board is propped up in position at the ridge by sloping timbers – so that’s the wall plates, the ridge board and the rafters. We fix long strips of wood – the tile battens – to the rafters and nail the roof tiles to them so that they overlap and let the rain run off into the gutter below. These houses transcend that in terms of their design, with hip ends (the roof ends are pitched with rafters, not with a gable wall), projecting gables and dropped eaves. The carpentry is complex but cleanly resolved. What I find most impressive is the subtlety with which the walls respond to and create the roof patterns that rise above them.
Certain geometrical aspects are fixed as laws which if broken create consequences for the subsequent parts of the roof. The ridge and wall plate must be level and true. If the ridge rises, or the wall plates drift apart, the tile battens will not be parallel and the tiles, which are of uniform size, won’t overlap properly. Other elements can be varied to create effects. A projecting wing will get a ridge of it’s own and the height of that ridge depends on the width of the wing – a wide projecting wing gets a high ridge and a big gable, a narrow one gets a low ridge and a small gable. We can step these one in front, one behind. We can also drop the wall plate to bring the roof down (or raise it to go up). You often see this on smaller houses with simple roofs, where the street front looks a little taller and more impressive without using up so many expensive bricks at the back. But this is a rule with a consequence – either the ridge board moves towards the high wall plate or the rafters from the low side have to get steeper. You see the latter on smaller houses sometimes, but if these walls return (turn a corner) you get a gable whose apex is off centre. Complex pitched roofs have equal pitches and they create their complexity by the subtle arrangement of the wall plates and walls below. To create a structure of this nature the designer must have a deep understanding of roof carpentry.
Check out this baby! Lots of roof, lots of gable. She steps right forwards and drops down to the entrance. Look at the outside and you can almost see the entrance hall – under the lamp, press on the oak, through the big door frame and you are in the space between the structural wall seen upstairs and the thick wall with the fireplace making up the living room. Your very own baronial hall on a tiny scale. Bet the stairs are nice too. With Arts and Crafts everything needs to have character and be part of a romantic story. Look at the tiny windows below the big eaves to the right. Says hallway to me. Look at the windows on the end gable. That loft room surely has exposed beams like Anne Hathaway’s cottage. What about the diamond in the top of the street front gable. If there’s a room for writing a secret letter you have just found it. Now get on the horse and ride like the wind!