Eric de Mare changed the way we see. Born in 1910, he became immensely influential in the immediate post Second World War period, when his photographs transfixed two generations of young architects. His war had been a gentle one because of ill health, spent partly in the Home Guard designing what he called 'frondy camouflage', and from 1942 to 1946, being Editor of our sister paper, The Architects' Journal (when the AJ was exiled to suburban Cheam, and this magazine was edited by Nikolaus Pevsner from the same place).
But it was in the AR that his photographic genius flourished, in a series of special issues that celebrated canals, the Thames and, most importantly, the buildings of the Industrial Revolution, which were then ignored or being destroyed as a reaction to the horrors of the nineteenth-century transformation of society. His wonderfully contrasty pictures made us all aware of the noble, Roman solidity of some of the structures and the simple, honed elegance of their detailing. James Stirling said of The Functional Tradition, the book that came out of a 1957 special issue of the AR (with words by Editor J. M. Richards), that it showed a world of 'direct and undecorated volumes evolved from the functions, of their major elements'. You can easily see the immense effect of the book on the work of young Stirling and his contemporaries.
Eric was the son of Bror and Ingrid, Swedes in the timber trade who had come to live in England as so many did at the time. He never forgot his Swedish roots, and was one of the people who promoted Scandinavian Modernism in The Review before and after the War. He produced the first book in English on Asplund, and was as devoted to the Gota Canal, which beautifully cuts across low forested southern Sweden, as he was to the Thames and its tributaries. Trained as an architect at the Architectural Association in the early '30s and a member of the RIBA, he practised on his own between 1936 and 1940. But he already started to publish in the early '40s. In 1946, he bravely decided that he could not bear to have a job any more, and became a freelance writer and photographer. Yet he remained in much demand at the AR. He was part of that stunning group -- Hastings, Piper, Lancaster, Casson and their friends -- who gathered in the private basement pub of our old offices in Queen Anne's Gate to support British Functiona lism and the rise of a new version of the Picturesque. His association with the brilliant illustrator Gordon Cullen was particularly fruitful, generating moving visual polemics on what could be done in the public realm, if only we could find vision. Sadly, though the images were very powerful, they largely ended up in generating now unloved tracts of cobbles surrounded by bollards -- about as far as planners and civil engineers could understand the complex and sensitive human proposal of Townscape.
On the whole, Queen Anne's Gate at that time, for all its suppressed problems, must have been absolutely wonderful. (It was when I got there too, but rather differently.) Eric recalled 'the pleasant summer days Gordon and I spent gliding along the Thames in a cruiser at the legitimate expense of the Architectural Press, taking snaps and concocting ideas'. And Jim Richards used to talk about how he and de Mare would regularly climb into a small car for a week to tour the whole country, finding content for The Functional Tradition. The magazine came out without them. I wonder how. Of his other books, Photography and Architecture (1961) and Architectural Photography (1975) were perhaps the most influential, and both remain important.
He was a most delightful companion, witty, sardonic but sensitive, long memoried and kind. He was a life-long passionate advocate of Social Credit, an idealistic predecessor of Keynesianism, which turned out not to work when it was applied in Alberta. It offered a gentle and happy existence to all. Throughout his life, he believed that civilization isn't 'easy to define but an essential ingredient is the leisure with security that would allow us, in Lethaby's phrase, "to add to what may be loved'" -- De Mare's work showed us how to extend our love.
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|Publication:||The Architectural Review|
|Article Type:||Brief Article|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2002|
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