Here is the story of one of the famous architects from the 20th century, who has given life to a dying dream of Span Development. Eric Alfred Lyons is a British Famous Architect, born on October 2nd, 1912, in Highbury, North London. Lyons started his journey as an architect at the age of 18 from J. Stanley Beard learned architecture and planning by attending evening classes at Regent Street Polytechnic, London.
In his early career, Lyon’s found himself fortunate to work at the offices of renowned architects named Walter Gropius and Maxwell Fry for a brief association. Influenced by the work of Walter Gropius, Lyon’s professional life took a significant change and got an opportunity to work on Span Development. Lyon’s success brought him an impressive array of awards and led him to lead an association of the RIBA in 1948. Lyons died in 1980 after a battle with motor neuron disease.
A stepping stone
Lyon’s built over 2,000 homes for the company, across the southern part of London. The estate work has proven a great success and Lyon’s stepped up towards more successful projects such as A New Ash Green in Kent. The Span developer was one of the notable developers of the 20th century, who allowed Lyon to work with them as a consultant, and later the same became one of his main clients for the rest of Lyons’s career. The Project was dedicated to creating awareness of designing a unique housing with a Scandinavian modernism style of building, with small-scale structures of brick and timber with hanging tile as the main design feature. Though the project started with a controversial entry into the world of development but ended with great success.
Concept and Philosophy
The name of the project New Ash Green was derived from two plots of land that had once formed part of both North Ash farm and New House Farm which was bought in 1961, with the concept behind was to design a village as a “whole” place for Twentieth Century living and providing for Twentieth Century people’s needs. The aim was to provide homes for 500 to 6000 people, with the focus on “balancing the social life” and attracting people of different ages and backgrounds. Providing the space for offices, studios, shops, and light industries for local employment. The ‘Neighbourhoods’ of New Ash Green were to be composed of 100 to 150 houses built in varying densities. As a low-density area, Redhill Wood was composed of fifty individual plots for owner-built houses. One of the key Kentish towns in London used terms such as ‘Minnis’ meaning common land or open space and ‘went’ meaning path or way, was adopted. Neighborhoods were designed along ‘Radburn’ lines which separated the roads from the pedestrian paths. All the houses would face or back onto a common green, certain residents may have had common greens at the back and front and back of their properties. As well as the housing, Eric Lyons and Partners were to design the Village’s public and county buildings including the shopping center, offices, community center, church, library, clinic, and primary school. The philosophy of their architectural style took as its motto “Form follows function”, meaning that the design and materials used for their buildings grew out of the purpose of the building.
Lyon’s focus was to establish the area with a sharp Modernist design with space, light and well-planned interiors, tempered with traditional features such as hung tiles and stock brick. The landscape was designed lavishly and communal gardens were also a common feature of Lyon’s design. The houses were built of brick flank and party walls, a central steel ‘A-frame, and horizontal ‘purlins’. The walls, front and back, first-story floor, and roof were constructed of prefabricated panels.
Innovation and technology
One of the innovations which were invented by Lyons was that he spoke of the ‘K-range’ in 1968, ‘The structure was based on a simple principle of a center frame containing four metal columns that house the staircase trimming, the heating, services, in standard dimensions. Lyon’s produced from the basic core of a house by a method of construction consisting of large, performed timber roof panels, wall panels, and roof panels. The panels are made in the factory on the site. This smart construction and technology led to the innovation of speedy construction and thus helped to achieve a higher number of spaces for inhabitants.
In addition, Lyon’s history has helped one to understand the value of balance between life and nature, it is important to design the world around it with balance and stability be it from nature, humans, or buildings. Each element plays an important role and thus it is equally important to understand its basic form for better functionality. Lyon was inspired by the notable quote “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dream” and proved this by his hard work to regenerate the end of the dream of the SPAN project and how SPAN rose again! In the end, it is proven and seen since history that, it is the power of the great mind behind great success and each one of us can own it, all you need is to dare to dream!
(Simms, B. 2017) Eric Lyons and Span. London RIBA Publishing
Ellard, P. (2021). New Ash Green. All about the concept & development of New Ash Green, URL. Available at: http://www.span-kent.co.uk/background.html#concept [Accessed: 10 February 2023]
Woodington, W. 1977 Eric Alfred Lyons ( 1912-1980), PRIBA. [Oil on canvas]. RIBA London
Unknown, 1960 1960s Eric Lyons-designed Span House in New Ash Green,[Photograph] Kent. Unknown