A gentle soul with an imaginative mind who explored all forms of life and viewed architecture as an extension of it. Dannatt, who passed away at age 101, was an influential figure in the generation of renowned architects whose careers followed World War II. In addition to being an academic, he was a great writer and teacher. In complement to his thoughtful and sensitive buildings, he took a leading role in the debate about modernism and “humanist architecture“.
In his creations, he transformed modernist thinking with his sensitivity and human-centered designs. The architect was familiar with modernist designers such as Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Alvar Aalto. He worked for many of Britain’s then celebrated modernists, including Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry, and his interaction with them, or the art they collected, is itself a history of the 20th century. He worked on understanding the needs of humans, and problems and finding solutions with the most humane approach. He was a prominent writer and teacher who pushed students and redefined the art of teaching architecture. Throughout his earlier days, he was curious about celebrating life and finding beauty in everything around which formulated his philosophy for architecture.
Trever Dennnat: Architecture as celebrating life
After visiting Sweden and Denmark in the 1940s and Finland in 1956, the Scandinavian style was a major influence on the design. From 1948 to 1962, Dannett edited Architects’ Yearbook, which published his accounts of the trip. In describing them later, he wrote, ‘They are all an expression of generosity, concern for the human dimension, creativity, and plasticity, and they are always well put together with color and tactile sensibility. In addition to architecture, Trevor was interested in a variety of things. Throughout his life, he devoted a considerable amount of time to writing prose, poetry, and other writings. An important part of his involvement was in the debate over the language of post-war architecture. The author of the illuminating book on Trevor opens his work by quoting him from the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1969: “Literature makes an order, a whole view of human existence, a matrix”. Classical music was his passion; he loved to play piano duets well into his 101st year, celebrating his centenary with a concert by the Tallis Scholars at St Alfege’s in Greenwich. With art, music, poetry, and interior design centered around human needs, sensitive, humane spaces resulted from celebrating art, music, and poetry. Including architecture, all kinds of art have their own internal landscapes of forms, patterns, ideas, and experiences. Using a limited palette of often traditional materials and forms, he produced discrete but memorable buildings. He was influenced by modernist architects and it is evident in some of his designed buildings. The touch of sensitivity in designing with knowledge concerning various fields made his journey unique and remarkable.
Blackheath Quaker Meeting House, London
Built-in 1971-72, largely from reinforced concrete, and designed by Trevor Dannatt who worked on the Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank is an example of a building designed through simple principles and details. Silent worship is promoted at Quaker meetings, and a double door separates the main meeting room from other spaces. Providing a sense of concentration centering down in Quaker lingo and progressing into the light is an important symbol in Quakerism. An overhead lantern lights the meeting room on the first floor and marks a lovely expression of Quaker philosophy in a modern interpretation. If there is no priest, altar, or another point of focus, a circle or square pattern is more common. The Quaker principle of simplicity is reflected in the minimal ornamentation on the walls; most are plain concrete or brickwork, or painted blockwork, although some are plastered. reinforced concrete dominates the structure. The hallway from the lobby into the meeting room is designed with a 180-degree turn and stepped walls and ceilings. With its concrete exterior side and blockwork interior, the main meeting room is believed to be one of only a few concrete brutalist Quaker Meeting Houses in Britain. There is an exposed steel tension member and timber compression member on the roof of the main meeting room, which supports a lantern. A timber structure supporting the flat roof over the lobby and kitchen is strengthened with steel at changes in level, and it is painted gray to match the exterior paint. In its usual seat arrangement, the main meeting room seats 100 people in a square with chamfered corners.
The room is lit mainly by the square lantern and four skylights in the four corners, despite a small conventional window facing the road. In addition to the lantern, lighting is arranged around the skylights and supported by steel rods from the roof structure. In addition to defining the threshold to the building, the Peace Garden uses lost space and forms part of the centering process – it is open to everyone, supervised when children are using it, yet welcoming to all.
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- the Guardian. 2022. Saved for the nation: Quaker meeting houses where silence is cherished. [online] Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2019/may/11/quaker-friends-houses-upgraded-listing-by-dcms-historically-important> [Accessed 9 June 2022].