Artist Constructor Ltd, 70s Private Housing.

August 28, 2009

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I took some slides of these houses in mid 70s while looking at modern buildings in Bristol area. Two of my slides have been on Flickr for a while and I am surprised to find that these are still proving interesting to people. I discovered an old AJ article about these houses and thought that the background information including hinted idealism (a rarity these days) may even inspire somebody else to take up the baton in the 21st century.

AJ published a little article in their 12April 1972 issue by Douglas Frank. The following plans and words are abstracted from there.

“The firm describes itself and its work in its sales brochures in these words; ‘Artist Constructors Ltd was formed in 1968 with the sole objective of creating buildings of a very high architectural quality. The company only undertakes projects where it is able to control the design and production, ensuring that design ideas are worked through to the completed building. Its staff have studied architecture and town planning in Finland, Russia, Denmark, Holland, France, Italy and UK. Each site is carefully considered on its merits, and individually designed to integrate with the environment. The Parker Morris Commission’s recommendations on building standards and heating are always followed.

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The company believes that the recommendations provide the minimum acceptable standards, and aims to increase these throughout its developments. Great attention is paid to the needs of individuals or individual families, the Serge Chermayeff’s six basic points on privacy, set out in his book Community and privacy, are observed in relation to the general siting and arrangement of space in each house. The company is pleased to select or advise on all internal fittings and furnishings, and also provide landscaping services where required.’

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The firm’s achievements have been remarkable; not least because most of the design work has not been carried out by architects. The planning, overall form, and detailing of their schemes have been under the direct control of Tim Organ, the builder, and his brother Bob Organ who is an artist and lecturer in the history of architecture. Local architects have been involved, but mainly for the production of working drawings and details to suit Organ brothers’ requirements.

Tim Organ also makes it clear to the planning committees that he will go to appeal rather than compromise. His powers of persuasion with planning committees and clients have clearly been considerable. Dedication and determination of this sort are rare enough anywhere and for them to be found in the private business today is particularly heartening.

If this thorough breakdown of barriers between the skills of all staff in office continues, even on a small scale, it will mark a welcome advance in house-building management; taking us a few steps beyond the achievements of Span and pioneering involvement of another artist, Victor Pasmore, on the design of housing at Peterlee.”

The above was written in 1972 and since we stopped hearing about Artist Constructor Ltd and their projects, we can only assume that sadly, their dream did not come true. Today I only know of Thomas Heatherwick as a sole surviving artist still prepared to tackle engineering, artistic and architectural ventures mostly against great odds but often producing exciting results.

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12 Responses to “Artist Constructor Ltd, 70s Private Housing.”

  1. Jonas Andersson Says:

    Hi Iqbal,

    I live in one of those houses and I’d love to see any other pictures you have of them from the 70’s. There are plans by the C20 Society to organise a talk and tour of the houses in 2010.

    Sincerely, Jonas

    • winslowhub Says:

      Hello Jonas,
      You are lucky to be living in one of these houses. I have not seen these since my visit when I took these pictures but judging by some recent photographs, the usual damage is being inflicted to reduce their integrity as ‘valid and valued’ designed entities.
      I am afraid the slides I scanned and put on Flickr are the only ones I have come across so far. If I discover another lost box with more slides I would definitely share those with you.
      Perhaps you would be kind enough to let me know the dates of C20 talk and tour nearer the time. I would dearly love to revisit these houses sometime.
      Wising you all the best.
      Iqbal

  2. Jonas Andersson Says:

    Hi Iqbal!
    All the houses have been extended to some degree but not too insensitively I think. You would be hard pushed to spot what’s old and what’s new. No Victorian conservatives here! True, a couple of uPVC windows have been installed in the past but not recently, I promise. It can be difficult to replace inefficient single glazed floor to ceiling louvre windows from the 70-s with modern standards that also looks good, I know. Of course we, as owners, have a responsibility to look after these amazing houses but they are family homes run on family budgets, not museums.
    Apparently the talk is planned for next spring. I’ll let you know when I know more.
    Sincerely, Jonas

    • winslowhub Says:

      Hello Jonas, I was checking the mail and am not very certain if I replied or not. I fully agree with your comments. Looking after houses is important but as you say there are often difficulties and financial constraints. It is always easy to take out a badly designed window and replace it with something better at a later date, but to change the shapes and forms of the windows, screens and doors has to done with certain care, which I am certain you would continue to do.
      I hope you have read more about the original construction team on these pages.
      I am still waiting to revisit these houses as soon as I can. Wishing you all the best. Iqbal

  3. John Brimley Says:

    Luckily Tim Organ is still alive and carrying out design led housing with his architect son Sam (see http://www.sustainablehouses.co.uk) and practising as CO2.

    • winslowhub Says:

      Thanks for the link. Rather interesting mixture of father/son team and Aldington Craig’s influences. I am hoping to visit their Bristol work in near future.
      Thanks once again.
      Iqbal

  4. William King Says:

    Iqbal

    Just to say that happily both brothers are alive and well. Tim continues to practice as already mentioned here in Wales after several years of living in France and Bob continues to paint. A book of his life has been written by Jenny Perry. you can find details here: http://www.sansomandcompany.co.uk/inprint.html the Artist Constructor period gets a bit of coverage.

    Should you ever wish for more info then get in touch. I’ll ask Bob about images if you wish.

    Regards
    William King (partner of Sophie Organ – Bob’s youngest)
    P.S. I note that the C20 day is now fully booked

    • winslowhub Says:

      Hello William.
      Thanks for your latest information. I will try to get hold of the book.
      I am not surprised that C20 is sold out. I hope one of my friends from Bristol managed to book a place on the visit.
      It is kind of you to make the offer of contacting Bob. I will bear this in mind. Please let him know that my Blog’s page on his work is still drawing lots of interest.
      Your web site looks good. Is Sophie a photographer?
      Thanks once again.
      Iqbal

  5. Robert Says:

    Dear Iqbal,
    There is a recent picture of one of these houses taken in 2009 which i could send through t oyou if you send me your e mail address.

    Robert

    • winslowhub Says:

      Robert, I recently visited these houses but it would be nice to look at your photo. I am sending you a separate mail. Thanks

  6. Tina Eden Says:

    I was so interested to find this site. I assisted on a project, the creation of tiles for a bathroom for one of these houses in South Wales. The tiles were designed and created by the artist Hugh O’Donnell and were commissioned through Bob Organ – who may remember both Hugh and I from Falmouth School of Art. Hugh is both Professor of Painting at Boston University and President of Body Echo LLC. The company was formed last year to house Hugh’s ventures into site-specific art which have developed over the years to include large scale video walls and digital prints. Anyway Bob if you see this do contact us – it would be lovely to hear from you after all these years. We are in the midst of creating a new web site for the site specific projects but currently they can be seen on Hugh’s website: http://www.hughodonnell.com/special projects. Not all the projects are included here since we are working on the new website….

    Tina Eden

    • William King Says:

      Tina

      William King here partner of Sophie, Bob’s youngest daughter.
      Can you email me at will[at]photo.uk.com and i’ll give you Bob’s phone number and address. I’m afraid he doesn’t do computers but would love to talk to you both.

      regards
      Will


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