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Isokon and Blythburgh

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Isokon and Blythburgh

Isokon and Blythburgh

One house in Blythburgh can legitimately claim to represent the modern movement in twentieth-century architecture: "Isokon" in Dunwich Road. It was designed in the early 1960s by Jennifer and Colin Jones for Jennifer's father Jack, and Molly Pritchard.

Self-effacing behind a vertically-slatted wooden fence, it is a simple single-storey, rectilinear design. A flat roof enables the house to settle into the landscape, and avoid the interruption of others’ views. The house has a timber frame, clad with Western red cedar, and was built and partly assembled in Martham Boat Yard before erection on the site. Inside, one large living space, almost entirely glass-walled, and divided by a chimney-stack, makes the most of the view towards the river. A separate pavilion provides additional accommodation. Behind banks of dug-out earth there is a solar-heated swimming pool, and a sauna.

Jack Pritchard (1899-1992) was one of the great champions of 1930s modernism. He commissioned Wells Coates to build the Lawn Road flats, described by Pevsner as "giant’s work of the 1930s". The flats were "the heart of iconoclastic Hampstead", where gathered England's avant-garde. Marcel Breuer and Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, refugees from the Bauhaus, designed furniture and graphics for Jack Pritchard's company Isokon (from "Isometric Unit Construction"). Breuer’s "Long Chair" became a twentieth–century classic, and the modest "Isokon Donkey" still houses many collections of Penguin books. Jack Pritchard even commissioned an exhibition stand for Olympia from Le Corbusier.

The Bauhaus, the most influential art and design school of this century, was founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar in 1919. Harassed by the Nazis, Gropius came to England in 1934, where he was met by Jack Pritchard who provided him with a home and sponsored his partnership with the architect Maxwell Fry. This led to Gropius’s only public building in Britain before he left for the United States, Impington Village College in Cambridgeshire.

During the 1939–45 war Jack Pritchard worked for Government Ministries. He visited the United States, and was impressed by a Gropius/Breuer housing development that took full advantage of a sloping site to let the sun in, exploiting its winter value for space heating. He used this idea in Blythburgh many years later. After the war he worked for Bratt Colbran, Lebus and GKN, and became the first director of the Furniture Development Council.

"Plywood Pritchard" (from his association with the firm Venesta) could almost have been the model for Osbert Lancaster's Hampstead progressive, drawn in a twentieth–century functional room in his "Homes, Sweet Homes". Fiona MacCarthy described him as one of the great ideologists of 1930s modernism. He left in Blythburgh a house designed for his retirement, not the heady days of his working career, but it allied the outcome of design revolutions with a fitness for purpose and sensitivity for its village site.

Further reading: Jack Pritchard, View from a Long Chair (1984)

Alan Mackley, Blythburgh, January 1995
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