Edwin Landseer Lutyens: The Greatest Architect Since Wren? | History Hit

Edwin Landseer Lutyens: The Greatest Architect Since Wren?

Alice Loxton

Twentieth Century Victorian
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Famed for designing The Cenotaph, Lutyens had a varied and prestigious career designing buildings across the globe, in an assortment of historic styles.

Considered by some as ‘the greatest architect since Wren’, or even his superior, Lutyens is praised as an architectural genius.

So who was this man, and why is he still celebrated to this day?

Early success

Lutyens was born in Kensington – the 10th of 13 children. His father was a painter and a soldier, and a good friend of the painter and sculptor Edwin Henry Landseer. It was after this family friend that the new child was named: Edwin Landseer Lutyens.

Like his namesake, it soon became clear that Lutyens wanted to pursue a career in design. In 1885-1887 he studied at South Kensington School of Art, and started his own architectural practice in 1888.

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He started a professional partnership with Gertrude Jekyll, the garden designer, and the resultant ‘Lutyens-Jekyll’ garden style has defined the look of the ‘English garden’ until modern times. It was a style defined by shrubbery and herbaceous plantings combined with the structural architecture of balustrade terraces, brick paths and stairs.

A household name

Lutyens shot to fame through the support of the new lifestyle magazine, Country Life. Edward Hudson, the magazine’s creator, featured many of Lutyens designs, and commissioned a number of projects including the Country Life headquarters in London, at 8 Tavistock Street.

The Country Life Offices in Tavistock Square, designed in 1905. Image source: Steve Cadman / CC BY-SA 2.0.
The Country Life Offices on Tavistock Street, designed in 1905. Image source: Steve Cadman / CC BY-SA 2.0.

At the turn of the century, Lutyens was one of architecture’s up and coming names. In 1904, Hermann Muthesius wrote of Lutyens,

He is a young man who has come increasingly to the forefront of domestic architects and who may soon become the accepted leader among English builders of houses.

His work was predominantly private houses in the Arts and Crafts style, which were strongly linked to Tudor and vernacular designs. When the new century dawned, this gave way to Classicism, and his commissions began to vary in type – country houses, churches, civic architecture, memorials.

Goddards in Surrey shows Lutyens' Arts and Craft Style, built in 1898-1900. Image source: Steve Cadman / CC BY-SA 2.0.
Goddards in Surrey shows Lutyens’ Arts and Craft Style, built in 1898-1900. Image source: Steve Cadman / CC BY-SA 2.0.

First World War

Before the war concluded, the Imperial War Graves Commission appointed three architects to design monuments to honour the war dead. As one of those appointed, Lutyens was responsible for a host of famous monuments, most notably The Cenotaph in Whitehall, Westminster, and the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, Thiepval.

Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, France. Image source: Wernervc / CC BY-SA 4.0.
Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, France. Image source: Wernervc / CC BY-SA 4.0.

The Cenotaph was originally commissioned by Lloyd George as a temporary structure to surmount the 1919 Allied Victory Parade.

Lloyd George proposed a catafalque, a low platform used in funerals rites, but Lutyens pushed for the taller design.

The unveiling ceremony on 11 November 1920
The unveiling ceremony on 11 November 1920.

His other memorials include the War Memorial Gardens in Dublin, the Tower Hill memorial, the Manchester Cenotaph and the Arch of Remembrance memorial in Leicester.

Some of Lutyens’ other notable works included The Salutation, an exemplar of a Queen Anne house, the Midland Bank Building in Manchester, and the designs for Manchester Catholic Cathedral.

One of his most popular projects was Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House. The 4 storey Palladian house was built at a 12th of the full size, and resides in Windsor Castle on permanent display.

It was intended to exhibit the finest British craftsmanship of the period, including a library of miniature books by esteemed authors such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and A. A. Milne.

A medicine chest from the dollhouse, photographed next to a 1.7 cm halfpenny. Image source: CC BY 4.0.
A medicine chest from the dollhouse, photographed next to a 1.7 cm halfpenny. Image source: CC BY 4.0.

‘Lutyens Delhi’

Over the period 1912-1930, Lutyens designed a metropolis in Delhi, which came to bare the name of ‘Lutyens’ Delhi’. It was in accordance with the seat of the British government being moved from Calcutta.

For 20 years, Lutyens travelled to India almost annually to follow the progress. He was greatly assisted by Herbert Baker.

Rashtrapati Bhavan, formerly known as Viceroy's House.
Rashtrapati Bhavan, formerly known as Viceroy’s House. Image source: Scott Dexter / CC BY-SA 2.0.

The classical style became known as the ‘Delhi order’, which incorporated local and traditional Indian architecture. Despite adhering to classical proportions, the Viceroy’s House contained a great Buddhist dome and the complex of government offices.

The Parliament buildings were built of the local red sandstone using the traditional Mughal style.

The columns at the front of the palace have bells carved into them, the idea being that the bells would only stop ringing when the British Empire came to an end.

Containing some 340 rooms, the Viceroy’s household would have required 2,000 people to care for and serve the building. The Palace is now Rashtrapati Bhavan, the official residence for the President of India.

The bells which adorned the Viceroy's Palace were said to represent the eternal strength of the British Empire. Image source: आशीष भटनागर / CC BY-SA 3.0.
The bells which adorned the Viceroy’s Palace were said to represent the eternal strength of the British Empire. Image source: आशीष भटनागर / CC BY-SA 3.0.

Personal life

Lutyens married Lady Emily Bulwer-Lytton, the third daughter of a former Viceroy of India. Their marriage, which was frowned upon by Lady Emily’s family, proved difficult from the outset, and caused tension when she developed interests in theosophy and Eastern religions.

Nevertheless, they had 5 children. Barbara, who married Euan Wallace, Minister of Transport, Robert, who designed the facades of Marks & Spencer stores, Ursula, whose decedents wrote a Lutyens biography, Agnes, a successful composer, and Edith Penelope, who followed her mothers spiritualism and wrote books about the philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti.

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Their father died on 1 January 1944, and his ashes are buried in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral. It was an appropriate end for a great architect. In his biography, the historian Christopher Hussey wrote,

In his lifetime he was widely held to be our greatest architect since Wren if not, as many maintained, his superior.

Alice Loxton