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was not flowered wallpaper that was needed in the modern house, but space
and sunlight and temperature conditions under which living plants could
grow: not pliant and moving lines in the furniture, but furniture that
responded adequately to the anatomical form and physiological needs of the
body: chairs that favoured good posture and gave repose, beds that favored
sexual inter-course and permitted deep slumber. In short: a physical
environment that responded sensitively to the vital and personal needs of the
(Mumford 1945:412)
In city planning, by extension, biotechnic modernism was about air, sunlight,
gardens, parks, playgrounds and all the various forms of social equipment that are
necessary for the stimulating life of the city. Mumford went further in his
reorientation of modernism towards nature, claiming that nearly all of the new
methods of construction, the new materials, and the new means of regulating the air
of a building to adapt it to the living organisms inside came directly from the
biotechnics of gardening.
Nature tamed with a smile: Lubetkin at London Zoo
This theoretical interest in the nurturing of living organisms, in the form of
animals, would eventually find expression in the work of the Russian emigré
architect Berthold Lubetkin, one of the central figures in British early modernism.
Lubetkin was born in Tblisi in Georgia in 1901 and lived and studied in Germany,
Poland and Paris before arriving in Britain in 1931. British architectural culture at
the time was still dominated by the Edwardians, and civic and corporate patrons
tended to favour variants on a neo-classical style. There were, however, numerous
spaces for experimentation, including private houses, leisure facilities and industrial
and transport buildings. As Allan's (1992) outstanding biography of Lubetkin
points out, however, paralleling this growing architectural innovation was a
burgeoning scientific culture that directed disciplines including architecture to new
social and political ends. One of the key figures in that movement was the evolutionary
biologist and later Secretary of the Zoological Society, Julian Huxley, discussed
below. In 1932, Lubetkin, together with five other young architects, formed the
partnership Tecton. This co-operative firm has been seen as demonstrating all of the
stylistic and ideological components of 1930s modernism. The partners built their
practice on that newly radical scientific commitment to large-scale survey and
analysis, with a consequential concern for function and structure. While many of
their early patrons were wealthy, they would later develop several projects explicitly
aimed at improving the living standards of inner-London's working-class
population, basing this professional work on a clearly expressed socialist foundation
(see Coe and Reading 1981).
It may appear surprising, then, that Lubetkin and Tecton's first major
commissions should have been an apparently marginal series of buildings for the
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