ART TESCO - THE DEMOCRATISATION OF CULTURE - TESCO'S
Of course the revival of interest in Art Deco began in America - with the World of Art Deco exhibition at Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 1971. In Britain this interest was aroused not by an exhibition, but by the overnight demolition of the Firestone Building before it could be listed.
The Hoover Building of 1932 is by the same architects - Wallis Gilbert and Partners - whose work has some affinity with the continental Modern Movement, but is decorated with popular Art Deco zigzags. Both factories mass produced consumer goods, Firestone for the motorist, and Hoover for the housewife. And indeed Hoover is the common name for the vacuum cleaner which revolutionised housework in the suburban semis in adjacent Perivale.
Furthermore, in taking over the premises, Tesco's converted the building from serving mass production to mass consumption. The shopping centre (I shop therefore I am) became the iconic building type of the late twentieth century. In another link forward the cantilevered concrete covered way across the car park to shelter motorists evokes the platform canopies of the 1930s which sheltered passengers.
Finally one last probably irrelevant link with the democratisation of culture in America, apart from the fact that supermarkets were an American invention, both Tesco's and much of Hollywood were Jewish initiatives.
To sum up then, the Perivale branch of Tesco's represents the democratisation of culture by occupying an Art Deco building, which itself was used for mass production of consumer goods, and was designed in the first style to be popular as well as high brow.
Art Deco was popular because people chose it. We choose our clothes, our interior makeovers, and the music we listen to. But architecture is still the given background /stage for our lives as comparatively few people or even organisations choose their own setting; even then it is usually the managers and not the users who do the choosing.
Could architects invent a style or approach to design which would appeal to everyone? Would it become a dumbing down with little intellectual content?
Art Deco is a visual aesthetic of patterns and forms, but architecture is also, even predominantly spatial, a sequence or matrix of interior forms. Eltham Palace in south east London, is a rare example of spatial Art Deco, but it is a fusion of classical exterior forms and spatial planning with moderne interior design.
This reminds us that Art Deco was not the only, indeed not the principal style in Britain in the 1920s. Classical was predominant, neo-Georgian with watered down Edwardian baroque elements. But Art Deco was its main rival as the Modern Movement did not reach Britain until after the Second World War.
As the spread of Renaissance architecture related to the printing revolution and Art Deco related to the media revolution of films and radio should not a style or design approach for today relate to the Internet revolution and be interactive? Already there are buildings which react to lighting conditions, for example the Laban Dance Studio; and structures like the glass bridge in the Science Museum which react to footfalls, and lighting systems that respond to movement.
Responsive and interactive buildings are in their infancy but are coming. Perhaps what we should learn from Art Deco is to consider not style, but how buildings could be designed to respond in a democratic and popular manner to their users. Then we could choose and change our built environment as we choose and change our clothes and music.