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Entries in tents (5)


Albert Frey: cotton house, 1933

Albert Frey, Swiss, studied at ETH Winterthur, a critical point as technical schools taught construction and technology. He graduated in 1924.  What a time to be a young architect: he worked with LeCorbusier and Jeanneret in Paris from 1924-28 alongside Sert and Perriand, then moved to the States.  He joined Lawrence Kocher in New York and worked with him until 1935.  Kocher was also the managing editor of Architectural Record, a journal that promoted American modernism.
Frey worked on the Museum of Modern Art in 1937-9 and after this moved permanently to Palm Springs, falling, like so many European architects, for the freedom and space of the American south west.  

Two Frey and Kocher houses: the Aluminaire, a demountable house faced with aluminum panels, which was moved several times in its life, and a canvas cabin, both done in the early 1930s.  They did permanent houses, including one for Raymond Loewy, but these two are in the nature of workshop experiments.  
The canvas house, built for Kocher, consists of painted sail canvas stretched over a redwood frame, insulated with aluminum foil.  These details come from Joseph Rosa's book on Frey, but compared to the Aluminaire there appears to be little information on the canvas house. The images here are from a single website.

Frey and Kocher, canvas weekend house, 1933

However, in Popular Science, February 1933 the canvas house appears.  For 15¢ (20¢ in Canada) what an exuberant little publication this was: packed with ideas, inventions, the wonder of developing technologies and sheer curiosities — it shows a most positive and active engagement with newness that I just cannot see anywhere today. Here is a pdf of the Feb 1933 edition.

Popular Science, February 1933, p42

On p 42, just above identifying dogs by their nose prints, is 'Architect Designs Cotton Houses'.  The write up:  'Houses of cotton are proposed by Lawrence Kocher, noted architect, to solve the low-cost housing problem.  Models of two types, a $1,500 five-room home and a week-end house, have been designed.  A weatherproof exterior is provided by a roof and walls of fireproofed cotton ducking stretched over a wooden structural frame.  Inner walls are also of cotton.  Insulating material may be added to exclude heat and cold.  Since the canvas is flexible, it is adaptable to any shaped surface. '

This is the Villa Savoye for Depression-era America: inexpensive, democratic, inventive, flexible. 



A clifftop campsite in Crimdon Park, County Durham, England. 1946

Okay, it is 1946, everyone camping here, the men at least, just spent a lot of time in tents in north Africa, in Burma, on the plains of Lincolnshire, but this is the summer holidays, in England.  The war is over.  Wouldn't one think that anarchy would be a welcome release and tents were higgledy-piggledy?  Clearly not. 

The English once were a sociable people, not for them the extreme privacy of camping in a BC government or National Park campsite, all winding roads through the woods and deep seclusion on one's little clearing with picnic bench and firepit.  Sometimes it would be nice – and feel safe – to be just one more tent in an array such as this one.

and gosh, look at all the army bell tents.  One wonders if the release of army surplus after the war spurred on the development of mass camping and campsites.  As a kid, our tent was a huge Hudson's Bay Company canvas tent with an extension: not army surplus, but so capacious. It smelled like summer.


tents, non-military

Tent City, Coronado, California, 1909

Coronado Tent City, California 1900-1939, started out as tents on the beach, from this 1909 postcard.  Then the tents were given thatched roofs, then by the 1920s half walls, a trolley, a fire department and a police force.  There was a fun fair, concerts, a promenade and a pavilion; the tents had beds and chairs, there were cooking tents, one could rent a palm tent in 1919 for $1 a day, $15 a month.  The half-walled tents were called cottages, they were $23 a week.

Tent City, Coronado, California, n.d.Tents are portable, temporary, lightweight buildings, yes, but they are also vulnerable: to weather, to light and dark, to tearing, to wind.  This community of holiday tents is so different from a campground where one's tent is pitched between RVs with flat screens and the 24-hour hum of AC units.  And so different from a motel, those maximum security cells with permanently locked windows.

Of course there was crime in America in the 1910s and 20s, there were gangs, there were drugs, gambling, prostitution, murders and all the rest, but somehow, like the shift in warfare from entirely military casualties to now mostly civilian collateral damage, Tent City must have been somehow protected by its innocence.  It was not part of an equation of drugs and gang violence which took place in some other battlefield where no one was playing on the beach in their bathing suits.  

It seems civilised, this partition between civilians and violence, both in war and everyday life.  Not sure it exists anymore. 

Tent City, Coronado, California, 1906


Victoria, Empress

Queen Victoria, 1893

Queen Victoria in 1893.  As she never left Britain, this oriental tent/pavilion was probably in the gardens at Osborne.  She is working on her dispatch boxes. Victoria seems to have been a woman of great passions: she loved her husband to distraction, her groom, her personal muslim servant who taught her Urdu, her Prime Ministers, especially Disraeli and his expansionist policies which led to the second Anglo-Afghan war.  She 'rescued' India from the ruling British East India Company after the Indian Rebellion of 1857, believed in religious freedom for India and other protectorates, saw the empire as civilising and protective.  However, the empire was conducted by governments and ministers who were not always so benign, and the influence of monarchy is constitutionally marginal.

This lovely painting of Victoria at four: a hat in proportions Marc Jacobs has just resurrected.

Stephen Poyntz Denning 1795-1864 Princess Victoria aged four, 1823. Dulwich Picture Gallery, London



Royal Mail. series of 50, produced by the Royal Mail in conjuction with Wills Tobacco, circa 1930

When mail was in an envelope, with stamps, delivered by hand no matter where you were or what you were doing, mail delivery scheduled the day, the week, the month; time lags were sometimes great, pictures were rare and precious.  Yet, yet, society functioned, ideas were exchanged, romances grew, news was heard. 

Why must everything be instant now? Maybe that isn't the question.  Perhaps it is something about patience, and lack of it.  It isn't about technology, but something that drives technology.  That progress has always equalled speed: speed of change and literally going faster.  The underpinning of sustainability discussions is the interrogation of 'progress' and whether or not it can still be seen as a postitive, or is it just a pernicious aspect of modernism.  it is an old debate, as old as the enlightenment.  What is surprising is that it can still be made.