At School with the avant garde: European architects and the modernist project in England

Ian Grosvenor, Angelo van Gorp

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‘New people create new buildings, but new buildings also create New people’, so wrote the German art critic Fritz Wichhert in The New Building. Art as Educator in 1928. The social and psychological legacy of the First World War was deeply profound and affected how people thought about the future. Children were seen to symbolise a new and better future and Modernist architects saw their role as helping to build a new society, a society where the design of schools was seen as an agent of social change. The focus of this article is on the role of the avant-garde in this reforming social project and its impact on school design. It is organised into four sections. The first section introduces the terms modernism and avant-garde in relation to (school) architecture, particularly British modernism. The second section focuses in on the experiences of émigré architects in conservative 1930s England, and in particular the support they received from refugee organisations and their treatment by the state as war in Europe became a reality. The third section discusses the role of these architects in the construction of modernist schools in England. In the fourth and final section the impact of émigré architects on modernist schools in England is discussed along with the concepts of transnational history and cultural transfer.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHistory of Education
Early online date19 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018


  • modernism
  • avant-garde
  • children
  • school architecture
  • refugees


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