Their first public building, Hunstanton Secondary Modern School, was completed in 1954 when they were still in their 20s. Known locally as The Glasshouse, the modern school was highly controversial but established the husband-and-wife team as major players in post-war British architecture. The school made use of mass-produced and prefabricated materials and reflected the influence of the Smithson's hero Mies van der Rohe.
Subsequent projects were the 1956 House of the Future, the early 1960s Economist Building and the early 1970s Robin Hood Gardens housing complex. Each demonstrated the Smithsons' determination to build schools, workplaces and homes for a progressive society.
Peter Smithson was born in Stockton-on-Tees and met Alison Gill, born in Sheffield, in 1928 when they were students at the school of architecture in Newcastle. The Smithsons married in 1949 and set up a practice together in South Kensington, which they ran as equals.
The Smithsons were not only part of the avant garde architectural movement in 1950s London, but they were part of the Independent Group, a cross-cultural discussion group, which proved to be highly influential in the British pop art movement.
The House of the Future was designed primarily by Alison for the 1956 Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition. It featured a self-cleaning bath, easy-to-clean corners and remote controls for the television and the lighting.
In 1959, the Smithsons were commissioned to design a new headquarters for The Economist magazine. The success of this project led to their securing a commission for the new British Embassy in Brasilia. However, the project was dropped as a result of government spending cuts.
In the late 1969s, the Smithsons designed 213 homes at Robin Hood Gardens in east London. Unfortunately, the project suffered from structural flaws and a high crime rate. It was often used as an example of the folly of modernist architecture, and its failure was very damaging to their reputation. They only did one more major public commission and spent the rest of their careers designing residential projects for private clients.
|The Hunstanton Secondary Modern School|
|The Economist building|
|Robin Hood Gardens|
|The Smithson's weekend house|
|Designed by David Levitt with additions by Alison and Peter Smithson|