Too often it seems as if architectural texts are written in an altogether different language, even for those of us taking an architectural training. Endless strings of adjectives are punctuated with an obscure term which requires the use of a (most likely heavy) dictionary.
None of this of course occurs in Kerry Downes's Hawksmoor. The text is clean, concise and highly readable. The book is presented in the form of a near-linear architectural biography, from apprenticeship under Wren, collaboration with Vanbrugh at Blenheim & Castle Howard, to independent achievement with the London Churches and at All Souls, Oxford. Also covered are the replanning of Oxford & Cambridge, Easton Neston, Greenwich Hospital (now the university of East London) and the relationship between Wren, Vanbrugh & Hawksmoor .
The tone of the text is unswervingly uncritical (though never sycophantic & always scholastic), as should be expected from the known authority on Hawksmoor! Throughout, Downes also homes in on the feeling well known to the English public; of resignation to the destruction & ruination of much of english baroque/idiosyncratic architecture and the often dismal, herd-like architecture that followed,
(on Christ Church, Spitalfields) 'The loss of the galleries, the side entrances and the steeple ornaments and the lowering of the side windows have damaged Christ Church irreparably; nevertheless it remains as compelling a materpiece as any of the churches...Among the 'mere Gothique heaps of stone, without form or order' as the Palladian critic James Ralph called the churches in 1734...it is hardly surprising that the great age of Taste could make little of it.'
For a small book the depth of information covered & quality of scholarship is quite staggering. There are 185 illustrations, unfortunately of varying quality, though this of course may be the result of the cheap paperback reproduction. Kerry Downes's Hawksmoor should be read in tandem with Pierre du Prey's more recent 'Hawksmoor's London Churches', as both use a similar analysis & written approach (both taught at Princeton), extending even to the use of the same A.F. Kersting photograph of Saint George's Bloomsbury.
An absolute must.