Alison and Peter Smithson

Striving to adapt the progressive ideas of the pre-war modern movement to the specific human needs of post-war reconstruction, Alison and Peter Smithson were among the most influential and controversial architects of the latter half of the twentieth century.

Witte de With is thus continuing its tradition of holding presentations based on thorough historical research into key figures in the visual arts and architecture. The exhibitions about Paul Thek (1995), Frederick Kiesler (1996), and Constant Nieuwenhuys (1999) are previous examples of this.

The exhibition about Alison and Peter Smithson was organized by Dirk van den Heuvel and Max Risselada of the Faculty of Architecture at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), who were granted full access to the archives of the Smithsons for a number of years to conduct their research.

Alison (1928-1993) and Peter (1923-2003) Smithson were at the heart of the debate about the future course of modern architecture. They were among the younger members of CIAM and were founding members of Team 10. Their polemics and designs ‘ in which they focused on the burgeoning consumer society and the role of urban planning laid the foundations for New Brutalism and the Pop Art movement of the 1960s.

An important theme for the Smithsons was the dwelling. The new concepts of ‘place’ and ‘territory’ were a counterbalance to Le Corbusier’s ‘machine for living’. To the Smithsons, a house was a special place which had to meet the ordinary requirements of everyday life while remaining in harmony with its surroundings.

This exhibition shows the evolution in the Smithsons’ approach to the ‘art of inhabitation’. It extensively documents almost all their designs for individual dwellings, especially their optimistic House of the Future of 1955-1956 and the series of alterations and additions to the fairy-tale ‘Hexenhaus’ (‘Witch House’) in Germany from the mid-1980s on.

The exhibition was previously shown at the Design Museum in London. The exhibition has been redesigned for Witte de With and supplemented with a section in which the work of the Smithsons is set alongside work by other famous architect duos: Charles and Ray Eames, Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand, Jean Prouvé and Charlotte Perriand, and Gerrit Rietveld and Truus Schröder.

The exhibition will travel – after the presentation in Witte de With – to the Lighthouse, Glasgow and the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.