Christopher Turner

Christopher Turner is Keeper of Design, Architecture and Digital at the V&A.

In​ 1972, the architects Alison and Peter Smithson completed Robin Hood Gardens, their only council estate. The couple were famous for projects such as the Mies van der Rohe-inspired Hunstanton School (1954) in Norfolk; the three chamfered, stone-clad towers of the Economist Building (1959-65) in Piccadilly; and the timber-screened Garden Building (1967-70) at St Hilda’s College,...

On Richard Hollis: Richard Hollis

Christopher Turner, 24 May 2018

In​ 1956 the Whitechapel Gallery hosted the influential exhibition This Is Tomorrow, in which teams of artists and architects were invited to create installations that presented their different visions of the future. Participants included leading figures from the Independent Group, such as Eduardo Paolozzi and the architects Peter and Alison Smithson, who displayed a series of found objects...

Killing Stripes: Suits

Christopher Turner, 1 June 2017

I went​ to Henry Poole & Co, the oldest tailor on Savile Row, for a fitting. Suits start at £5500, and I couldn’t afford to have one made, but the firm had agreed to teach me the principles of bespoke tailoring by measuring me for an invisible one, so I could at least engage in the fantasy: the emperor’s new clothes. In 1955, the Wall Street Journal described the...

‘Without you​,’ Hugh Hefner said to the Playmates he’d assembled for a party to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Playboy, ‘I’d have been the publisher of a literary magazine.’ Hefner founded Playboy in 1953 with a loan from his mother, who had hoped he’d become a missionary. The 27-year-old secured the rights to a previously unpublished nude of...

I am not a world improver: Building Seagram

Christopher Turner, 6 February 2014

In 1954, the sculptor Phyllis Lambert was living in Paris when her father, Samuel Bronfman, sent her pictures of the 34-storey skyscraper he planned to build on Park Avenue in New York. Bronfman, the Canadian ‘whisky king’ who owned Seagram distillers, had commissioned Pereira & Luckman to create a gleaming metal and glass edifice that resembled a decanter gift set. ‘This letter starts with one word repeated very emphatically no no no no no,’ Lambert responded when she saw the plans. Over eight pages she dismissed the scheme as an alienating, self-consciously futuristic ‘Flash Gordon job’.

Stepping Stone to the New Times: Bauhaus

Christopher Turner, 5 July 2012

The Bauhaus stank of garlic. Alma Mahler, the wife of its founder and director Walter Gropius (and the ex-wife of Gustav), found the smell intolerable. She refused to eat the ‘obligatory diet of uncooked mush smothered’ in cloves of the supposedly purifying allium. The students and teachers who did eat it suffered bilious, flatulent attacks. After one meal, the painter and Bauhaus...

Missionary Work: Henry Wellcome

Christopher Turner, 13 May 2010

In 1881, a 27-year-old American moved into a house on the Marylebone Road that had belonged to an Indian rajah. ‘My collection of curiosities, Indian relics etc tally admirably with the house,’ Henry Wellcome wrote to his business partner, Silas Burroughs, ‘and so everybody seems rather fascinated with the effect, and in fact I rather like it myself. Some call it...

Angering and Agitating: Freud’s fan club

Christopher Turner, 30 November 2006

The Welsh psychoanalyst Ernest Jones, known for his three-volume hagiography of Freud, was also the author of a book on figure skating. The New York Psychoanalytic Institute owns a dusty copy, which is illustrated with drawings of the elegant squiggles skaters were supposed to leave on the ice: ‘Only in a certain type of dream,’ Jones wrote, offering a clue to his other area of...

Naughty Children: Freud’s Free Clinics

Christopher Turner, 6 October 2005

In 1918, Sigmund Freud gave a speech at the Fifth International Congress of Psychoanalysis in Budapest. It was two months before the Armistice, but he looked to the future rather than dwelling on civilisation’s obvious discontents: ‘The conscience of society will awake,’ he promised his audience, ‘and remind it that the poorest man should have just as much right to...

Diary: the controversial Alfred Kinsey

Christopher Turner, 6 January 2005

I am Dr Kinsey from Indiana University, and I’m making a study of sex behaviour. Can I buy you a drink?

In a simple attic room, with only a mattress on the pine floor, two people would have sex in a cone of light. Sometimes the director would disappear into the shadows so that the performers would forget he was there; at other times, according to one biographer, he would observe the...

I first visited Summerhill, the ‘free’ school in Suffolk founded in 1921 by A.S. Neill, when I was an anthropology student. I asked whether I could stay for a while as a participant-observer, and was offered a large tepee as a place to sleep. I liked the idea of living in it: a wigwam seemed a suitable home for a backyard anthropologist. However, everything at Summerhill –...

Town-Cramming: cities

Christopher Turner, 6 September 2001

‘A folk memory of industrial squalor and urban overcrowding persists in the minds of public and planners alike,’ Richard Rogers and Anne Power argue in Cities for a Small Country, ‘and fuels an almost obsessive desire for low-density, suburban homes.’ What happened, they ask, to ‘the English love of cities’? Should we blame the town planner Ebenezer Howard...

From The Blog
10 May 2013

The Freud Museum announced earlier this week that it needed £5000 to restore Freud’s couch, the centerpiece of a study crammed with other relics, a cluttered cabinet of antique curiosities that Freud called his ‘old and dirty gods’. (‘Overwhelmed by the response’, they ‘are now seeking to raise around £40,000 to conserve Freud's collection of antiquities’.) The altar of psychoanalysis – on which Dora, Anna O. and the Wolf Man lay like sacrificial victims to the nascent science – is covered with an oriental rug and several opulent cushions; to preserve them the room is lit only with lugubrious light. The couch, behind its velvet rope, is apparently in a state of frayed disrepair that seems entirely appropriate. I always imagined Freud, who sat behind his patients in a green velvet armchair, pulling the loose threads as he disentangled their troubled minds.

From The Blog
27 April 2012

I once met an aristocratic woman who had trepanned herself. In her moated Tudor manor outside Oxford, as an African Grey parrot nibbled her ear, she showed me the film she had made of the procedure. She shaved her hairline, bandaged her head, put on dark glasses and a floral shower cap, peeled back a patch of skin with a scalpel and applied the point of a dental drill to her frontal bone. A few minutes later its grinding teeth made it through the dura mater, releasing a geyser of blood. As it gurgled from the half-centimetre opening, she smiled, blood dribbling between her teeth.

From The Blog
22 March 2012

In 1952, Louise Bourgeois began an analysis with Henry Lowenfeld, visiting him four times a week at his apartment on Central Park West. She stayed with it, on and off, until Lowenfeld’s death in 1985. Lowenfeld had been a member of the rebellious Children’s Seminar in Berlin, run by Wilhelm Reich and Otto Fenichel, both of whom Freud dismissed as troublesome Bolsheviks (Lowenfeld’s father wrote a biography of Trotsky). But, in America, where he emigrated in 1938 – the same year Bourgeois did – he joined the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, a centre of orthodox Freudianism, and rejected his radical past.

Am I a spaceman? Wilhelm Reich

Adam Phillips, 20 October 2011

In a Freud Anniversary Lecture given in New York in 1968, Anna Freud looked back with nostalgia on the early days of psychoanalysis. ‘When we scrutinise the personalities who, by...

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