As part of our investigation into experimental rural communities, Studio M1 taught by Charles Holland, Holly Lang and Vincent Lacovara recently visited Dartington in Devon. A medieval estate on the edge of Dartmoor, Dartington was rescued from semi-ruination by Dorothy and Leonard Elmsworth in 1926. Leonard Elmsworth was a pioneer of innovative farming techniques. Dorothy was an American heiress, a social pioneer and the fourth richest woman in America. Together they developed Dartington into a utopian rural experiment that combined social philanthropy and a commitment to the role of avant garde art in everyday life. An art school, glass factory, dance studios and secondary school were set up. A host of international artists passed through including Maholy Nagy, Benjamin Britten, Igor Stravinsky and Imogen Holst amongst many others.
Walter Gropius converted one of the barns into a theatre and American architect William Lescaze designed a row of workers cottages and High Cross House for Dartingon school’s headmaster, all in an innovative and still-striking international modernist style. Later in the 1950s, Leonard Manesseh’s office designed village infill housing for the hamlet of Cott –part of the Dartington estate – in a Scandinavian influenced form of modernism.
In more recent years and following the Elmsworth’s deaths the estate has started to look at new models for how to revive and extend their original vision. Theestate has appointed Martyn Evans, a former director of London property developers U+I to develop new housing and infrastructure projects. Our visit therefore coincided with a particularly interesting moment in the estate’s history, when a number of contemporary architects are once again looking at the relationship of modern architecture and innovative social practice to rural village communities.
The trip provided an important context student projects looking at the design of new rural villages which will be developing over the coming months.