The Gane Pavilion

Royal Agricultural Show 1936, programme.
Private collection

1936 saw Gane commission Breuer to design an exhibition pavilion at the Royal Agricultural Show, held on the Ashton Court estate on the outskirts of Bristol. The small single-storey building was only intended as temporary structure but is now considered a landmark of 20th-century architecture. Many of the hallmarks that would later distinguish Breuer’s work, such as the open internal plan and the mix of vernacular and man-made materials, first appeared at the Pavilion.

Gane’s brief was for four rooms: a living room/dining room, a study and two bedrooms, one for a child. Breuer designed the building to work as an exhibition space, two doors at either end of the main room allowed a through-flow with the three smaller rooms off to one side. 

The Gane Pavilion, Royal Agricultural Show, 1936.
Marcel Breuer Papers 1920-1986, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

The Pavilion was intended to showcase not just the modern furniture and materials but also Modernism, a new style of living. The range of furniture shown reflects the DIA aim to promote the work of British modernist designers placing them alongside pieces by leading Europeans designers including Breuer himself and Alvar Aalto. The walls were part exposed stone and part unpainted plywood and the floor tiled with plywood squares. The floor to ceiling windows allowed the light to flood in and together with the relatively sparse and open furnishings make the space seem generous despite its small size (14m x 10m). The limestone walls were a fresh approach where one might have expected painted concrete, Breuer consciously reflecting the local vernacular, probably inspired by the riverside walls in the nearby Avon Gorge. In doing so, he was making a building that was both new and rooted in its location. His later domestic architecture refers back to this time and time again.

The Pavilion firmly cemented the relationship between Crofton and Breuer who remained close until Crofton’s death in 1967. In later life, Breuer claimed that there were two really important buildings in his career – the UNESCO headquarters in Paris and the tiny Gane Pavilion.

Ken Stradling Collection