The Wood House, Kent, Walter Gropius and Maxwell Fry, 1937
Jack Donaldson (later a Labour peer) and his wife, Frances, were supporters of the Pioneer Health Centre in Peckham. When in 1935 they were given the opportunity to build a house in Kent on the estate of the Cazalet family – socialites rather than socialists, part of the circle of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII who became Duke of Windsor) – they chose Gropius and Fry as their architects. Completed in 1937, the house was built of timber, with an oak frame and cedar cladding, reverting to the natural material chosen by Gropius for the Sommerfeld House in Berlin, his first major work after the First World War. The young German émigré Walter Segal, already experienced in timber building, was invited by Gropius to help him. By this time, Gropius had recruited Albrecht Proskauer, who also worked on the house. A similarly skilled German, Proskauer had been working with Wells Coates, who encouraged him to make the transfer.
Located in the Kent village of Shipbourne, the Wood House, as it was christened, is very different from the symmetrical and highly-wrought Sommerfeld design. Forming an L-shape, with a two-storey main block under a monopitch roof with deep eaves to the front (an innovation favoured in Sweden) and a lower entrance and service wing extending back from it, the house has simple horizontal boarding in a dark colour, with a two-storey open balcony at the far end, canted out slightly towards the view. The slight exaggeration of form here, belying the strict grids associated with Gropius, suggests that he might recently have learnt something from Hans Scharoun or Hugo Häring, two of his former associates in Der Ring. The other signifiant external feature is the sloped canopy over the main entrance, just slightly larger than one might expect, adding further character to this side of the house. The remainder is relatively conventional, but it hangs together well and without effort, similar in this respect to 66 Old Church Street.