Just before Easter this year the BFI, or should I say Jez and a van driver, took most of the remaining archive materials from my office in Lewes to the BFI National Archive in Berkhamsted and two days later Paul Wells and Steve Henderson came in a slightly larger van and saved quantities of tapes and other documents and books for The Animation Academy Collection at Loughborough.
This reminded me of how in 1994 just around his 82nd birthday on April 16 my father set up the first Halas & Batchelor Archive in a brand new purpose built archive/office by converting the garage in his Hampstead home. To do this he employed a then upcoming group of young architects Allford Hall Monagham Morris (AHMM). He wanted a design in the Bauhaus idiom that would fit with the existing house in Holford Road.
Until then John had been struggling in to Covent Garden on travelling the tube everyday and climbing up 5 flights to his office. There he carried on with productions that never happened like Motu the elephant, a film about ivory thieves and ones that partially did like the Know Your Europeans series. See a clip from Bob Godfrey’s contribution about the UK.
Know Your Europeans - United Kingdom (1995)
This he did while having a series of mini strokes and feeling increasingly tired. Nothing daunted his enthusiasm! He surrounded himself with helpers and hopefuls who proposed new ideas, drank the wine and ate the meals prepared by Yibin Ni who lived in the Hampstead house and looked after John. Yibin also worked with Professor Sidney Greenbaum at UCLA on a survey of language and on a script for a language teaching film for John titled Alice in Chinaland. It was never made. Today Yibin is an eminent professor in Shanghai.
John with Hungarian animator Geza M Toth working on Motu in the new archive/studio
The following is an article from The Architects Journal, spring 1994.
Allford Hall Monagham Morris (AHMM) has designed a small building, which provides archive space and a studio for the film animator John Halas. It cost only £22,000 to build, and partner Peter Morris claims that it shows how ‘an aesthetic can emerge from the careful use of standard building products’.
The pristine white structure has a distinctly 1930ies feel to it, with its understated play on a geometric theme of squares and cubes. It sits along side the animator’s home, a single story 1950ies building in Hampstead, North London designed by Kubic, a student of Mendelsohn (who designed the De la Warr Pavilion in Bexhill). Halas studied under Moholy Nagy at the Bauhaus and later worked with him.
When Halas decided to move his film company, Halas & Batchelor, from Covent Garden to his home, he was faced with the problem of finding extra space on a tight, shaded site subject to stringent planning restraints. The original plan was to extend the existing house but this would have been too costly so he opted for a garage site that sat beside the house facing the road.
Like the plan of the existing house, two offset squares separated by a strong cross wall, the new building has two distinct parts: the archive, where the garage once stood, and the studio, which extends behind the archive into the garden. Looking in from the road, re-laid paving slabs now lead naturally down to the entrance to the studio archive, drawing attention away from the more private entrance to the main house which lies beyond.
The garage was pulled down and replaced by a windowless, thermally stable and secure ‘black box’ ideal for storing archive films.
By contrast the new studio block is flooded with light from a north facing glass block screen.
The studio is set a half level down so that it is below the line of the existing garden wall, a strategy developed to overcome objections from neighbours to further development within the Hampstead conservation area. The small entrance lobby and WC are at the junction of the archive and studio. A cross wall marks the change in level between the two spaces.
The structure of the whole load bearing solid thermal block work, rendered externally to match the house. Heavily insulated floor slabs and roof structure maintain a stable internal temperature. Internal finishes in the studio were applied directly to the structure, the bare block work walls painted white and the floor screed painted a pale grey.
The size of the studio is determined by the maximum span of glass block that can be archived without additional reinforcement. The glass block panel runs the full length of the studio above the MDF workbench and abuts directly to cross the wall and gable wall. It maximises the natural light falling on to the work surface while also giving privacy to the occupants. A roof light over the entrance lobby provides additional light and signals the abrupt change in floor level between archive and studio; it also gives the required headroom to the short flight of stairs leading into the studio. There is a small, openable window, which gives views into the garden.
Standard economic materials have been used throughout the project, with the sole exception of the aluminium downpipes and hoppers designed by the architect. But AHMM has juxtaposed them so imaginatively that the result bears no resemblance to the average garage conversion.
Deborah Singmaster 1994
My mother Joy Batchelor always said that all was hubris with our father. She may have had a point. The wonderful new building was indeed built to a budget and along Bauhaus principles but there were endless snagging problems, the work finished late and worst of all just after all the materials were moved into the state of the art racking system with dehumidifiers there was a storm and the flat roof leaked. Many of the films were wreaked and art work drowned. However much survived and after his death I managed to repatriate a huge number of films that had been part of another store and part of another story.
One thing is sure that today most of the material is safely stored with the BFI, ABAC in Loughborough, The Chateau in Annecy, some in Kecskemet and some on show in the National Media Museum in Bradford. No doubt there are little stores of cels in private collections, I still have some materials mostly of nostalgic interest so both parents can rest in peace!
John looking worried. Nothing but problems with the archive
As a footnote to this. When I sold Holford Road modestly to what I was told was a private buyer it was sold on to a ‘private' developer for 4 times the price. The house was pulled down along with the archive and is now a huge mock Victorian mansion with underground car parks a swimming pool, steam room and gym, cinema etc. It was sold on again recently according to my Google search for an indecent number of millions.
Never mind planning permission with enough money anything is possible. From Bauhaus ideals to a property developers bonanza it was a sad end to the first archive that lasted just two years.
As Joy would say, hubris hubris all is hubris!
VH April 2016