Sir Edmond Russell – Builder of Beards

It was perceived that the once, great architect and interior designer Sir Edmond Russell was never taken seriously by his contemporaries for having not only grown a beard, but designed one. Often considered the pioneer of modern day architecture, he was in fact a revolutionary figure within the Beardist movement.

It was alleged that he once, fully bearded, climbed to the top of the Empire State Building (from the inside I might add) to be photographed posing with his then mistress, Fay Wray. Here they re-enacted the famous scene from the classic film, King Kong. It was the perfect coming together of beard, babe and building.
His work boardered the excentric and is often referred to by many Architects today such as Richard Rogers and Zahar Hadid as ‘revolutionary’. Although he was never taken seriously by the likes of Lloyd Wright and Corbusier – the same was often said by Russell of his contempories.

    "What is it with these Architects? They don’t have beards!"
                                                                 (Jurgenstein, 1929:118)   
There was no escaping his originality. His innovative examples of all manner of building types included offices, churches, schools, hotels, and museums. Much like his antagonist Wright, he also often designed many of the interior elements of his buildings, such as the furniture and stained glass.
In 1947, after serving in the navy during WWII, Russell returned home a changed man. Even though it was the only armed force that allowed beards, his creative frustration had grown when limited to how he was allowed wear it. The ‘Beard House’ was the first of his beard buildings. Inspired by the early work of Marcus Beal, a 19th Century Architect who had dabbled in a similar exercise in 1853, producing a series of sketch models with navel hair, Russell photographed beards and began to produce complex, serial planes. From these initial experiments he began to create highly innovative structures.

It was soon after, that Russell also began to apply architectural theories and working methods to beards. The term ‘A beard for living in’ was coined as he began to borrow from Corbusier’s modular system. It was in 1957 at the height of the rebellious era, the now infamous architect opened ‘Beard Dressers’, where he worked till the age of 94.

The actor Johnny Depp is often seen leaving the classic building, his well groomed beards a signature of Russell’s work. Brian Blessed was once quoted as saying, ‘Russell’s alive?!’ which, ironically was printed on the T-shirt that Russell was buried in in 1998.

Despite those names that dismissed his work through the years, Sir Edmond Russell will go down in history as a pioneer of modern beard design and development and perhaps the only architect to have made use of his facial hair. In the words of Norman Foster, ‘If I could build a beard, I’d build one like Sir Edmond Russell’s.’