For Eric Parry, the widely perceived gulf between art and architecture has never really existed. His formative years were spent 'in and out of architecture'. Born in Kuwait in 1952, he did his part I at Newcastle University. Part II (at the aa) had to wait for some years. During this time Parry travelled widely in the Middle East and India and studied at Hornsey School of Art and at the Royal College of Art. The rca's ma was not then recognised by the riba - hence Parry's stint at the aa, where Dalibor Vesely was a particular inspiration. It was Vesely who subsequently brought Parry from the Polytechnic of Central London to teach architecture at Cambridge.
'Combining teaching and practice is incredibly difficult,' says Parry, 'but it was a wonderful experience.' Somehow, Parry managed to balance the two for 13 years, before concluding last year, somewhat reluctantly, that his practice had to take priority. Eric Parry Architects was established in 1983. Among its earliest commissions were studios for artists Tom Phillips and Antony Gormley, featured in an exhibition at the 9H Gallery in 1987. Through 9H Parry met Stuart Lipton, the biggest name among the new generation of developers. Lipton warmed to Parry's intellectual and cultural view of architecture. More to the point, he provided commissions. The first was a fit-out of Stanhope's Mayfair offices - 'like planning a city', according to Parry. 'All our work is about passages through buildings - about the clarity of routes'. A radical reconstruction of Lipton's house in St John's Wood followed, as well as a building at Stockley Park, a 'pavilion in the park' notable for its luminous interior and sophisticated blend of materials as well as its careful integration into the landscape. Stanhope also commissioned a building at Chiswick Park, but the project fell victim to the recession of the early 1990s.
Parry's architecture owes more to the intellectual tradition of Cambridge - and to the view of tradition and the city promoted by Dalibor Vesely and Peter Carl - than to the school of design which flowed from Leslie Martin and Colin St John Wilson. Martin and Wilson were inspired particularly by Scandinavia. Parry's work and his commitment to the 'poetics of place' draws more obviously on Italian Rationalism, Terragni and the Ticino, and on the formalism of sometime rca teachers like Ed Jones and Elia Zenghelis. Cambridge has been a key influence on Eric Parry Architects in another respect - it has provided most of the personnel of the office. Parry's fellow directors Nick Jackson (pictured centre, currently working on projects in Malaysia with former Parry associate Chee Wong) and Robert Kennett (right) are both Cambridge graduates. Although Parry always felt 'something of an outsider' at Cambridge, his Pembroke College buildings suggest a real sympathy for the city. The scheme has allowed the practice to explore themes of place, situation and space which have preoccupied it over many years. The new block, located at a sensitive junction between the public world of the streets and the private world of college cloisters and gardens, has an elegant clarity which reflects an assimilation of history - a Neo- Classical strain is particularly evident in the Master's Lodge. Parry is insistent that 'the Pembroke buildings are not 'crafted' in the Arts and Crafts sense, but there is a total collaboration with craftsmen and artists'. He defends elements in the scheme - the glazed lantern and incised sundial - which might seem arbitrary, even decorative, in terms of continuity and traditional order. The way in which stone is used also has a significance which is more than skin-deep.
'Thoughtful' is an adjective which is rather glibly applied to epa's work. Parry not only thinks about it - he often agonises. If he is an unashamed intellectual, he is also clearly a romantic, seeking to revive the poetry of architecture and its role at the centre of the world of culture and the arts. Though essentially a modern architect, he draws on the rich iconography of the past. Losing the Royal Academy/ Museum of Mankind job to Michael Hopkins was a blow - the Parry team had worked hard on its submission. But there are other jobs in hand, including a major revamp of the Hyde Park Hotel, the 'Southwark Gateway' at London Bridge and the masterplan for Granta Park, a science and research development outside Cambridge. There are also domestic jobs for a select group of clients.
Perhaps the most extraordinary of all the projects undertaken by the office is the reconstruction of the ancient Chateau de Paulin in southern France as a private house and gallery. Beautifully made of local stone, the new tower added by Parry grows out of a massive rocky base. The tower makes functional sense in terms of usable space, but it also has a symbolic and iconographic role which relates to the history of the site. There is a conviction behind the designs which seems to underlie everything that Eric Parry does.