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a life in architecture - alan bennett

The work of writer Alan Bennett conveys a very English sense of tradition. So, while his love for churches is hardly surprising, his passion for modern architecture is.

Cambridge, where he did his national service, was the first town to amaze him with its contemporary buildings, but it was London's Royal Festival Hall that really excited him. 'It was the first time I'd been up a staircase with open treads and been on cantilevered platforms.'

Despite being born in Leeds and seeming so quintessentially English, Bennett lived in New York for several years. While in America he admired I M Pei's addition to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, whose angles are so acute as to make the building look two dimensional (see picture), and the John Hancock building, Boston - at one time infamous for its falling plates of mirror glass.

Bennett has lived in Camden now for 35 years, and it is here that his least-favourite building is found - his local Sainsbury's, designed by Nicholas Grimshaw, which required the destruction of a 'far more interesting'Art Deco bakery. The bakery should have been incorporated, he feels.

This reflects Bennett's love for buildings in evolution, especially churches.

'I always had very ambiguous feelings about England, and they're most resolved in a church where you see around you the evidence of past generations in the architecture, monuments and furnishings. So I feel at home there.'

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