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a life in architecture

It is hardly surprising that the writer Gillian Darley, whose biography of Sir John Soane is reviewed on page 50 this week, should name the Soane Museum as one of her favourite buildings. It was the museum that led to her fascination with the man. She is continually surprised by 'the way the interior space is cut, enlarged and miniaturised at every level', and finds she still has to go back to the plans to work out what's really going on in the building.

But places rather than buildings are what she first mentions. She has an abiding passion for Rome with its multi-layered chronology - classical spqr tablets sharing walls with graffiti. Closer to home, she recalls a 'mad group of houses' at St Margaret's Bay, near Dover, which she got to know on childhood holidays. Recklessly sited directly under the White Cliffs and exposed to the elements, they represent the antithesis of sensible British planning.

Darley sees no conflict between having an interest in modern design and conservation. She has high praise for two recent examples where new and old converge happily: Branson Coates' 'life-enhancing' extension to the Geffrye Museum and Benson and Forsyth's Museum of Scotland.

This summer Darley visited Asplund's Woodland Chapel in Stockholm South Cemetery, completed in 1920 and 'still absolutely fresh. Even on a dark day it was explosive, with the rim of its top-lit dome pulled down almost to head height.' A new addition to her list of favourite buildings.

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