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BOOK

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REVIEW

Studio Downie Architects Images Publishing, 2006.£29.95

Among the many architects whose work one first sees in architectural journals it is surprising how few 'fi rst projects' linger indelibly in the memory. I can recall with certainty just two: Tim Ronalds' exquisite pool-house and Craig Downie's equally elegant pavilion for the Cass Sculpture Foundation, which graces the cover of this monograph. It is book-ended by the much larger gallery, library and archives building completed there last year: return business for a client who can take their pick of the nation's talent is a good sign, while the book demonstrates Downie's ability to tackle a diverse range of commissions.

There are the inevitable refurbishments, to which he brings a notably fresh approach, courtesy of ideas derived from contemporary sculpture and installation art. And there are some intriguing unrealised projects, among which a Lakeside Retreat in California stands out. Evoking the elegance of a rowing 'eight', its jauntily cantilevered steel structure confirms Downie's fascination with post-war Californian Modernism and - rare in these designerly times - his interest in using exposed structure to order space.

The latter is clear in his first foray into structural concrete at the Royal Geographical Society in London. The building to be renewed and extended was august (Norman Shaw's Lowther Lodge) and the available space - a secret, landlocked garden - precious.

Downie's response was deft: an airy pavilion sits above sunken galleries, framing the garden and connecting to Exhibition Road. Architecturally, the language is familiar, but rendered with a gravitas appropriate to the setting.

But what of the book?

It comes from an Australian publisher and is part of a series entitled 'NeoArchitecture', intended to introduce the work of the 'so-called fifth generation of Modernists' who are under 45 at the time of writing and destined to be 'the next generation of master architects'.

Such hype is familiar and, as a piece of book production, the pages in-between do not quite match its ambition. Most of the plans and sections are presented separately from the projects they should accompany, and photographs lack captions, lending many spreads the feel of a brochure rather than book.

But the introductory essay, by the AR's Catherine Slessor, is short, to the point, and free of gratuitous flattery.

Reservations apart, this is a useful record of a promising body of work. Like many of the best architects of his generation in the UK, Downie offers an assured synthesis of familiar sources - the Case Study Houses, Carlo Scarpa, Aalto, Asplund and Kahn - augmented, in the trapezoidal plan and slatted timber wrap of the second Cass building, by lessons learnt from recent Swiss architecture. The language he has distilled is deployed with a persuasive responsiveness to context: as his work matures, it will be fascinating to see if something unmistakably his own emerges.

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