Radical Classicism: The Architecture of Quinlan Terry By David Watkin.Rizzoli, 2006. £35
David Watkin is mostly right about Modernism, although comparing it to the Taliban, as he does in the introduction to this book, is perhaps going a little too far. 'The spirit of the age' has become a cliché; the rejection of tradition and the insistence on novelty now seem tiresome and wasteful prescriptions; and 'truth to materials' is a 19th-century idea that is passing into history.
There no longer seems any good reason to forbid a disjunction between the facade of a building and its interior. Ornament, once a crime, is now being enthusiastically revived by progressive young architects everywhere. This reviewer, for one, is not about to use Modernist arguments to attack Quinlan Terry, although this is clearly what Watkin expects.
Reviving the Classical tradition is a perfectly reasonable aim and for Terry it seems to be a genuine vocation.
He deserves his success and, as this lavish book shows, that success is considerable. He has built dozens of houses for rich clients in England and the USA, as well as several urban and commercial projects, including the well-known Richmond Riverside. He has been called in to make additions and alterations to nationally important buildings like Chelsea Hospital and 10 Downing Street, and has even designed a Roman Catholic cathedral in Brentwood.
Terry's knowledge of Classical architecture is deep because it is practical, not bookish. He and his son Francis travel the world, measuring and sketching real buildings, and then apply what they have learnt. Watkin dutifully lists all the references and precedents.
Brentwood Cathedral, for example, has an entrance portico borrowed from James Gibbs' St Mary le Strand (Gibbs drew inspiration from Pietro da Cortona), an arcade from Brunelleschi's Ospedale degli Innocenti, and a marble bishop's throne, based on the one in San Miniato al Monte.
This is not design in the usual sense, but neither is it copying.
It is good old-fashioned composition, and there is nothing wrong with that.
But, the fact is that the cathedral looks a little similar to a railway station. Like everyone else's architecture, Terry's is sometimes good and sometimes not so good. To call him, as Roger Scruton did recently, 'our greatest living architect' is absurd. You could only come to that conclusion by disqualifying all the nonClassical architects, which would leave a field of about four or five. And even then?
The photographs in this book are often more beautiful than the buildings themselves and one is left wishing that the architecture was less earnestly correct and less po-faced.
There is a black-and-white photograph on page 113 of the book of Hanover Lodge in Regent's Park, built in 1827, but remodelled in 1911 with what Watkin calls 'incongruously high roofs'. The image stands out because it shows a humorous and characterful building by a Classical revivalist of real air: Edwin Lutyens.