BOOKS Inspiring legacy of a singular man Happold: The Confidence to Build by Derek Walker and Bill Addis. Happold Trust Publications, 1997. 176pp. £19.50 pbk. (Available from 01225 320600)
This book (despite unforgivable typos) is 'a must' - for three main reasons. Firstly, it is literate, logically organised, and it tells you nearly all about Ted Happold. You only have to read Derek Walker's opening essay, 'A Singular Life', to realise that you are dealing with an exceptional man, and to make you want to read all the other essays, including, of course, Happold's own 'A Personal Perception of Engineering'.
Secondly, it is generally well laid out, and the pictorial record is not just thorough but exciting. If you want to be delighted, simply look at pages 66-67 where you'll find pictures of Happold and Frei Otto's 17m x 18m umbrellas unfolding over the Mosque of Medina and their Convertible Cabrio folding stand cover just about to unfold. And unfolding in this book are the life and character and creative achievements of its truly remarkable subject, the third and most important reason for it being a 'must'.
Happold - an ebullient, joyful, family man, a Quaker, a man of peaceful progress, a teacher, inventor, designer and engineer - had enormous influence and inspired all who worked with him or came in touch with him. His working life spanned the architectural years between Coventry Cathedral, where he engineered the John Hutton screen frames in 1957, to the eve of his practice doing the Millennium Dome with Richard Rogers: two public buildings, vastly different scales, almost totally different technologies.
The journey from Coventry to the Dome started at Arups (on the recommendatioin of Basil Spence) in 1957 and moved forward to the establishment of Buro Happold in 1975, still creatively thriving today. In the first 15 of those 40-odd years he advised and worked with Spence, Ted Hollamby, rhwl, Trevor Dannatt and many other significant names of the day. The first period culminated in his major and crucial contribution to the design and realisation of the Centre Pompidou in Paris (1971-75) and the incredible asymmetrical lightweight lattice-shell Garden Festival building, Mannheim (1973-75) with Buro Mutschler and Otto - the most adventurous and inventive grid- shell until that moment (and probably this moment too).
For all the other things that Happold did in research, teaching, and other kinds of building, for me his most significant work was the intuitive, daring design of lightweight structures - grids, cables, struts, steel, wood, greenwood and plastic, sometimes small, sometimes vast, sometimes with and sometimes without Otto. This makes the essay 'Lightweight Structures', by Derek Walker and Bill Addis, the one which most clearly shows his great contribution to our present and our future. It is not inappropriate that the essay 'The Politics of Engineering' is illustrated with pictures of Brunel, Joseph Locke and Robert Stephenson, to whom Happold is by implication compared.
I'll end with two quotations. The first is from Happold's lecture at the riba in 1984: 'As an engineer I largely devote my time to economic objectives since my objective is to do for one penny what any fool can do for six and I have a firm belief that invention is a good thing. In other words, I am a professional worshipper of change. I believe that everyone has within them a desire to create something - an object, relationship, or what you will - and that it is a basic urge which if stifled leads to unhappiness.'
My second quotation, included in the book, was composed by William Penn in 1682: 'And this is the comfort of the good, that the grave cannot hold them, and that they live as soon as they die, for death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity. Death, then being the way and condition of life, we cannot love to live if we cannot bear to die.' The words of William Penn were an inspiration to Ted Happold; his work, his insights, his life a lasting inspiration to us.