Clare Melhuish reviews... the timeless quality and subtle poetry of Eric Parry
Responding to Eric Parry's AA lecture, Patrick Hodgkinson drew a parallel between Parry's work and that of Lethaby and Voysey - in which 'the smallest details are poetic', generating a timeless quality in the buildings.
This is rare, he said, indicating a 'craftsman's feel' for the work rather than a reliance on logic.
For Jeremy Melvin, also responding, Parry's work evoked, like TS Eliot's poem Ash Wednesday, a 'world beyond the wasteland of Modernity', inspired by optimism, with a 'charge and power' resulting from its position 'on the cusp of being both representation and realisation of itself '.
It was difficult to appreciate fully such 'charge and power' from the somewhat curtailed slide presentation preceding these eulogies. However, Parry's commentary indicated a depth of intellectual and emotional engagement with ideas and a variety of inspirational sources in his work, which made for interesting listening. Of course, to cite one example, a comparison between an upmarket hotel spa design and religious rituals of libation and purification in India, might be found inappropriate, even offensive, by some. But scope for criticism was constrained by the immediate translation of the parallel into a specific architectural concept: in this case, the 'potency of surfaces'.
The title of the lecture, Matter, was not mentioned until Hodgkinson drew attention to it near the end. But it was the theme which pervaded Parry's narrative. It pointed towards his close association with the phenomenological tendency nurtured within the architecture school at Cambridge - and initially brought to life 25 years ago by the meeting of the main protagonists in the AA's diploma school. In Parry's terms, the wall in architecture represents the 'tension between inside and outside, mediated through material, shadow, thinness and thickness'. And the treatment of the wall surface is one of the key themes of his work. At Stockley Park, it is 'very flat, repetitive with the grid', while at Pembroke College, Cambridge, the problem of how to order a wall with window openings for 100 rooms is resolved in a self-supporting skin of stone standing forward of the fenestration.
At Southwark Gateway, it becomes an information wall, with integrated lightbox panels, while in the latest commercial building on Finsbury Square, it is a 'civic wall to an unrequited space'.
Parry's 'matter' is not simply the matter of materials, aesthetically crafted, but an exploration of the interaction between materiality, people's actions and environment: the construction of microcosmic worlds of perception. The scheme for 30 flats in Kuala Lumpur is based on a series of stairhalls that allow both for a 'mediation of common space' and free circulation of air. The scheme's facades of moveable louvered panels also physically engage the inhabitants with the fabric of the building, while setting up a visual rhythm. It is in such ways that the work achieves its quiet poetry.
Eric Parry's lecture, Matter, took place at the Architectural Association. A book with the same title is available from Black Dog Publishing