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Edward Mills, exponent of pragmatic Modernism


At the riba conference in Torquay in 1954, Edward Mills (whose death was reported last week) and W A Allen performed a famous double-act reviewing modern building materials and methods, then in a state of chaotic transition, and warning of some of the dangers ahead.

Their emphasis on common sense and experience was typical of Mills' approach to modern architecture, which in his mind was chiefly justified by its improvements on the building practice of the past. As a student at Regent Street Polytechnic in the early 1930s he was inspired by Le Corbusier, and then went to become the first assistant to his third-year studio master, Maxwell Fry. Mills set up his own practice in 1937 to build the Methodist Church at Collier's Wood, a sober, rather Germanic-looking contribution to the faith which guided his life.

As a conscientious objector, Mills became an architect to May & Baker pharmaceuticals at Dagenham and devised an ingenious shell-concrete roof for the 1944 canteen block, which is still in use. After the war, he built flats at Kenmure Road, Hackney, a pioneering use of box frame; further Methodist churches; a centrally-planned cathedral at Mbale, Uganda; and further industrial buildings. He was called at short notice to design the administration building for the Festival of Britain, and also created a distinctive screen of suspended halls in primary colours on the edge of the site. On an Alfred Bossom scholarship to the us in 1954, Mills discovered the latest technology in curtain-walling, including the first use of neoprene gaskets, and met Mies van der Rohe. He put this experience to use at Quinton Kynaston School, Finchley Road, 1958 and in the British Industry Pavilion at the Brussels Expo of the same year. Mills wrote a number of books for Architectural Press, including The Modern Factory (1951), The Modern Church (1956), a popular, practically-oriented survey, and The Changing Workplace (1971). He also edited Architects Details and Planning, and his revised edition of Building Maintenance and Preservation was issued in 1994.

He was one of the team on the Pilkington Glass Age project in the 1950s, dreaming up futuristic transformations of London with Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe. His concern was not only with technique but with providing appropriate spaces and visual gratification for the people who would use his buildings.

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