in the news
It's nice to know that somebody still finds architecture glamorous, especially when that person is Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton, the daunting and stylish director of visual arts at the Arts Council of England. She also says, 'I always find architects extremely agreeable individuals,' and regrets that, because of her wide portfolio, 'my visibility in terms of architecture is not all it could be'.
But she has been highly active in the run-up to Architecture Week, particularly since no one has been heading the Architecture Unit since the departure of Alicia Pivaro in the summer. Allthorpe-Guyton confirmed that it will not be possible to get a permanent replacement until the Arts Council's reorganisation is complete, but she may make a temporary appointment.
Meanwhile, architecture is not a field in which she struggles. Her training as an art historian at the University of East Anglia included architecture ranging from the medieval to the Modern Movement. Later, with a Leverhulme Scholarship, she studied the English country house. After graduation in 1969, Allthorpe-Guyton became an assistant keeper of art at Norwich Castle Museum, and then went to the Courtauld Institute for PhD research on Anglo/French interchange, 1780 to 1830.
From 1981 to 1989 she curated contemporary art shows, joining the magazine Artscribe in 1989 and becoming editor in 1992. But the magazine folded and she joined the Arts Council in 1993, having learned about the vacancy at the leaving party for her predecessor, Sandy Nairn. The Arts Council had already set up its architecture group, and Rory Coonan was in place as head of the architecture unit.
Allthorpe-Guyton sees the Arts Council as 'a strong body for the advocacy of architecture and a friendlier face for architecture'. She believes there is still a problem with 'big-name architects with significant projects which may or may not be people-friendly'. While innovation in any field can be problematic, in architecture 'people experience it in a more basic way - doors don't open, offices are too hot'.
Her idea of a successful building is epitomised by Grimshaw's Waterloo terminal: 'functional, beautiful to look at, always a great pleasure to use', whereas she is incensed by the poor quality of too many everyday buildings.
After six years with the Arts Council she says, 'I still have some unfinished business here,' but doesn't expect to stay for ever. In the future, 'who knows, I could move closer to architecture'.