Looking backwards and forwards
In 1996, while staying at Chatsworth House as part of a SPAB scholarship, I received a postcard showing the interior of MJP's Fitzwilliam College Chapel in Cambridge (completed 1991). On the back, a note suggested that I might drop in to see if I would be interested in joining the practice.
The Fitzwilliam chapel is built in a garden, against the backdrop of a Denys Lasdun student housing scheme and a Georgian house.
The chapel, like Chatsworth, was a building that looked as though it belonged on its site.
I did join MJP, and later found myself taking visitors around the chapel. They always remarked on the quality of the materials; they were surprised that concrete could look like stone or that the double-height glazing transoms didn't just support the glass but also formed a cruciform against the view of an aged tree in the garden outside.
Our practice is interested in exploring connections, both physical and metaphorical. Of course, we also have a deep interest in materiality and in the way buildings are put together (I found out later in the chapel that every screw head holding the altar balustrade had been orientated horizontally to face east-west). But just as important to us is how people react to and remember spaces.
These explorations sometimes generate ideas about use; how a sense of familiarity and continuity can be achieved. It is through use that spaces and buildings are remembered. Buildings we can touch and materials we can appreciate in a virtual world are today more important than ever. Architecture for us has always been interactive.
Our practice values history and continuity above style. The openness of the studio allows our shared values to transcend personal taste. We know from experience that people recognise quality and good craftsmanship when they see it.We try to uncover links with our own history, either conscious or subconscious, within our work.We are all aware that our best works of architecture can have many readings.
The chapel for me helps unite the architecture of Lasdun with the existing Georgian house and its garden. The physical bridge linking the it with the housing is also a conceptual one - between past and present. The building manages to be both inward and at the same time outward looking; it is a building that manages to look both ways.
We have adopted this approach in our new project for the BBC at Portland Place, which embraces the spirit of the original architecture of Broadcasting House. We are trying to set up a similar dialogue with its very different urban context. It is a reflective architecture that resonates with the echo of the original building - it is an attempt like the chapel, to look both ways: to the past and the future.