Michael Brawne 1925-2003
Michael Brawne, who died in July, occupied a special place in British architecture, achieving distinction in practice, education and scholarship. In education he is probably best known as Professor of Architecture at Bath, from 1978 to 1990, where he collaborated with Ted Happold in creating the experimental course in which students of architecture and engineering shared courses and projects.
But his career ranged far and wide, intellectually and geographically, and he continued working almost to the end of his life.
Brawne was born in Vienna and his family moved to Prague when he was one. In 1939, at the age of 13, his parents sent him to Britain, where he lived in Scotland. In 194243 he read mathematics at Edinburgh before enlisting as a meteorologist in the RAF. Upon demobilisation in 1947 he enrolled at the Architectural Association and, afterwards, won a scholarship to take a master's degree at MIT. Following a year in San Francisco he returned to London in 1956, where he worked successively for Architect's Co-Partnership, the British Transport Commission and Denys Lasdun. At Lasdun's office he worked on a project for laboratories at Cambridge and on the masterplan and buildings at the University of East Anglia. In 1963 he opened his own office, and in the following year began to teach at Cambridge.
From this time on there was a flood of projects and writings. Buildings included laboratories for the Royal Holloway College in 1975, the National Library of Sri Lanka, which opened in 1990, and, latterly, museum and library projects in Germany at Münster, Paderborn and Fulda. In addition, Brawne also designed numerous major exhibitions for the Arts Council and others, including shows at the Tate of Gabo, 1966, Picasso Sculpture, Ceramics and Graphics, 1967, Henry Moore, 1968, and Claes Oldenburg, 1970. As recently as 1996 he designed the 'Architecture of Information' exhibition at the Venice Biennale for the British Council.
His expertise in exhibition and museum design informed his first major book, The New Museum, published in 1966. And in the 1990s he produced monographs on Meier's Museum für Kunsthandwerk, Kahn's Kimbell Art Museum, the Louisiana Museum and the Getty Center. Brawne's book on museum design was paralleled by Libraries: architecture and equipment, 1970, and in 1983 he was the ideal author for Arup Associates: the biography of an architectural practice.
All of this would count as a major achievement, but Brawne's intellectual substance led him to explore more theoretical territories.
He was long engaged with the representation of the scientific method found in Karl Popper's writings and with the potential of these ideas as the basis for a coherent approach to architectural design. This was given its first extended expression in From Idea to Building, published in 1992, and revisited in his last book, Architectural Thought and the Design Process, to be published this autumn.
Brawne's life and work are a powerful demonstration of the potential, perhaps the necessity, of combining practice, teaching and scholarship in architecture. It is particularly poignant that this seems to be made increasingly difficult by the ever-growing bureaucracy that bears upon the schools of architecture in Britain today. Maybe his example will inspire creative resistance.