Modern survivor Jim Cadbury-Brown joined the aa nearly 70 years ago, but his concerns are in tune with young architects today
If you want to get the sense of how enjoyable - as well as worthy - modern architecture was in the pioneering days of the 1930s, talk to Jim Cadbury-Brown. About five years ago, H T Cadbury-Brown (he was christened Henry Thomas, but everyone calls him Jim) and his wife Betty took the decision to 'slow down'. They sold their London home and moved full-time to Aldeburgh, to the weekend house which they had completed there in the mid-1960s. Jim Cadbury-Brown finds it difficult, however, to stay away from London for long. On the day I met him, he was en route for the aa to catch up with the work of the latest generation of students.
It is hard to believe that Cadbury-Brown entered the aa as long ago as 1930. He was six months away from his eighteenth birthday at the time. 'The aa wasn't as socially-minded at the time as it became a few years later,' he recalls. He and his contemporaries, who included Ralph Tubbs and Dennis Clarke-Hall, were naturally expected to go into private practice.
In his fifth year at the aa, Cadbury-Brown had met Erno Goldfinger, and he went on to work for him. 'He didn't pay very well,' Cadbury-Brown says. But the jobs, mainly shops, were rewarding in themselves, and being part of the Goldfinger circle was an obvious advantage for a young architect.
In 1937, aged 24, Cadbury-Brown achieved a remarkable coup by winning a competition for a series of offices for the 'big four' railway companies. He set up on his own and never looked back, finding time to be secretary of the mars group and part of the team planning its 1938 exhibition.
After the Second World War, Cadbury-Brown found that the railway work had passed to Leslie Martin and others. After being demobbed in 1945, he spent a few years teaching at the aa ('the best way of learning is to teach', he says), doing small-scale commissions and reviving the mars group.
In 1947, he was heavily involved in organising the ciam conference in Bridgewater, where he was 'fired up' by the mere presence of such living legends as Corbusier and Gropius. The 1951 Festival of Britain was another source of cheer amid austerity conditions. Cadbury-Brown had met Hugh Casson, the Festival's architecture director, while Casson was completing his training at the Bartlett, and was brought in to do several pavilions as well as the main Festival concourse. Casson, he says, 'was always generous in involving others in jobs'.
By the mid-1950s, both men were teaching at the Royal College of Art. When the idea of a new building for the rca emerged, they worked together (with Robert Goodden) on its design, principally the work of Cadbury-Brown. Completed in 1963, it was uncompromisingly modern, with a hint, at least, of the New Brutalist influence, but it sits well in the proximity of the Albert Hall and Albert Memorial. Meanwhile, Cadbury-Brown was building for several universities and designing a civic centre at Gravesend. There were also interiors at the Time-Life building and Shell Centre and, later, at the Royal Academy. 'I've always liked doing interiors,' says Cadbury- Brown. 'Fine materials and careful details are a real source of pleasure.'
He never wanted to run a large office, he says, but depended on two key partners, John Metcalfe and his own American-born wife, Betty. The latter was an assistant in the office before they married in 1953.
The housing development at World's End, Chelsea, completed in 1977, which the Cadbury-Brown office designed in partnership with Eric Lyons and Ivor Cunningham, would be controversial in the 1990s. Cadbury-Brown is still convinced, however, that 'on such a great site, you had to go high'. The well-grouped towers of World's End are one of the sights of modern London and were the last great work of Eric Lyons, an architect for whom Cadbury- Brown has immense respect.
Looking back at his career, Cadbury-Brown admits that he 'never wanted to break the mould'. Even back in mars group days, he had doubts about the town-planning agenda of Corbusier and others. Goldfinger was an enormous influence, and it was through him that he met Auguste Perret in Paris. He admired both Perret and Goldfinger for their commitment to the city and ability to build in an established context. 'Appropriateness matters,' Cadbury-Brown believes. 'I never wanted to be deliberately disturbing, at odds with the context. Architecture is there to address the needs of a brief, not make arbitrary statements.'
The Aldeburgh house exemplifies Cadbury-Brown's belief in a comfortable modern architecture, at ease with its surroundings. It is totally integrated into a dense, but controlled, landscape - inspired by another of Cadbury- Brown's gurus, Geoffrey Jellicoe - and eschews obvious drama in favour of a flowing continuum of light and space. It isn't surprising that John Soane's house and museum are one of Cadbury-Brown's perennial references. Jim Cadbury-Brown is a survivor - 'I suppose that's why you want to talk to me,' he says. But he is also an architect whose concerns are surprisingly close to those of many young architects at the end of the century.