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Plymouth's seafront enhanced by Ritchie's richer High-Tech

editorial

An unexpected side-effect of the emergence of the Eden Project is the number of architects and journalists who spend the night in Plymouth: the Paddington-toPlymouth train being economical but a little too slow to justify a day trip.With the completion of Ian Ritchie's new production centre for the Theatre Royal (page 20), a mile or so from the city centre, interested parties have an ideal means of using up those idle hours in Plymouth.

Together, the Eden Project and the Theatre Royal - or TR2 as it is called - provide an interesting insight into High-Tech's mature manifestation. Eden shows how an architecture born of an industrial aesthetic can evolve into organic expressionism, turning the language of efficient anonymity into an all-singing, all-dancing tourist trap.This is a natural progression from Grimshaw's earlier work.When High-Tech first burst on the scene, its radicalism lay in its willingness to adapt industrial language to buildings which aspired to be rather more.Grimshaw's decision to execute Sainsbury's flagship Camden store in the light industrial aesthetic more traditionally reserved for one of its out-of-town warehouses was a classic case in point.

TR2, in contrast, exemplifies a traditional marriage of function and aesthetic. The language of 'behind-thescenes'architecture is applied to a building which is, quite literally, concerned with life behind the scenes.

High-Tech has gone full circle, but has moved up a level on the way.Without architecture's long crusade to celebrate the ordinary, it is doubtful whether a worldclass architect such as Ritchie would have been commissioned for a building such as this.And while, in the hands of another architect, the building may have had a similarly robust aesthetic, it would not have been executed with the same panache. TR2's success lies in the fact that Ritchie's technical expertise is tempered by exquisite craftsmanship and a profoundly romantic response to the building's purpose and context. The counterpoint to High-Tech's legacy of public buildings that look like factories is a clutch of humbler buildings executed with the care and imagination traditionally reserved for more elevated building types.

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