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Powell and Moya spark a regionalism revival

letters

In 1963 I left New Zealand to look for architecture beyond Modernism, and which could reflect a culture and a place, New Zealand being too young to leave a sufficient past.

On the way to Europe I stopped in New Delhi. Chandigarh, just finished, seemed only abstract sculpture beside the sublime majesty of Lutyens' Viceroy's Palace.

Next Italy, released from Fascism, exulting in the recovered past, symbolised for me by the vertical Medieval understanding of the Torre Velasca in Milan.

On to Wolfsburg and Aalto, the Finnish landscape recreated as a sculptural monument, purest Aalto. What else could it be? There was no context anywhere about.

And then England, where three buildings stood out above all else: Brasenose College and Blue Boar Quad at Oxford, and Cripps Court at Queen's College Cambridge, all by Powell and Moya. New architecture of the most formal real sculpture, shaped to the scale and roofs in Brasenose, the flowing folding volumes of Cripps Court, and finally the ambiguity of Blue Boar Quad, creating its own courtyard behind a high wall.

Here was absolute authenticity, shapes containing the deepest functional understanding of the Medieval context, and details which ran seamlessly from the monastic past to the present.

Of course, I was also deeply impressed by Stirling and Gowan's Leicester Engineering Building and Lasdun's Royal College of Physicians, both stylish learned works but lacking continuity, and short of some very English qualities, such as picturesqueness, and a contextual thoroughness that the three Powell and Moya buildings expressed just as completely as Lincoln Cathedral on its hill.

These buildings seemed to epitomise the neglected philosophy of Colin St John Wilson's The Other Tradition of Modern Architecture, and answered Aalto's words, that the functional tradition did not go deep enough. And regionalism in these buildings was not buried in the obscure arguments of academics, who search outside the discipline of architecture to express themselves, and mostly don't build.

In those three Powell and Moya buildings was regionalism with the fullest understanding of the struggle and making of buildings within their own local history and traditions.

I, for one, would look forward with the greatest anticipation to a real book on Powell and Moya.

Possibly this book could be the pivotal moment for a rediscovery of regionalism in the most complete sense.

Peter Beaven, no address given

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