Sir Albert Richardson, 1880-1964
At the RIBA Heinz Gallery, 21 Portman Square, London W1 until 23 October
It is the end of an era for the Heinz Gallery, writes Simon Hurst. At the close of this exhibition, the 152nd to be held at 21 Portman Square, the riba Drawings collection will start preparing its
move to the v&a. It is hoped that a new exhibition room can be shoe- horned into the Henry Cole Wing.
The last show for some considerable time is a first retrospective for Sir Albert Richardson. This often under-estimated architect started work in the Arts and Crafts idiom, progressed into full-blown Classicism, and between the wars developed a pared-down version embracing the economies, technologies and ideologies of the twentieth century. He was a prolific writer and academic, holding the Bartlett professorship for 27 years. His many publications and lectures are therefore displayed alongside representative drawings from the key stages of his career.
It is striking to see the transition from his very decorative, almost Schinkel-esque Manchester Opera House to the somewhat Speer-like Leith House (opposite page right). The synthesis of craft tradition and modernity culminated in perhaps his most admired work, Bracken House, the first post-war building to be listed.
One of the most imposing images on display is the perspective for the St Paul's Bridge competition, though it is tucked away in a corner. The gallery's tight space is both a strength and a weakness. On the one hand it encourages quality rather than quantity, but on the other it does severely restrict creativity in layout. Perhaps a new venue will resolve these difficulties.
In any case the substantial catalogue is bursting with images and covers everything that the exhibition can't. Here is an architect who designed some monumental steel- and concrete-framed buildings yet, using the subtlest of devices, maintained a continuity with the past.
Richardson's unique Classicism triumphed in the face of Modernist adversity. Unfortunately few appreciated his achievements at the time but, with this exhibition and catalogue, more might do now. It could be all for the good if architects took a leaf or two out of Richardson's various books.
Simon Hurst is an architectural designer, illustrator and writer