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Tributes paid to 'architect client' Roland Paoletti

Roland Paoletti, the ‘irascible but wise’ driving force behind the Jubilee Line Extension’s award-winning stations, has died

Born in London to Italian parents, Paoletti began his architectural studies in Manchester before attending the University of Venice, where he studied under Carlo Scarpa and Giancarlo De Carlo. He went onto work for Pierluigi Nervi and had a spell with Basil Spence.

In the 1980s Paoletti arrived in Hong Kong to deliver its underground metro system, before moving to London to take of the Jubilee Line Extension (JLE). Fully opened in 1999, the 12 stations were designed by a raft of architectural talents including Ian Ritchie Architects, Foster + Partners, Troughton McAslan, Alsop Lyall, MacCormac Jamieson Prichard, Hopkins and van Heyningen & Haward.

‘Railways are like jazz, continuous improvisation, and only as good as the band’

Explaining his approach to designing railways, Paoletti said: ‘They are like jazz, continuous improvisation, and are only as good as the band that is improvising the tune.’

In 1998 Paoletti became the first RIBA Client of the Year - receiving the award from Peter Mandelson for his work as the commissioning architect for the new Jubilee Line stations.

Tony Chapman, RIBA head of awards, said: ‘The Client of the Year Award, now one of the institute’s most important awards, was invented to reward Paoletti’s extraordinary achievement. [The] judges looking at those stations felt that none of its awards at that time adequately recognised the very particular role of the client.’

A funeral mass will take place for Paoletti in Wapping on 26 November.

Tributes

John McAslan, who worked on the Canning Town and Stratford stations while at Troughton McAslan, said: ‘I was one of the first architects he sat down with when he began to think through how he wanted to appoint architects on the Jubilee Line.

‘Even at that early stage on the project he was very clear on who he wanted to use and how he looked to integrate industrial design with the architecture. He is remembered with great fondness for his integrity and creative single mindedness, as well as of course, his resilience for delivering on his pledge.’

David Nelson and Norman Foster, who worked on the Canary Wharf station, said: ‘Large-scale infrastructure projects rely on the shared efforts of hundreds of people. It is rare that an individual can be singled out for their contribution. But quite simply, the Jubilee Line extension is of the quality it is because of Roland Paoletti.

‘As architect-in-chief, he worked tirelessly to give London a new generation of stations that the city could be proud of. He was a great man and a fantastic client. He saw the Jubilee line as freeform jazz, the stations responding to their different contexts as dramatic variations on a theme. He was generous with his time and experience and wonderfully supportive of the architects he worked with - never afraid to challenge or subvert the system to push for the exceptional.

It is rare that an individual can be singled out for their contribution

‘Single-minded in his quest for great design, he was driven by a passion and respect for London and his contribution to infrastructure in the capital is unprecedented in recent times. His stations are a remarkable legacy – an inspired act of architectural patronage, which lifts the spirits of millions of Londoners every day.’

John Lyall, who designed the North Greenwich station under the Alsop Lyall banner, said: ‘Roland was a very important figure in architecture becoming the architectural client to the 12 talented practices he picked for the stations on the celebrated Jubilee Line Extension. 

‘We were responsible for the design of North Greenwich - which on completion was shortlisted for the Stirling Prize. Working for Roland was never an easy ride. He was irascible, explosive, but extremely wise. I learned a lot from him - mostly about the beauty of raw materials like concrete and the architectural power of simple, large spaces for stations and how they should be robust and practical.

‘He expounded the virtues of a seamless marriage between architecture and engineering. The Jubilee Line project was engineering-driven, so that all of us architectural firms were working under tough civil engineering contracts, defined by cost and programme more than anything else. Roland took it upon himself to fly the flag for architecture and defend our design ideas in the face of vision-less project managers and civil engineers, whom he called trench-diggers at meetings. 

‘He had the personal backing of LUL’s chairman, Wilfred Newton, and eventually gained the respect of the project’s engineers and the admiration of all of us architects. It was only after a year working with Roland that I realised the constant pressure he was under to fight the system and deliver true design quality - which he did.

‘The stations are the best new set since Charles Holden’s [Piccadilly Line] in the 1930s. And probably braver, because of the variety of architectural expression within a family group. 

‘He became, after the project, a good touchstone for me on design and a big influence on my career.’ 

Chris Williamson of Weston Williamson said: ‘Andrew and I were extremely sad to hear the news. Roland gave us our first break in the transport sector when he came over from Hong Kong to choose Architects for the Jubilee Line in 1990.

‘He wanted to give young architects a chance and not rely on the established designers in that sector at the time. We knew he was coming to see us and showed him a competition we were working on for a bus interchange in Venice.

He fought against the politics to ensure good design and innovation

‘He put us on the shortlist to tender for London Bridge, for which we are eternally grateful. Roland had been instrumental in writing the brief for expressive, bold architecture and had the stamina to ensure it was retained. Roland had the confidence to encourage our innovative designs including the cast iron cladding panels, the seats and lighting booms which were eventually used elsewhere. He fought against the politics presiding at the time to ensure good design and innovation.

‘He left us in no doubt however of the consequences if our ideas didn’t work and was a hard task-master. His stewardship of the Jubilee Line architects and the subsequent work which was well received by everyone has helped ensure that great design is a requirement of projects such as Crossrail and HS2. Roland will be always in our thoughts.’ 

Ian Ritchie of Ian Ritchie Architects, who designed Bermondsey Station, said: ‘Roland gave an inspired direction to TfL to follow - on how to engage with architects and engineers to create excellent civic architecture.

‘He was a politically astute and tenacious individual who combined a wonderful wit, acerbic at times, and generosity always aimed towards the end game – to deliver uplifting public spaces.

‘His status at JLE came through Russell Black, both having had key roles on the Hong Kong Mass Transit. They, with others, in the early years of JLE were known as the Hong Kong Mafia – but they knew how to deliver.

‘Roland’s genius was to select architects who he knew understood engineering and, working alongside civil engineers, were capable of challenging them positively to raise the design bar while respecting budgets.

Roland’s genius was to select architects who he knew understood engineering

‘The outcome was not uniformity but architectural jazz - each station an individual expression - a synthesis and a celebration of engineering as architecture.

‘Roland settled into a house in Shadwell around the corner from our then studio in Metropolitan Wharf, Wapping, and we had a lot of fun jousting, guiding and evolving the teams that all contributed to the JLE’s successful outcome. He was an architect, catholic, part Italian, part Irish and by his influence adopted Brit, whose heroes were mostly engineers – having worked with Nervi in Rome, and consequently Le Corbusier.

‘Gordon Talbot and everyone who encountered him at our office during the JLE decade realised that he was a proud, loveable maverick who became a friend long after the JLE was completed. It was tragic that he suffered a debilitating illness at the end.’

Ian Ritchie Architects’ Bermondsey Station


David Selby of Hopkins, who worked on the Westminter station, said: ‘Having completed the Hong Kong Mass Transit system, Roland Paoletti had all the right credentials when he was appointed chief architect for the Jubilee Line Extension Project in London.

‘His vision,however, was to invite individual architects to design stations along the line, so creating a unique variety of stations within the capital. One of his famous and often-used quotes was “for the price of an underground ticket you will see some of the greatest contributions to engineering and architecture worldwide.”

‘For many architects, the task of designing underground stations posed great challenges, especially that of working with civil and tunnelling engineers unused to considering the visual aspects of their work.

‘In our case we’d applied to work on theJubilee Line but it was Roland Paoletti who understood the opportunity for us to design a new station at Westminster below the Portcullis House project for Parliament, for which we had already been appointed. At a stroke, this unlocked a host of potential co-ordination issues and it was a special responsibility of our contract for us to resolve issues between separate clients for the station and the new parliamentary building above – no mean feat for all involved but one that led to an integrated engineering and architectural solution for both projects.’

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