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Paul Finch remembers the 'masterly' Richard MacCormac

‘Masterly’ MacCormac was a man of ideas and principles, says Paul Finch

Richard MacCormac (1938-2014) was interested in architecture, art, culture, food, drink, conversation and ideas.

At the last lunch I had with him, in the Dickensian George and Vulture eating house in the City of London, we discussed (in no particular order) the Royal Academy, sailing, housing density, the idea of the city section, the difference between steak and kidney pudding/pie, the dangers of demolition and the completion of the BBC headquarters in Langham Place. There was also some gossip.

As ever, he was a cheery companion whose ideas always concerned what could be done to improve things. You sensed that for him the ideas were just as important as the buildings, since for architects of his sort, ideas came first. His masterly study into how buildings, whole streets and surrounding areas could be analysed sectionally in terms of use as well as space – thereby revealing what might, or might not, be appropriate as a design strategy – was not as well-known as it should have been. He was no great master of, or believer in, self-promotion.

His last public exhibition – at New London Architecture –addressed the issue of housing density without tower blocks; development combined with ecology and mixed tenures. The audience at the opening night was a typical Richard mix of the expert (the government’s chief planner made a nice speech) and the interesting.

A proselytiser for a seamless relationship between art and architecture, in which he was helped by the public art consultant Vivien Lovell, Richard was a champion of the indivisibility of the arts in general. For many years he chaired the Royal Academy Forum which advised on its on-going architecture-related public events programme, working with Maryanne Stevens, Kate Goodwin and Jeremy Melvin.

The promotion of cultural ideas could put him at odds with people who saw the world in a fundamentally different way. He had an aversion to the ‘culture’ of project management, which underlay his sad falling out with the BBC over its new headquarters, won as a result of an invited competition where the judges included Stuart Lipton.

The latter was a staunch supporter, once describing Richard as ‘the only architect I know who resigned from a commission as a matter of principle’. Over the past year, Lipton has been working on the idea, with help from senior BBC figures, to memorialise the MacCormac contribution to Broadcasting House with a plaque. This will be an appropriate act of generosity.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Even I know MacCormac and I am not an architect let alone a historian, but you see his work all around ... I know his influence from teaching students and reading.

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