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Crit memories: Ivan Harbour

Ivan Harbour recalls a harsh crit at the Bartlett during the early eighties

The year is 1982, the setting the Bartlett during the height of post-modernism and me, a student from a background of practical making and creating with an obsession about how things work.

After spending most of my grant on books espousing this new direction to architecture but still not really getting it, I faced the spring term design challenge; a complex building brief with the idea that I really should have a go at this Po-Mo.

The brief was for a law court (I wasn’t to know that law courts in Strasbourg, Bordeaux and Antwerp were to take up much of my late 20’s and 30’s) and I set about resolving the complex segregated circulation and interrelationships using staircases disguised as monumental columns, broken pediments for top lit court rooms and a rusticated plinth for the cells.

I presented all this on a tasteless beige textured dyeline paper with exquisite diagrams and pencil crayon elevations. It was a tour de force of analysis with pompous aesthetic and urban consequences.

Chris Woodward, a renowned critic and tutor, in what must have been one of the most objective criticisms I’ve encountered, declared: ‘This the worst building I have ever witnessed – it is consistently bad at all levels, nothing redeems it at all. It answers the brief perfectly but offers absolutely nothing as a piece of architecture. It is so consistently bad I cannot fault it.’

Needless to say, from that moment I took a different direction and none of those books have graced my shelves since.

  • Ivan Harbour is senior partner, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

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