These are dynamic buildings, buildings which seem to contain an extraordinary pent-up energy, buildings in which the pieces of which they are made – columns, stairs, ramps, auditoria, flues, roofs, canopies, gantries, even planes of masonry and glass – feel as if they are, or until recently were, on the move
In the Leicester, Cambridge and Oxford buildings, masonry walls are – except where they provide the enclosure to the vertical shafts of staircases and life cores – invariably treated as thin, almost brittle, planes – cut and folded – or as volumes daringly poised above the ground. It is as if in each case the mass of the building has been deliberately denied.
Paradoxically, the glass in all the buildings is, by contrast, frequently treated not as void but as solid, as important to the expression of the building mass as the masonry enclosure. The chamfered, cubic roofs of the workshop and the angled windows of the laboratories at Leicester; the projecting bays that punctuate the upper level corridors and overlook the reading room in the library in Cambridge; and the glass enclosure to the porter’s lodge and the projecting staircase landings of the Florey Building, are all conceived in this way. Intriguingly, of course, all three buildings share the same very limited palette of materials: hard red brick and tile, fair-faced structural concrete, glass in patent aluminium frames and white plaster. But at each building, the way in which they have been used is highly specific and always reinforces the fundamental compositional idea.
In all buildings, it is possible to identify a primary scale at which, one might say, their architecture operates. In some buildings it is the scale of the component, the brick or the window. In others it is the scale of the structural bay. In others – and in much contemporary architecture – it is the scale of the overall building: the winning, memorable shape of the icon. In these three remarkable buildings, however, the primary scale is that of the room, and the collection of rooms: the scale of occupation. In these buildings it is everyday life that is given a declamatory presence, and the extraordinary level of formal invention that pervades them, and still astonishes today, is always exclusively directed towards this goal.
All text is extracted from Jim Stirling and the Red Trilogy – Three Radical Buildings, Frances Lincoln, October 2010, £30