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a life in architecture

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Hugh Johnson and the rest of us are wonderfully well served by the wide reach of his passions; he has written not only the world's best wine books but also volumes about both trees and gardening. Once, he toured England for a book he never found time to write on lesser country houses.

Two in particular come to mind when he considers buildings that mean much to him. Great Chalfield, in Wiltshire, 'dates from 1480 - earlier than Tudor,' he says. 'For me it stands as the first conception of the country house that emerged after the castle. It's splendidly lopsided - a bigger gable at one end of the hall than the other, yet somehow perfectly balanced. Classical proportions you can get right if you just follow the rules. Here the mason just knew.' He mentions 'another of my absolutely prize houses': Honington Hall in Warwickshire, built in Charles II's reign, grander, but with a very simple application of Italian ideas.

He turns to public buildings: King's College chapel, 'Europe's best building,' and Canary Wharf Tower (above). 'With King's there's that wonderful gothic repetition; you could go on extending the vault for ever and the proportions would never be wrong.' Pelli's tower is 'marvellously successful. Very good proportions, classically plain, huge. And I love the scrap of cloud streaming off the summit. It's the secular cathedral of Docklands.'

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