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alan powers

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a life in architecture

The two buildings selected by Alan Powers have symbolic importance for him. Close to his London home is the Mary Ward Settlement in Tavistock Place (above), designed by Smith and Brewer in 1895, which represents his interest as an architectural historian in the Arts and Crafts Movement.

He says he has been influenced by the people who explained the building to him: Professor Adrian Forty's article in the Masters of Building series (aj 2.8.89), and actors Christopher Hayes and Ewan Foster at a lift (London International Theatre Festival) event staged at the Settlement in 1997: a Brechtian process of episodes and interviews in which they sought to get closer to the meaning of the building. Their method was poetic and 'very funny ... it was an interesting interpretation and an example of what you can do with architectural history'.

Powers sees a correspondence between the Mary Ward Settlement and the new Art Gallery in Walsall, designed by Caruso St John. Both are symptomatic of the cluster of Arts and Crafts issues that continued to concern architects throughout the twentieth century: attention to the way the gallery has been built, truth to materials, civic purpose. He stresses the importance of the role of Walsall curator Peter Jenkinson as client, and is tremendously impressed that he has managed to make it happen. 'It's likely to have a huge impact,' says Powers, 'as did the Mary Ward Settlement a century ago'.

Deborah Singmaster

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