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Blonski's retrospective on architect Peter Moro

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Clare Melhuish reviews.....

Andrzej Blonski's talk on Peter Moro highlighted not only how 'civilised' an office Moro ran, but also how the conditions in which architecture is produced have changed. This was a time when building new housing in Southwark, 'we learnt everything there was to know about leaking decks and roofs', but found the client - Southwark Borough Council - very sympathetic and understanding.

The problems were resolved, but they had to work them out themselves, since 'there were no specialists in those days'. It was also an era when Moro could feel justified in walking out on a job - a project in Brentford - because of his objection to a programme combining public, civic functions with a commercial development. Very few architects today would feel able to make that decision but, as Blonski put it, Moro was always 'very consistent in that sense'.

Clearly, by the time Moro closed down his office, at the age of 72, conditions were changing. He was deeply upset by the alterations made to his Nottingham Playhouse, presumably in the name of 'user-friendliness' - the building which had so stunned Blonski as a young man that he immediately resolved he must work with the architect responsible for the design. At the same time, lessons were being learned that Moro and his ilk had been aware of, and working to address years before. As Blonski says, 'we all hated estates' (at a time when the GLC was busily building estates) and they canvassed 'the importance of the street' through their own GLC-commissioned projects:

'The street gives you a proper progression of spaces from the public to the inner sanctum, ' he explains.

They perfectly understood that 'wholesale demolition and rebuilding destroys communities', and were 'well-aware', he says, 'of the problems of the North Peckham estate [for example] back in the '70s'. But Moro was also wary of the issue of 'community involvement', pointing out the implicit difficulties of trying to define a community.

As Blonski pointed out, Moro was deeply opposed to decoration on a building, but rather sought to engage with its inherent 'spirit' or 'emotion'. Planning, he believed, was 'an art, not a circulation diagram'.

According to his collaborator, Michael Hurd, 'clients often came back, because the office collectively gave them a very good job', and certainly Moro's team seems to have undertaken a wealth of varied work, from the theatres where they made their name as specialists, to houses, social housing, and schools: again, a proliferation of publicly funded and socially motivated projects which presents a very different working scenario from that which faces architects today. But according to Blonski, Moro's favourite building was his own house. 'It's just so satisfying how it hovers, ' he observed, offering a suitable epithet, perhaps, for a whole body of work.

Andrzej Blonski's talk on Peter Moro was hosted by the Twentieth Century Society at the Gallery in London's Smithfield

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