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REVIEW - Out of the Ordinary: Pollard Thomas Edwards architects By Alan Powers.Black Dog Publishing, 2005. 112pp. £19.95

You know the formula. A fi rm nearing some milestone finds a willing publisher, puts together its best projects, gets a senior partner to write a foreword, and finds a well-known commentator to write an overview. Then the book comes out, staff and clients get free copies - everybody's happy.

In reality such books are often perilously close to vanitypress publishing. Whereas a monograph once summed up a lifetime of remarkable achievement, and was penned with at least a pretence at academic detachment, it is now often little more than another strand of corporate PR.

That cavil out the way, this volume has been produced to mark 30 years of work by Pollard Thomas Edwards architects (PTEa), one of London's least showy fi rms.

Architectural historian Alan Powers has provided a conspectus which sets the firm in the context of 'the most respectable Modernist ancestry'.

Thus the likes of Bruno Taut, Ernö Goldfinger and Jane Jacobs are brought into play to provide some contextualisation for PTEa's urbanism.

What does comes across is the appealingly dogma-free approach and stylistic pluralism that have been PTEa's strongest characteristics, arguably representing the ethos of a firm that has never been dominated by a single creative outlook. Its approaches have ranged from forensic restoration to emphatic intervention, as in its own offices at Diespeker Wharf.

And the thoughtfulness of regeneration projects, such as Jaywick Sands in Essex - where old 'plotland' shacks were reinvented in a contemporary timber idiom - typifies the firm's sensitivity to the wishes of its clients and the needs of its end-users. A project like the Brockwell Park Lido refurbishment also shows an instinct for community-based ventures, enlivened by a keen awareness of the importance of dovetailing the exciting and the everyday.

Its celebration of hidden aspects of urban spaces reminded me strongly of the work of artist Mark Boyle, who died earlier this year. Boyle's sculptures show it is possible to turn the forgotten corners of a city into visual oases. In the last analysis, PTEa aspires to improve the appearance - and, crucially, the experience - of architecture at a local level.

Neil Cameron is an Edinburghbased writer on architecture and art

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