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Cadbury Brown should be consulted over RCA

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James Dunnett's perceptive article, 'The value of voids' (AJ 22.5.03), deserves further comment. Dunnett reminds us of the importance of space urban planning, increasingly disregarded in the latter half of the last and the start of this century.

Figures such as Gordon Cullen and Thomas Sharp, whose writings and urban planning were steeped in man's long history of town building, were the currency of architects like Cadbury Brown. Siegfried Giedion's seminal Space, Time and Architecture, based on his Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard in 1941, might also have been influential on Cadbury Brown.

This convincing and moving book made many of us aware of time as a major component in the experiencing of buildings and townscape. What had previously been inchoate was made conscious and our sensitivities sharpened - and with new eyes we saw. The space Cadbury Brown has given us is not to be demeaned either in terms of the Royal Albert Hall or his own Royal College of Art building.

Several important lessons are to be learned from this unfortunate proposal [for a new block at the Royal College of Art]. What seems astounding is that the client, the RCA, is one of our foremost institutions concerned with art and design. Formative young minds are the material for its message. The RCA is no crude business enterprise that might be expected to consider architecture/urban planning of little matter, but it is tempting to suppose that the RCA has equally scant respect. In such cases as this, it is my unshakeable opinion that the original architect should be brought in as at least consultant (or heading the team) where the need for alterations or enlargements are required. Spiritual ownership is, if not in law, morally, the prerogative of the original architect. In a caring society this is not to be set aside.

The late Sir Denys Lasdun was a notable sufferer in this respect. Three of his buildings have come in for alteration - The National Theatre, Keeling House and The Royal College of Physicians. Of the two latter, on Keeling House he was consultant to architects carrying out the refurbishment with some additional work, while on the Royal College I believe alterations he designed are to be executed posthumously to his scheme.

Fortunately, in the case of the RCA, Grimshaw's scheme is as yet just a proposal (full marks to AJ for highlighting it). There is still time to engage Cadbury Brown as I outline above. Surely artist/designers are not culturally the inferiors of doctors.

John Bancroft, Haywards Heath

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