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Highlight disjunctions to enable understanding

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Letters

I am writing in response to Kenneth Powell's article on the British Museum courtyard (AJ 7.12.00). It is extraordinary that a major public work has been analysed so partially by the AJ.

The photographs are carefully framed to promote the work of the architect but not understanding. It is in the profession's interests to produce unbiased journalism that examines the weaknesses as well as the successes of any scheme.

The roof, by Buro Happold and Foster and Partners, is a triumph of sophisticated engineering, achieved with effortless confidence. However, the disjunction which first meets the eye is one of scale: between the grand sweeping stairs which embrace the reading room, and the mean doorway into the reading room itself.

The main flaw is not of detail but of basic concept. Whereas I fully understand the pressures brought to bear by the client, a scheme of this significance must be judged objectively. The reading room by Smirke pays homage to Bramante's Tempietto in the cloister of S Pietro in Montorio.

The power of both designs rests on pure geometry and independence from the enclosing cloister/courtyard walls.

Foster's ellipse greatly compromises this purity of form.

Stephen Hodder recognised this problem with his suggestion that a different material could have helped articulate the new from the old. However, this would have been to attempt to remedy a self-made problem.

The view of the ellipse in relation to the reading room and northern portico is not published for understandable reasons. The proximity of the ellipse to the northern portico is unsatisfactory as is the casual way one views the interior of the reading room from the restaurant. This view should have been given sparingly, in order that the significance and integrity of the space was respected. An alternative parti might have had the new galleries organised within the basement, and the restaurant and shop as independent single-story elements within the courtyard.

Now that the dark days of the '80s are over, the profession should discuss controversial issues openly, prompted by detached journalism, and without fear that practices are unfairly under attack.

Sean Macintosh, London E9

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