Thom Mayne of the Los Angeles practice Morphosis visited Manchester last week and fell prey to the charms of Vincent Harris's 1938 Town Hall extension. 'Very regal,' he declared to the capacity audience of the Manchester Society of Architects, whom he then proceeded to charm with a typically laid-back performance.
Mayne was selling the approach Morphosis has developed since it was founded in 1972, from its early and well-known houses such as the Flores and Mack Residence to current projects such as the Diamond Ranch High School, California. Founded partly in admiration of Archigram ('The Pompidou just blew me away'), and developing what he termed a 'language of armatures', other early influences on the practice's thinking included Jim Stirling and Colin Rowe. It soon became clear that it has come a long way since the early concern with materiality of architecture. 'Maybe we were guilty of fetishising the parts,' he conceded, but went on to argue that he and then partner Jim Stafford felt as if they should have been working in the nineteenth century, such was their interest in more of an engineer's aesthetic.
Constructionally daring Morphosis buildings jump, but, as Mayne told a sometimes sceptical audience, 'I'm not interested in Chaos - I was trained as a planner.' This underpins some of its bigger recent work such as a housing scheme in Vienna and the glorious Sun Tower in Korea. Perhaps its buildings don't so much jump as slip and slide into position seemingly unnoticed.
Mayne clearly loves the pluralism of cities and, while rejecting dualism, sees the most basic choice facing architects as that between being cosmopolitan and provincial. Last week Manchester was left in no doubt where Morphosis is at.