Hilary French has struck two blows in recent days for the concept of an architect as a generalist. Firstly Simon & Schuster has published a book of hers which, although small, aims to encompass the whole of architectural history. And secondly she has been appointed deputy course director of the industrial design and furniture department at the Royal College of Art, helping Ron Arad set up the newly linked courses.
Her only directly relevant experience stems from when she worked for Conran, which included some design of shop fittings and shelves, but she believes that coming from outside the subject is an advantage. 'Furniture is moving away from the craft basis,' she says, 'and becoming related to industrial production. Modernism has tried to do that for a long time. '
She feels well fitted for the post as an architect because 'architects like to think they have much more of an overview of everything. Space and form are the fundamentals that encompass everything else'. Encompassing everything is also what the book, Architecture - A Crash Course, aims to do and, although it is aimed at the general public, French has also approached it from a teacher's point of view. 'There isn't really an affordable pocket guide for students,' she says.
The book is one of a series, including others on fine art and opera, and has a slightly jokey format. More fundamentally, French has centred the book around architects rather than straight chronology, and has included sources for further reading.
Most intriguing is French's selection of 'The Great Eight' buildings, which has the Pantheon as the only non-twentieth-century choice. This list was, says French, whittled down from a longer, more catholic one. She says of her choices, which include Lasdun's Royal College of Physicians and Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo's Ford Foundation Offices in New York, 'They are some of my very favourite buildings. But I could have listed 20 all in Rome and all built in the Renaissance period.'
Her ability to view things on this broader scale stems partly from the MSc in the history of modern architecture which the aa-educated French took at the Bartlett in 1994. While there, she also developed an interest in phenomenology and the way it relates to the urban environment, which she hopes to apply to research on the Wandle Valley in South London, where she lives.
And, in the future, she would like to go back into private practice, but with a partner rather than on her own as she did last time. 'I don't settle easily,' she says. 'I enjoy change.'