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it's pardey time

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John Pardey's love of the 'ordinary' and his admiration of '50s and '60s architecture often left him in a minority. But he stayed true to his principles and now the world seems to be catching up by andrew mead. photograph by jonathan brady

Soon after he qualified in 1983, John Pardey went on 'a pilgrimage' to Australia to see the Sydney Opera House. One of his discoveries as a student was Jorn Utzon's work and he was developing a passion for it. While there he visited Glenn Murcutt who, when talk turned to the tribulations of being a sole practitioner, offered some advice: 'Tough it out.'

'Most days I remember that, ' says Pardey, now with his own practice in the Hampshire town of Lymington. But, having just completed the renovation and extension of a house by Basil Spence at nearby Beaulieu (see pp24-31), and with work at last on the upturn , h is persistence is pay ing off.

Pardey's commitment to architecture dates back to his Hampshire childhood, when one of his neighbours happened to be Robert van't Hoff - among the founding members of the Dutch De Stijl movement and designer of the Frank Lloyd Wright-influenced Huis ter Heide villa near Utrecht (1916). 'I grew up hearing stories of Wright, Rietveld and Mondrian, and I loved art. I loved to draw. Robert said to me: 'You must become an architect.'' Van't Hoff was the subject of Pardey's dissertation, for which he won the Banister Fletcher Prize in 1983. De Stijl's architects and artists are still important for him but Pardey mentions other key figures, among them Luis Barragan: 'He seems to design without trying. His plans look so straightforward, although they're sophisticated when you study them. It's the vernacular elevated. Then there's his use of colour.

De Stijl taught me that colours create space, talk across it, energise it. Barragan introduced me to a different palette.'

Another touchstone for Pardey is Giuseppe Terragni. 'He's the one architect from the past I wish I could have met. If the Danteum had been built it would have changed the course of history.'

A large claim, which Pardey justifies by referring to Louis Kahn's Yale University Art Gallery of 1951. 'That's the building that ended the International Style. It ended the reign of Corb's free plan and brought back the room and history.

But the Danteum dealt with the same ideas in 1938. It used natural materials in an abstract way - it was raw but sophisticated, earthy but mystical.'

The Danteum, then, might have entered the mainstream of architectural thought, which Pardey's all-time favourite has never done.

'Sydney Opera House is the greatest work of architecture in the world. It's up there with the Parthenon and the Taj Mahal, ' he declares.'And it's something beyond a building; it's a landscape with a building perched upon it.'

It comes as a surprise that in this elevated company Pardey goes on to ta lk about Basi l Spence :

'I fell in love with Coventry Cathedral while I was a student in London, although my tutors wouldn't discuss it.' Not that he believes Spence has international stature or that the cathedral is flawless: 'It's overdone - but so is Ronchamp.' For Pardey, though, when Spence was truly involved in a project, 'he humanised a Modernist language. He fused it with historical precedent'.

Pardey's regard for Spence is part of his wider appreciation of unsung architecture of the 1950s and 60s - churches, libraries and community buildings that have few pretensions but are crisp and well-detailed, free from 'the concern for fashion and meaningless effects', which he sees in much current work.As we drive towards his home through Georgian Lymington, he points to just such a building in its principal street. To judge from recent publishing, 'everyday' architecture is now a hot topic for academics - but Pardey got there 20 years ago.

This interest in 'the ordinary' persisted while Pardey worked for Phippen Randall & Parkes, Richard Reid, and Allies and Morrison, before his partnership with Ronald Yee from 1988-93.A string ofcompetition awards culminated with their winning a Birmingham Education Department commission for a flagship 700-pupil junior school.

Political squabbles eventually caused its cancellation and spurred Pardey's move back from London to Hampshire.

There he started teaching in the School of Architecture at Portsmouth University. 'It's phenomenal how good the best students are, ' he says. 'I've had the pleasure of introducing them to Utzon's work, and to Terragni, who is a great teacher.You only have to get the good ones to look at him and he does the rest. Teaching is pointing people in the right direction.'

Behind the house that he built on his return (AJ 8.12.93), Pardey has resorted to a screen of trees to keep a bland new development visually at bay.

Frank Gehry has reportedly had guns fired at his Santa Monica home, but while things haven't come to quite such a pass in Lymington, Pardey once found elderly residents shaking walkingsticks at his discreet brand of Modernism. It's a conservative environment.

Standing beside the Beaulieu River, Pardey gestures towards the Spence House that he has just renovated and his own new extension: 'Here I am stuck in the middle of the New Forest trying to do something like this.Not many people want it!'

Yet, as he says, the local planning officers 'do acknowledge quality'. Moreover, in the pluralist architectural culture that has supplanted PostModernism, Pardey's kind of buildings are finding greater favour. He has several commissions in view, including one in Cambridge from an intermittent collaboration with Colin Stansfield Smith. Then there is the monograph on his hero Utzon that appears early next year, where Pardey's new measured drawings accompany Richard Weston's text. The tide does seem to be turning as he 'toughs it out'.

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