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letters In praise of Schlaich and Peter Moro

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Jorg Schlaich is not well-known enough in Britain; and so I fear your report of his Lubetkin lecture (aj 15.10.98) might suggest that his 'big idea' is only the extraordinary solar chimney project. Certainly his engineering is wonderful - his cable-net cooling tower being among the most astonishing - while his bridges (particularly the pedestrian ones) are really beautiful and often quite unexpected.

I was unable to attend his lecture. But if your reporter thinks Schlaich's building interventions to be more 'conventional', I wonder if she has seen the wavy glass grid he threw over the courtyard of Hamburg Museum in 1989. Schlaich's work is a fitting tribute to the Modern spirit, in this week when one of Lubetkin's closest colleagues and friend, Peter Moro, died.

Moro's motto, very much Lubetkin's, remained exactly as you quote for Schlaich: a mixture of delight in materials and design coupled with concern about social issues. Like Schlaich, Peter Moro appeared modest. What added such spark, for me, was Moro's wonderful ironic distance.

I happened to be re-reading his engrossing memoirs when I heard of Peter's death. Written a decade ago (and unfortunately unable to attract a publisher), they end:

'Although I have lived in Britain for over 50 years and cannot think of anywhere I would rather be, there are aspects of British life, which, with the detachment of a non-native, I find disturbing and hard to understand. One is an undue emphasis on class where, for instance, people are classified according to whether they go to the lavatory or the toilet. More serious is the alarming increase during the last decade of go-getting individuals full of ambition but devoid of any sense of community. Lastly, there is an excess of nostalgia which has a retarding effect on life. I was always happiest when I had to solve a design problem and it did not matter what it was. A theatre, a house, a school, a lamp, a chair, a pub sign, a cat flap for a friend to be opened only by her cat, the mind is totally absorbed whatever the size of the problem, and its solution brings great satisfaction.

'(. . . today) I play tennis with my friends, and with more enthusiasm than skill, and intend to continue doing so till I drop. Like a true Englishman I say 'sorry' when I hit a netcord and like him I don't really mean it.

'I feel proud that in 30 years' practice we have never abandoned our principles and, even at the loss of some commissions, have never lost our integrity. The thought that through some of our building we may have helped others to live a better life is to me cause for satisfaction'.

The Building Study in aj 15.10.98 shows a new penthouse overlooking Hyde Park; outside and inside photographed from two viewpoints, 3 metres - and two worlds - apart. We recall that Moro was initially hired by Martin at the lcc to do the interior design of the Royal Festival Hall, though the role developed to control of all the detailed design, inside and out. It is worlds apart; your illustrations (p. 37) aptly illustrate my quotation above.

The 'Moro reflex', test on every newborn infant, comes from his paediatrician father. Perhaps a more appropriate Moro reflex for us, to test for on all newly qualified architects, is indeed that mix of creative ingenuity, design integrity, material appropriateness and social value.

JOHN MCKEAN

Brighton

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