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Martin Pawley: the right man for the job

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In this dismal New Year's season of resignations, sackings, denunciations and cancellations, the news that Adrian Gale is to take a leading role at the Prince of Wales's Institute of Architecture must count as a bright spot. Best known as the former head of the Plymouth School of Architecture, he took over that academy after his predecessor, a cad expert, died an unlikely death for an architect: digging a trench under a garden wall that fell down and killed him.

Gale is not cast in the same mould. His background is pure practice, with the emphasis on 'pure'. Before moving to Plymouth, he worked in the us (for a time in the Mies van der Rohe office in Chicago), for Douglas Stephen in Swindon, and on New Scotland Yard (originally a speculative office project clad in stone).

Inevitably characterised nowadays as a diehard Modernist, Gale would be more accurately described as unorthodox. Born into a distinguished military family, and an assiduous networker, his method of boosting standards at Plymouth was highly effective. With the aid of funds raised from wealthy architects, property-owners and celebrities - Channel Tunnel supremo Alastair Morton and Peter Palumbo were frequent guests - he attracted distinguished lecturers. Projects in the school became singularly far-sighted: an embassy for an independent Cornwall, for example, conceived long before devolution became flavour of the month.

Against the odds, Gale created a cosmopolitan atmosphere at the then polytechnic. By turns he wore a beret, drove a Citroen 2cv, and rode a Moulton bicycle. More adventurously, he initiated the practice of lunching in more than one restaurant: hors d'oeuvres in the first, main course in the second, coffee in the third. He also thought nothing of making several trips a week to London.

Sometimes Gale's unorthodoxy took the form of splendidly eccentric flourishes. One of my abiding memories of his Plymouth period is of being invited to lunch by him, only to discover that he had no money. We detoured via his bank. This sounds straightforward, but at the time English banks had no idea what the initials atm meant, and customers had to queue up in tiresome fashion at the counter. This he did, writing out a cheque for £50 and presenting it to the counter-clerk.

'How would you like it?'

'What have you got that's crisp?' came Gale's reply, as though he were describing gourmet food. He had to explain his request several times, of course, but in the end got his way, with a single £50 note so crisp it might have been starched in a hospital laundry.

Thus it is as the arrival of yet another eccentric Englishman, not an insertion as a rabid Modernist into a nest of antiquaries, that Gale's latest appointment should be seen. Thoroughly at home with the prince himself, if not with his scheming courtiers, he can be expected to exercise a harmonising influence on relationships between the institute and the burgeoning world of singing and dancing architecture centres outside. In short he is - belatedly - the perfect choice.

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