Imagine a 'collective' of students criticising Allford Hall Monaghan Morris's (ahmm) chequerboard housing in Dalston in a magazine they published, while taking time off from launching a revolution against Mohsen Mostafavi at the aa. It wouldn't happen, of course, but - replacing ahmm with Tecton's Caryatids at Highpoint 2, and, for Mostafavi, substituting Howard Robertson against whose regime there was rather more to protest - that is just what the group who formed Architects Co-Partnership (acp) did in the late 1930s.
Michael Grice, the last of the initial group of 11 which whittled down to seven when they formally created the practice after the war, still relishes a good challenge at 82.
'I don't like to accept things just because that's the way they are done. At least I like to know why they are done that way,' he says. 'I don't always reinvent the wheel, but I tend to do it some of the time.'
Over more than 60 years, that comes to an awful lot of reinvention, starting with a dissatisfaction at the aa which took Grice to work for Gunnar Asplund in Sweden for a year - 'magical' - right up to his work on the North Tyneside factory for isl (see page 33). In between lies his period at acp, where he 'did a few tracings' for the Bryn Mawr rubber factory, established, with Leo de Syllas, an overseas presence for the firm, and designed innumerable schools, university buildings and hospitals, including an unbuilt one in Baghdad, where 'the concept had to be completely rethought, which I loved'. Each patient would habitually have five or six visitors, who could camp in the central courtyard with the low-rise buildings all around.
Grice's pattern for constructive rebellion began early. His father was an architect who had studied at the aa in the early years of the century, knew Howard Robertson, thought Dudok 'a bit modern' and 'almost put me off architecture'. He also sent the young Michael to Stowe - 'a fairly interesting place to be, but not good for a boys' school - too formidable'. There Grice encountered the charismatic headmaster JF Roxburgh, who awakened a latent architectural interest through his photography.
Roxburgh became the first of three seminal influences; the second was EAA Rowse at the aa, just about the only member of staff who supported the nascent acp Turks who comprised about one third of their year of 30. With his slogan 'action sequence', Rowse 'had something to tell us ... planning became a logical thing' to the group who 'chose ourselves, not so much for our architectural abilities, but for our interest in social affairs'.
Otherwise they had 'practically no support', but found themselves spending three months making a full-sized rendering of a Corinthian capital. That seemed odd 'during the turmoil in Europe caused by Nazism', and provoked an understandable reaction. 'We were all very left-wing and went to lectures by John Strachey which disembowelled Das Kapital'. Grice made a map of China which emphasised the mountains between Mongolia and Russia - Nationalist China of Chiang Kai Shek was semi-Fascist.
But Grice did not find politics entirely absorbing. 'I was never a strong political animal. I was much more interested in the actual architecture', especially 'how people use a place'. He worked for Mendelsohn and Chermayeff, where he encountered Felix Samuely, and enjoyed lectures at the aa by Summerson and Arup, 'who could never finish a sentence'. Having received a good grade for a project he knew unworthy of it, he wrote to Asplund, whose Stockholm World Fair of 1930 he had seen in magazines. Fortunately the Swedish genius wanted to brush up his English for a lecture tour of America, and invited Grice not just to work with him, but to stay in his apartment. Working largely on the Woodland Crematorium, he says, taught him 'not to leave anything to chance, to design everything'. It was a lesson which helped to fit Grice's penchant for thinking from first principles in a specifically architectural context. Asplund was his third seminal influence, and Grice likes to see the effect even in the Tyneside factory, with its tight, rigorous and refined control.
Detained by the end-of-Empire rituals in India after the War finished, Grice returned to England in 1947 to find his old aa colleagues well advanced with Bryn Mawr, and to find the client Lord Forrestor 'ringing our letters in red ink, like a prep-school headmaster'. By the 1950s, acp was designing a lot of schools in Hertfordshire; with 'a lot of mouths to feed', it decided to open an office in Lagos, Nigeria, where it exceeded by £8 the allowance of £27 per school place. In Hertfordshire, the budget was £134. Such challenges appealed to Grice; he and de Syllas learnt much from low budgets and intense climates which found its way into their British work.
The post-war generation grew up and went to university, creating a long wave of work for acp. It planned Essex University, had a few Oxbridge projects and did a lot of work at ucl, including the Bartlett.
Although formally retired from acp for more than 10 years, Grice has been continually active. When Kenneth Capon died in a car crash, Ivan Bradbury, who had bought his holiday house, asked Grice to extend it. 'I was almost as inhibited as Kenneth', he remembers, but did devise a circular wing which 'wound round Kenneth's little cottage'. Bradbury then asked him to help with a factory he owned in Newcastle, and eventually, to be a consultant for the new North Tyneside factory.
That complete, Grice intends to concentrate on his allotment. But he still enjoys architecture; almost 50 years on he admires the octet of Walter Segal-designed houses where he and his family have lived since they were built, although he wishes Segal had addressed the problem of expansion: 'There's no obvious way of doing it'. And probably, given the great clarity of the design and Grice's ingenuity, no other way either.