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Peter Moro: an appreciation

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obituary

In 1941, Peter Moro's arrival at the Polytechnic School of Architecture heralded a new era, one where his strong personality, his continental aura, work with Tecton and his evident achievement in the elegant and sophisticated house at Birdham provided a lodestar. He taught best on a one-toone basis where, in tying knots, his three-dimensional skills were dazzling, while on the broad front his searching 'crits' and acerbic comments on student complacency were salutary, persuading all to do better.

At that time, received wisdom was 'form follows function'. Moro declared he learned more from Lubetkin than in all his school years and, like him, eschewed the 'functionalism' of the day and believed in the form-giving role of the architect as well as the organising one.

Following his LCC years, he achieved notable success with his Nottingham Playhouse, radical in its day, the finest of the first tranche of post-war theatres, and in which he achieved a contemporary richness of experience to match that of traditional theatre.

Although he and his partners worked in several fields, the theatre was a major interest to him, and work included refurbishment at the Bristol Old Vic, The Queens University Theatre at Coleraine and, in 1982, the Plymouth Theatre with its variable capacity to suit winter repertory and big summer shows and which provided a notable architectural presence in the city. At Hull University, the Gulbenkian centre provided a practical range of studios wrapped in an envelope of refined architectural character.

Whatever the subject, his architecture was deeply rooted in the bedrock of the programme, where he sought to organise the plan three-dimensionally with space and volume for convenience and delight, aiming to create humane environments. He was deeply involved with the niceties of use, the pleasures of movement, the delight of material to sight and touch. He pursued building design with a rare honesty of approach. He was rational, with a clear understanding of how to put things together and, perhaps, faith that in designing well, resonances would emerge from unconscious springs.

Latter-day practice did not suit Moro's maestro temperament, and retirement was a pleasure. He enjoyed life in his Blackheath house, the visits of friends, tennis, and writing trenchant letters to the press. He made delightful relief constructions, fastidious in design and execution, which showed him as the visual man he was, through and through, not really in tune with English prejudice towards literature. His pictorial sensibility inclined to the ordered, rather than the expressionist, and he had in architecture and design a sort of Pantheon to which admission was highly selective, though covering a wide field. Standards were rigorously applied by Moro and, just as in his own work, were characterised by integrity and a profound love of quality.

Trevor Dannatt Sir Leslie Martin writes: When John McKean published his excellent Phaidon Press essay on the Festival Hall, he described some of the problems that were involved.

The subject had also been covered by articles in the Architectural Review for May 1951. A series of diagrams showed how the auditorium (the egg in a box) was enclosed by public spaces both underneath and around at all levels in the building. The problems of development were considerable.

When Peter Moro came to join me at the LCC in 1948 I was delighted, but I had to explain that the situation was not a simple one. Time was limited and a big build-up of architectural and technical staff was necessary. Space would be required for them and for Moro's team of designers. Fortunately, a large dilapidated area resulting from war damage was available on the river frontage at County Hall with close connection to the office of Robert Matthew and my own room. Peter Moro's team and their associates had a wonderful volume of space to work in, and it was here that he demonstrated immediately his own unique contribution in general and in detail.

The range of opportunity for Peter Moro's creative design must be quite clear. The interior treatment of the free-flowing foyer spaces, of the auditorium itself, especially the side walls and balcony fronts, were problems in which he was highly involved. But there are many matters of design interest. My own proposals had opened up floor space at many levels where carpeting would be required. An appropriate new pattern was needed, and required imaginative design such as his.

Another instance of Moro's range of design skills was that he secured extended orchestra space by his design of a music stand which was mobile, adjustable and fitted in to the orchestra steps. He was also responsible for introducing Robin Day into the team, who designed the seating and furniture.

But Moro's ideas went much further. With such things as the sides of foyer balconies and stairs needing to be secure but not obstructing the free flow of space, he developed that then not common idea of the transparent glazed balustrade with a most elegant system. Thus these new interior spaces became of immense importance in relation to the general layout. The different types were visually connected and, through transparency, could be appreciated in all directions.

One can never forget the sadness of Peter Moro's death. But as Hope Bagenal then once said: 'What is important is that this continuing work on the Royal Festival Hall will produce 'a home for the mind and for the imagination', ' and that is indeed exactly what Peter Moro achieved.

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