Isi Metzstein has died, aged 83, after a long illness
Born in Berlin in 1928, Metzstein’s family moved to Scotland when he was 11. At 18 he was hired by Gillespie, Kidd & Coia and with MacMillan designed many Modernist churches, schools and colleges.
Isi was the conscience of the architectural profession in Scotland
Charlie Hussey, a director of Sutherland Hussey, described Metzstein’s death as a ‘huge loss’. Hussey added: ‘[He was] a man of immense intellect and creativity, a razor-sharp wit and above all a man of great warmth. Over the past twenty five years he has been my teacher, my colleague and my friend and I shall miss him very much.’
RIBA president Angela Brady said Metzstein would be remembered ‘fondly both as a great architect and educator who was known to be outspoken and had great courage and colour.’
She added: ‘Isi was part of the duo fondly known as ‘Andy and Isi’ who were awarded the RIBA Annie Spink award in 2008 for excellence in architectural education. On a personal level he was a huge influence on many students in Dublin during the “Flying Circus” years of 1976 -84.
‘He was part of the group that changed the studio culture to create a free and easy exchange between student and tutors, moving away from a more controlled education. He will be sorely missed on both sides of the Irish Sea but his impact and stories will live on.’
Neil Gillespie of Reiach and Hall Architects described Metzstein as ‘the conscience of the architectural profession in Scotland to all those who engaged with him over a long and distinguished career of practice and teaching. ‘
He said: ‘We are now left without much critical foundation.
‘Like many architects of my generation probably my first and abiding taste of architecture and an awakening to a sense of material and light was on entering St Brides Church, East Kilbride and St Peters Seminary, Cardross.’
He added: ‘More recently I recall a building of ours, of which I was feeling a bit puffed up about, being reviewed by Isi (AJ 17.07.08). He surgically exposed the folly of our self indulgence. Isi and I then spent an evening together, me drowning my sorrows and Isi opening up a conversation that I have yet to fully rise to. It was a privilege to have known him.’
Colin Harris, a director at Sutherland Hussey Architects, said: ‘Isi taught most of our practice at some point and in recent years we have been worthy of the odd visit to our Edinburgh office. He was a wonderful motivator who we looked up to but like being back as students we would nervously await his unyielding responses as we showed him our projects.
His work was rigorous and he demanded that of everyone he taught; there was simply nowhere to hide when you stood in front of him with your work on the wall.’
His contribution to our profession is massive and the influence he had on us will last for many years
He added: ‘Last year we presented our project for Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop to a judging panel, which included Isi, for the £3 million Edinburgh Arts prize. By the end of our 15 minute presentation Isi had redesigned our scheme for us but gave us a bit of time to get it right. Just this morning I was sitting in a meeting still trying to sort out one of the details he wasn’t happy about. His contribution to our profession is massive and the influence he had on us will last for many years.’
Sandy and Clare Wright of Wright and Wright said: ‘Isi Metzstein was an outstanding architect and teacher, who was very deeply loved for his warmth and engagement expressed through a veil of black dog cynicism. His exceptional intellectual and ethical rigour was never self serving, in fact quite often the reverse. He was adored by those he taught because he engaged and motivated people, of all ages and abilities.
‘We were lucky that, in his words, he was a Glaswegian adoptee. He enriched our lives and work and has left a lasting legacy of heavyweight thick skinned devotees, building all over the world. Thank you Isi.’
Alan Dunlop of Alan Dunlop Architects, said: ‘Isi was the greatest architect, thinker and educator in the UK. He could be difficult, but his knowledge of architecture was without match.
‘His projects were an inspiration to all of us and the profession is much less as a consequence of his passing.’
Glasgow School of Art director,professor Seona Reid, said: ‘Gillespie Kidd and Coia’s work under the visionary leadership of Isi Metzstein and Andy MacMillan, former Head of the Mackintosh School of Architecture, represents one of the most significant and influential contributions to post war British architecture.
‘It is not, however, just through the remarkable physical legacy that Isi’s reputation will live on, but through the generations of architectural students whom he inspired. Isi Metzstein was a great architect, a remarkable teacher, and above all a very special person who will be greatly missed.’
In 2008 MacMillan and Metzstein accepted the Annie Spink award for outstanding contribution to architectural education (see AJ 05.12.08).
Penny Lewis of Scott Sutherland School, Aberdeen
‘Isi Metzstein didn’t write very often but when he did the text was very precise. I think he was disappointed that his provocative AJ review (July 2008) of Reiach and Hall’s Beatson building did not inspire a wider debate about what he described as the “disturbing superficiality of current architecture.” The text was also a polemic against architectural publications (one of which I edited) which he said favoured ‘operational and social reviews’ of buildings as opposed to ‘architectectonic’ ones. A fitting tribute might be for practices, publications and architecture schools to take the time to consider his critique.
He wrote:”Essentially, all buildings are parcels of single or closely-packed, multi-cell volumes of varied plan and sectional ordering. The wrapping, with the possibility of local variations in stiffness, thickness transparency colour and texture has an intense capability of artistic and functional orchestration, and thus an opportunity for combining artistic self expression and public pleasure.
‘Recent and current practice is heavily into two types of packaging – a loose bubble or a tight stretch-wrap. While each is very different in form, their generality, and the priority given to technical performance, paradoxically manage to disassociate the façade from internal and external obligations. The highly seductive stretch-wrapping technique deprives architecture of much cultural and historic richness.”
Isi Metzstein was adored by so many because of his talent, his insight, his wit, his commitment to public life but most of all his refusal to be pragmatic, which in our current culture is a very rare quality.