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ABK co-founder Paul Koralek dies aged 86

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Architect Paul Koralek, one of the co-founders of celebrated Modernist practice Ahrends Burton and Koralek (ABK), has died

Born in 1933 in Vienna, Austria, his family left the country following its annexation by Nazi Germany in 1938. He was brought up in Britain and, after a year studying French language and culture at the Sorbonne in Paris, he began studying at the Architectural Association in 1951.

He graduated in 1956 and went to work with Philip Powell of Powell and Moya fame, designing nurses’ accommodation at a hospital in Swindon before moving to New York for a stint with modernist legend Marcel Breuer.

Aged just 28, Koralek returned to England to set up ABK with fellow Architectural Association students Peter Ahrends from South Africa and Richard Burton in 1961 after leading the trio to win an international competition for Trinity College’s new Berkeley Library in Dublin.

The three architects had been inspired by a ‘new-found support for modern architecture’ in the 1950s, exemplified in projects such as the Festival of Britain, the Hertfordshire schools and London County Council housing.

Ahrends described the Dublin project as ‘a dream ticket, enabling an energy-driven young group to to try to make good buildings’. 

Riba47130 paul koralek

Paul Koralek with a model of Trinity College’s Berkeley Library in Dublin (1961)

Source: Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Collections

Paul Koralek with a model of Trinity College’s Berkeley Library in Dublin (1961)

The company went on to win numerous high-profile commissions, including the much-praised Keble College extension (1977) and the original design for the National Gallery extension, which Prince Charles famously labelled ‘a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend’.

The 1984 remark by the The Prince of Wales at the 150th anniversary of the RIBA hit the practice’s business just when ABK was reaching widespread acclaim.

But the firm went on to design 12 Docklands Light Railway train stations between Poplar and Beckton and the British Embassy in Moscow, which opened in 2000.

Other notable schemes included a 17,400m² low-energy hospital on the Isle of Wight and a John Lewis store in Kingston (1990).

Koralek was also commissioned again by Trinity College to design the new Dental Hospital and School on Lincoln Place in the 1990s.

In 2011 the practice’s 1971 Redcar Library was controversially flattened despite calls from The Twentieth Century Society for it to be saved.

Catherine Croft, director of the Twentieth Century Society, said: ’Paul was a partner in one of the most distinguished post-war architectural practices in the UK.

’It was his competition winning scheme for a new library at Trinity College Dublin in 1961 which enabled the formation of ABK and the success of that masterpiece was followed by a roster of carefully considered and beautifully detailed projects, including new accommodation for Keble College Oxford and a Sainsbury’s in Kent.

’It was their scheme for the national gallery which Prince Charles derided as a “monstrous carbuncle” – a very undeserved slight which no doubt meant that we have fewer of their fine buildings in the UK today than we should have had.’

Helen Shenton, librarian and college archivist at Trinity College, added: ‘Paul had a long-standing relationship with the Library, Trinity and Ireland. Many of us who had the privilege to know him formed a deep respect and admiration for him and we have especially fond memories of his recent visit in 2017.

It was a modern library not just for Trinity, but for Ireland

’The Berkeley Library when built transformed library services for our students and readers. It was a modern library not just for Trinity, but for Ireland. Paul’s architectural vision for this modernist building played a critical role in making this possible.’

Koralek was a Royal Academician and was appointed a CBE in 1984. His wife, author Jenny Koralek, died in 2017. 

He is survived by daughters Katy and Lucy.

ABK Berkeley Library  2

ABK Berkeley Library 2

ABK’s Berkeley Library

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Readers' comments (3)

  • A fine architect and a fine human being.

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  • Very sad indeed. Students and fellow travellers in architecture if you want to know how to devise, make, draw and create a convincing plan and section have a look at ABK. Any project really.

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  • Great architect; an inspiration and a lovely man.

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