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Richard Murphy on MacCormac's architectural legacy

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Richard Murphy chooses the top five buildings by his ‘architectural dad’, Richard MacCormac

Richard Murphy, director of Richard Murphy Architects, was a friend and mentee of Richard MacCormac who passed away at the weekend.

Describing MacCormac as his ‘architectural dad’, Murphy has made the ‘impossible choice’, of choosing the top five projects by the late architect.

Worcester College Sainsbury Building 1980-83

Sainsbury’s Building, Worcester College, Oxford (1980 – 1983). Image: Richard Bryant

This the  first of a breathtaking number stretching into two figures of competition winning Oxbridge College student accommodation commissions. Each one is an essay in tartan grid planning, staircase journeys, clustering of student rooms around the sociable heart of a shared kitchen, (then revolutionary in College thinking), and above all incredibly sensitive and intelligent reading and reinterpretation of the individual Colleges’ sites. This one gave Richard the two edged sword tag of “romantic pragmatist” but it remains one of the most beautiful images and creations of British architecture from the 1980’s.

Chapel at Fitzwilliam College Cambridge 1989-91

Fitzwilliam College Chapel, Cambridge (1989 – 1991). Image: Martin Charles

The second project in the College and part of a master plan which was stupidly ignored later, this, together with Ruskin Library (1992-97) at Lancaster University (with which it bears many similar characteristics and ambitions), remain the two jewels of his smaller works. He once described  the chapel suspended within the embracing curved masonry walls as a boat beneath which and into which the worshippers set off on a spiritual journey; a remarkably poetic interpretation of a contemporary religious space. Frankly, the building is completely faultless in its conception and execution.

Burrell’s Field, Trinity College, Cambridge 1989-95

Burrell’s Field, Trinity College, Cambridge (1989 – 1985). Image: Peter Durant/arcblue

A triumph of Richard’s tartan grid planning (openly derived from studies of Frank Lloyd Wright) developed into a forty-five degree overlapping of squares this sequence of linked towers outside the College’s precincts makes for one for of the most beautiful and memorable walks in Cambridge. Once again the detailing follows completely the logic of the generic idea. The moated bridge entrance (derived from Scarpa at the Querini Stampalia) is particularly wonderfully romantic.

Garden Quadrangle, St John’s College Oxford 1990-93

St. John’s College Oxford, Garden Quadrangle (1990 –1993). Image: Peter Durant/arcblue

Perhaps the most baroque (dare I say indulgent?) of all the College projects this is a picturesque accumulation of dreaming towers surmounting a homage to Soane’s Breakfast Room in the form of a Piranesian hidden underworld of auditorium, dining room, etc. Perhaps too rich a confection for some, for me it is a project which is  inventive, brilliantly controlled and detailed, superbly sited and extraordinarily dense in its architectural references.

Southwark Tube Station 1991-99

Southwark Tube Station, London (1991 - 1999). Image: Peter Durant/arcblue

Of all the Jubilee line commissions this to my mind is the most architecturally inventive, ordering the twists and turns of the passenger flow into a sequence of spaces and passages that could be compared to Hadrian’s Villa. The amazing space developed with the artist Belleschenko sourced its inspiration from Schinkel’s set designs for the Magic Flute; an extraordinary reference and contribution to the daily lives of London’s commuters!


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Readers' comments (1)

  • Nothing wrong with the tag 'Romantic Pragmatist' Richard; it's the big 'Commercial Pragmatists' and 'Heroic Egotists' we should fear. McCormack's tragedy was the bowdlerising of Broadcasting House, and his triumph was Oxbridge, now an exception in the art of Patronage, and where wealth and indulgence still permit the making of great Art. St John's told one of its architects that they should make their building last 500 years without maintenance – tongue-in-cheek maybe, but that's also authentic sustainability...
    Bob Franklin

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