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The profession reacts: Leonard Manasseh dies aged 100

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Architects have paid tribute to Festival of Britain architect and former AA president Leonard Manasseh, who has died aged 100

Friends and colleagues of the architect, whose career was launched by winning a contest for a luxury restaurant at the Festival of Britain, have shared their thoughts and memories following his death on 5 March.

Born in Singapore in 1916, Manasseh studied at the AA before setting up his own practice Leonard Manasseh and Partners with business partner Ian Baker in 1951.

Key projects delivered by the practice included the Rutherford Comprehensive School in Lisson Grove, Marylebone (1960), the factory for Rotork Engineering in Bath (1967), the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu (1972) and the Furzedown Teachers’ Training College – now known as Graveney School – in Tooting, south London (1965).

He also built three houses in Highgate in the late 1950s, and lived in one of these for much of his life.

Manasseh served as AA president from 1964 to 1965 and was elected a member of the Royal Academy in 1979. His students included Michael Hopkins and ABK’s three founders, among them Richard Burton, who died earlier this year.

Rutherford Comprehensive School for Boys, Penfold Street (and Bell Street), Marylebone, London

Rutherford Comprehensive School for Boys, Penfold Street (and Bell Street), Marylebone, London

Source: RIBA Collections

Rutherford Comprehensive School for Boys, Penfold Street (and Bell Street), Marylebone, London

Michael Hopkins

Leonard set me on my way. I worked in his practice in the early 60s, my first job after the AA. I had landed on my feet in a stimulating office, working on a hall of residence at Leicester University.

I marched into his office one morning saying: ‘Look here Leonard, I have been here 18 months; I think it is time I became a partner.’

‘That’s an interesting idea, Michael,’ he said. ’Let me think about it’. He called me back into his office a couple of days later.

‘I have been thinking about your idea, Michael,’ he told me. ’I don’t think we should stand in your way. I think we should let you go.’

We remained good friends and colleagues until he died.

Ted Cullinan, Cullinan Studio

Architects can be quite competitive with one another, even quite bitchy – but never Leonard. I knew Leonard for 63 years, and I never found him short of gracefulness, generosity, calmness and talent for helping things along.

Catherine Croft, director, the Twentieth Century Society

Until very recently Leonard was a regular attender at lectures and exhibition openings, and a unique and remarkable direct link to the innovative architecture of the post-war period. His work was always rigorously considered and has worn extremely well, but although many of his buildings are now listed, others have been demolished and more remain at risk, partly because his firm never had broad public acclaim to match the high regard of his professional colleagues.

Sam Webb, principal, Sam Webb Chartered Architect

Many years ago Leonard came to give a talk to my students at the Canterbury School of Architecture. He was a wonderful, captivating speaker who really understood young people. He talked of how in 1950 he won the competition for a luxury restaurant at the Festival of Briton. On the strength of it he left his job and set up his practice with a friend. Then came a bombshell – the restaurant scheme was cancelled and downscaled to the ‘51 Bar.

As a sop he was offered the public loos to design. No one bothered him, he said, and to laughter from the students described how important the ducts were for housing all the pipes and his ducts were so big you could walk around inside them.

Leonard designed three beautiful houses in Highgate Village, and lived in one. As an impecunious student I lived at the bottom of that hill surrounded by the post-war giants of British architecture: Michael Grice and Michael Cooke-Yarborough founders of ACP, Monica Pidgeon editor of AD, and Walter Segal. When you are young you think they’ll go on forever, but now they are all gone.

6 Bacon's Lane, Highgate, London: the garden elevation

6 Bacon’s Lane, Highgate, London: the garden elevation

6 Bacon’s Lane, Highgate, London: the garden elevation - Designed for himself and his family, the house was one of three by Leonard Manasseh, built in the garden of a Victorian house (demolished) in South Grove,

Timothy Brittain-Catlin, chief examiner,  Kent School of Architecture, and Manasseh’s biographer

Everyone who met Leonard – especially his many devoted former students from the AA – were won over by his warmth and boundless optimism. The National Motor Museum in its grand axial landscape is one of the great projects of the recent past, full of activity and unexpected fun exactly as Lord Montagu had hoped, yet monumental in its conception.

Alex Warnock-Smith, director of Urban Projects Bureau

When UPB was commissioned to design a new sixth form centre, now known as the Bradford Building, for Graveney School, we jumped at the chance to contribute to the school’s campus and its legacy of fine school buildings. We knew the campus well, having previously worked on public realm strategies to reorganise and upgrade the school’s public spaces, including some generous courtyards and gardens, which give the school a ‘college-like’ atmosphere. Our new building was to be positioned at the back of the campus, replacing some decrepit Portacabins that had outstayed their welcome, to form a more robust and dignified end to the schools’ sequence of buildings and spaces.

Throughout the campus are a number of distinguished buildings from different periods: the Grade II-listed Furzedown House, the Arts-and-Crafts inspired Red House, two large Victorian board-school blocks, and notably two unique Brutalist buildings by Leonard Manasseh and Partners – the school canteen and main school hall.

These two buildings impressed us and inspired us the most, setting a precedent and ambition for our new building. Fiercely contemporary, brutal but elegant, Manasseh’s buildings at Graveney have a strength and timelessness about them. Distinguished in their proportions, there is an honesty about their construction – the quality of concrete and brickwork, the robustness and logic of their detailing, make a tectonic language that gives these buildings their identity and grace. Faced with building an 800m² block on a miniscule budget, it was these qualities that we emulated in the Bradford Building – creating an architecture out of the tectonics of its materials and construction.

In many ways, Graveney School campus is an essay in education-building from different periods. Somehow the campus resists becoming a menagerie, or collage of different architectural styles and ideas, despite the uniqueness and variety of the buildings. There is a strength and authenticity to each of the buildings, and a calmness to the courtyard spaces and gardens, which gives the campus a harmony overall. 

Leonard Manasseh - architect of '51 Bar - Festival of Britain, South Bank, London

Leonard Manasseh - architect of ‘51 Bar - Festival of Britain, South Bank, London

Source: Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Collections

Leonard Manasseh - architect of ‘51 Bar - Festival of Britain, South Bank, London

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