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Tributes paid to 'thinking man's architect' Bryan Avery (1944-2017)

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Tributes have been paid to Bryan Avery, the architect behind the ‘exceptional’ IMAX cinema in Waterloo and a series of projects for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, who has died aged 73

Avery, who shut his 41-year-old practice Avery Associates earlier this year, was also known for a range of ‘brilliant unbuilt proposals’ ranging from his ‘contextual tower’ in the City of London, a pedestrianisation plan for Oxford Street and a Spitfire wing-shaped museum for Southampton.

Born in Berkshire in 1944, he grew up in Lymington in the New Forest, Hampshire, where he later drew up designs for a major waterfront development.

He studied architecture at Leicester College of Art (now the De Montfort University) before going on to complete an MA in the History and Theory of Architecture at Essex University under professors Joseph Rykwert and Dalibor Vesely.

He achieved national attention in 1988 with the British Film Institute’s Museum of the Moving Image, built under the approach to Waterloo Bridge.

Other notable buildings include Neathouse Place offices, London (1997), The London Transport Museum, London (2007) and the Repton School Theatre, Derbyshire (2011).

Avery died earlier this week after a short illness. He is survived by his wife, Gabby, and his daughter from his previous marriage, Karen. 

Tributes

Peter Rees, professor of places & city planning at the UCL Faculty of the Built Environment

’I always regarded Bryan as ‘the thinking man’s architect’ and I remember him as much for our debates as for his thoughtful buildings. Our paths first crossed in the early 1980s when he was working on the NFT [National Film Theatre] and Museum of the Moving Image beneath Waterloo Bridge. I was the Lambeth planner who added another set of constraints to his design challenge. Very soon we were embarked on a joint mission to circumvent some of the less design-worthy interventions by the project clients. We formed an informal team to deliver our shared vision of architectural excellence, arguing forcefully throughout.

‘This critical friendship blossomed into periodic evening sessions of architectural debate. They would start at Bryan’s office with my crit of his latest project, continue at the pub over pints with ever stronger disagreement, and conclude with lightly slurred bonhomie and a fish and chip supper.

‘Once I had moved to the City, Bryan felt duty bound to return the favour of friendly criticism – levelled at my attempts to create a cluster of office towers. He even had a go at a pretty impressive sky-scraper to add to the cluster (pictured below). Sadly, it didn’t find patronage and the design joined the collection of brilliant unbuilt proposals that punctuated Bryan’s career.

No 1 Undershaft by Avery Associates

No 1 Undershaft by Avery Associates

No 1 Undershaft by Avery Associates

‘Luckily, many wonderful designs were realised and we are left with a range of fine and well-loved buildings to demonstrate his formidable design talent. I shall miss those heated arguments, that can only be enjoyed with a true and clever friend.’

Keith Williams of Keith Williams Architects

‘Bryan Avery was a very fine architect. I first knew of him through his drawings such as the exquisite reversed-out cutaway axonometric drawings of his theoretical High Density Suburban Housing scheme 1984-85, widely published at the time.

‘But I didn’t meet him in person until April 2001. Isabel Allen, then AJ editor, asked me to review his newly finished remodelling of RADA in Bloomsbury. With great charm Bryan showed me around, explaining the incredibly tight sectional dimensions that he worked to as he shoehorned an enormous programme into this tight urban site in an immensely sophisticated way. He explained the ordering geometry behind the new auditoria and the way he arranged the bust of George Bernard Shaw to be touched by sunlight through a slot in the building, on the summer solstice. He had clearly showed exceptional skill in designing and executing the project and great intellect in explaining it and I said so.

‘He was delighted with AJ article and we became good friends thereafter meeting regularly for lunch in either smart restaurants in good times or in tighter times in pubs and his favourite fish restaurant, all in and around his Pimlico heartland. He lived and worked there and it was sometimes hard to persuade him to leave. We discussed and critiqued our latest projects and those of others over these many sessions, and we regularly explored potential collaboration.

‘Bryan was fascinated by geometry and the ordering of the principles of architecture, and never tired of discussing architecture and design. In the earlier part of his career he was fascinated by the expressive possibilities of technology and structure but was also deeply influenced by the ancient as well as the visceral and the spiritual aspects of architecture which became more profound as his ideas evolved. Crucially in this image-obsessed age he was not remotely interested in discussing what a building looked like without understanding its generating idea.

‘He was, I think, right in his conviction that the greatest British architecture of the 80s, 90s and the 2000s was a truly epoch-defining art form, and that High-Tech was Britain’s great and unique contribution to the history of world architecture. Good at detail, he was also a visionary, and conceived grand interventions such as the roofing of the Mall (1996) or raising the traffic above people in Oxford Street (1981-83) to reclaim the street for people. He was working to the end on other grand public realm visions for the City of London.

RADA rehearsal in progress

RADA rehearsal in progress

‘His finest works were undoubtedly RADA, the exceptional IMAX cinema which transformed the core of the scruffy roundabout at the south end of Waterloo Bridge into a jewel-like crystalline cylinder enwrapped by a diamond grid of foliage at its base, and the theatre at Repton School. His transformation of a tired office building in Victoria into the shimmering faceted glazed-skin bridge building at Neathouse Place in Victoria received many plaudits as did his work at he Old Bailey extension in the city.

‘He loved Lymington in Hampshire, where he grew up and recently contributed a major housing scheme on the waterfront. Though he was frustrated that he was not retained to oversee its construction as he feared that attention to detail would be lost, now built it is clear that the concept of sinusoidal wall planes shaping the main organising avenue is powerful enough to carry the day.

‘He was also working on an extension to the town’s St Barbe museum before he died but was sadly unable to see it through. He had worked on a vast villa in the Middle East and commercial towers and arts projects in India among other places. He surrounded himself with a very talented team to help him pursue his architectural vision.

‘In 2011 he published the influential Fragments of Wilderness City, a form of manifesto on his work and its origins, a polemic if not critique on our cities and the way in which we could set out our future by reference to our past.

‘Bryan could sketch beautifully with a masterful economy, whether as a record of what he saw or as an idea of what may yet be. He was working on a series of collective publications of his sketches, which should be published.

Fragments of Wilderness City, Bryan Avery, Black Dog Press, July 2011

Fragments of Wilderness City, Bryan Avery, Black Dog Press, July 2011

Fragments of Wilderness City, Bryan Avery, Black Dog Press, July 2011

‘He received a great many architectural awards, and few were more delighted than I when he was awarded the MBE in 2015, which he seemed rather surprised by but very proud to receive, a reflection of the modesty of the man. I thought that it was long overdue.

‘Bryan was an exceptional architect who was taken before his time. Though I knew that it was inevitable, I was greatly saddened by his early death on Tuesday 4 July, and my thoughts go out to Gabby his wife, his family and Anthony his fellow director.

’I shall miss my friend very much.’

Brian Waters, former president of the ACA

‘Bryan and I have been collaborating on projects in recent times. His work was in the beautiful tradition of what would now be seen as the old fashioned architect. His thinking, sense of space and his delightful drawings will be as treasured in years to come as will be his beautiful buildings.’

Phil Coffey,  founder of Coffey Architects

’The first job you have in architecture is possibly the most important. It sets you on your way and instils a sense of direction. I was fortunate enough to land at Avery Associates in 1997 for my year out in practice. The office at that time was just embarking on the IMAX cinema and Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and half way through the construction of Neathouse Place in Victoria, within each of which of these fine buildings I played a small part but learnt a great deal. Bryan always had the time to patiently describe his reasons for design decisions, and despite my youthful protestations he would calmly and with soft humour diffuse my ebullient nature.

’Bryan had his own office. Inside, a drawing board, a table and the feint smell of cigar smoke where we would sit talk and watch him draw his beautiful sketches. Bryan could really draw. He had one of the finest eyes I have ever witnessed and he would try and teach all who worked under him the rules of geometry, perspective and composition. Never more so than by way of the dreaded Christmas card that was undertaken by the year out student, an annual poisoned chalice of golden sections, double squares and Avery Blue applied carefully with pantone colours and a sharp scalpel. That Christmas card will forever remain imprinted on my mind.

’After a year working with Bryan I decided to travel around North America for six weeks visiting the classics of the finest modernist architects, including Bryan’s favourite architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. Bryan sent me on my way with a generous cheque and a signed book on Frank Lloyd Wright, encouraging me to seek out fine buildings and experience them. Bryan was a stickler for geometry and the aesthetic of buildings, but he also believed deeply in architectural experience, often promoting the role of phenomenology in architecture.

’Since working with Bryan at his office on Wilton Road, drinks after work at the Camel and Christmas lunches at the Ebury Restaurant and Wine Bar, Bryan and I remained good friends. As others have cited, we enjoyed many a drink at the Cask, and then on to grilled Haddock, mushy peas and apple pie and custard with a glass or two of red at Seafresh in Victoria. During these times Bryan and I would discuss, crit and argue out ideas on current projects and the architectural issues of the day. Bryan had a deep understanding of architecture and the politics through which it is made, he always had a very clear view on design but also how to make an architecture of meaning through a world of distraction.

He fought hard to make the world a more beautiful place

’Bryan was a fine architect. He drew beautifully, he encouraged others to love architecture, he fought hard to make the world a more beautiful place and he was a man of great integrity and humour. He gave me a chance, and has supported me ever since as a mentor and friend. I will miss him terribly. My thoughts are with his family and friends.’

Tim Beckett of Beckett Rankine, Marine Consulting Engineers

’I had an office in the same building as Avery Associates from 2005-15 and I got to know Bryan well. He helped us on some Thames pier designs and we helped him with the structural work on some footbridges. We also worked together on various, as yet, unbuilt proposals including an air/spaceport on the Goodwin Sands, a glazed Thames bridge, a new berth for HMS President and regeneration of the City of London’s riverside.

’Working up these ideas, which were often initiated as sketches over a couple of beers, was always great fun with Bryan. He had an infectious enthusiasm for anything new and was very good at embracing other people’s input. When working with him (although it never felt like work) I invariably found him to be positive, generous of spirit and endlessly creative. He was also a mine of knowledge, especially about classical architecture. He gave me a detailed list of buildings to visit in Rome before I made a trip there with notes as to the architectural relevance of each one.

Bryan was positive and creative to the very end

’Two weeks before his death Bryan emailed to tell me of his illness, its rapid advance and its seriousness; he knew he did not have long. The second half of his email was about two proposals we had been working on and his plans for the public launch of one of them. Positive and creative to the very end. Bryan was an inspiration and I shall miss him greatly.’

Warren Whyte, consultant project director

’I first joined Avery Associates 20 years ago as a part II assistant, working on the London IMAX project at the working drawings stage. It was a memorable time in the small and vibrant studio, and despite only being on the payroll initially for a year, I ended up continuing to work with Bryan in various capacities, resulting in the last ten years as a consultant project director for a number of interesting projects. Bryan’s passion for detail and his 7Cs design strategy, not to mention his love of Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings, has influenced my own work significantly.

‘Bryan was my mentor and friend and I will miss his support and our thoughtful conversations over a pint or dinner at his favourite Pimlico fish restaurant, ranging from how his Wilderness City concept could offer solutions to our housing crisis, to his love of the Solent and the New Forest which influenced so many of his projects.’

 

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Readers' comments (6)

  • I first came across Bryan because of his almost entirely infeasible and delightful early 1980s idea to deck over Oxford Street as a way of dealing with one of London's most unappealing problems, its permanent bus queue still asphyxiating people (mainly tourists and visitors now) while they innocently shop. We loved it in those lead-supplemented-petrol-driven days. He had a charming, gleeful willingness to have a go using architecture to demolish urban shibboleths and present fresh enticing visions. Perhaps he was the last of the visionary Modernists? I wish he'd built more of them. The rare but great conversations we had don't make up for that, and I still salute the originality and spectacle of his IMAX which transformed the grim pedestrianised wasteland of Waterloo roundabout, and the eccentric, shoehorned subterranean world of his BFI - both of which kind of kick-started the South Bank's renaissance.

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  • Bryan Avery was one of the cleverest, most creative architects that I have ever met. I had the privilege of working as his assistant some years ago, and I learnt so much about design and the incisive analysis of a brief from Bryan, who became a good friend and colleague.
    Bryan was always kind and generous with his time, and views about architecture. He loved a robust discussion about design and the profession, which he served so well.
    He was special, one of a kind...we'll miss him.

    John Lyall

    Lyall Bills & Young Architects

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  • A thoughtful and a committed Architect - A Sad loss

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  • I first met when we were both on the MA History & Theory of Design course at Essex University (taught by Joseph Rykwert and Dalibor Vesely) and we have stayed in touch ever since, often at The Architecture Club events. He was a very sensitive architect and it is sad that so many of his exciting projects remained unbuilt. He will be sadly missed by everyone who knew him
    Michael Foster

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  • Like others I had the great fortune to start my career working for Bryan at Avery Associates on IMAX and RADA, and like others he took time both in and out of the office to bring the best out of myself as a 'fledgling architect'. I will never forget the discussions, theories, fish suppers and his calming smile..

    Thank you Bryan for your everlasting inspiration and advice over the years...

    Matt cartwright
    Founding Director
    Twelve Architects

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  • Bryan !
    O Bryan !!! tell me it is not true
    you can't be dead? too soon. We at the rccg house of praise will miss you. our hearts are broken but we have this treasure of your good memories dancing and singing in our BAME church !
    Bryan, when we were about to be rejected in our planning efforts you came in as an angel of light. you encouraged us to appeal and we won ! We will miss your humor, smiles and the phrase "Andrew, nothing is impossible to achieve"
    Your life touched ours and we have never been the same again.
    Thanks for loving us
    Good bye Bryan.

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