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Classicism vs parametricism: It's no contest

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A debate between the classicists and the parametricists failed to take off, says Felix Mara

Last month, the AJ published essays by classicist Robert Adam and parametricist Patrik Schumacher, a partner at Zaha Hadid Architects (AJ 06.05.10).

Last week, both architects headlined the ‘Modernity and the Future of Tradition’ debate at the University of Notre Dame, London, in a follow up to the AJ’s coverage. But they failed to lock horns. Why?

The event, organised by the Traditional Architecture Group (TAG), discouraged confrontation. There were 15-minute presentations by Schumacher and Adam, but only after an opener by Stephen Bayley and another later by Notre Dame professor Samir Younes. They seconded the cases for modernism and tradition.

Comments by Alan Powers, Richard Hayward and Ettore Mazzola followed. There was little time for the main protagonists to interact – perhaps because TAG didn’t want any unpleasantness. Nobody wanted aggro. Adam said he found many modern buildings beautiful and Schumacher discussed baroque architecture at length. He described Adam’s presentation as the perfect preface, but disagreed with his conclusions.

Adam’s position is analogous to that of a shadow cabinet minister; he has more experience of the tradition-versus-modernism debate than Schumacher, yet his cautious presentation, with no mention of architecture, emphasised tradition’s central role in society and culture. According to George Saumarez Smith, classicists have tired of this debate and their ‘years in the wilderness’ and prefer to focus on their work.

It’s difficult for adherents of different theories to communicate because they inhabit skew planes, with no common vocabulary or conceptual framework. Although the moderator, former RIBA president Sunand Prasad, observed that parametricism lays claim to continuity, which can be linked to tradition in its diachronic form, this continuity is tradition in a different register.

Perhaps the distinction is that for Schumacher this continuity is a trajectory advancing towards the future, whereas Adam seeks permanent, eternal principles. Both retain the core meaning of tradition as something that is handed on, but for Schumacher it is a baton, not a torch and history is ‘a resource’.

What this event lacked was the iconoclastic and nihilistic perspective of a Reyner Banham or a Martin Pawley. Some might see the tradition-versus-modernism debate as peripheral today; however, if Adam and Schumacher are evoking tradition we need to question what it entails and what we may be signing up for. Without the notion of tradition, architects wouldn’t have to look over their shoulders and would have more choice. We would also be rid of the reactionary and fatalistic ideology that everything has its place. History is a tax that we pay to the dead.

  • Felix Mara is technical editor of the AJ and editor of AJ Specification
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Readers' comments (1)

  • The Wickhamist June 2010

    About the Architecture Club 2010 exhibition and the generations of architects who worked on the buildings in the show.

    The main point of this exhibition is to provide a snap shot survey of London projects over the last 50 years, inviting visitors to the exhibition to be inquisitive as well as showing them what is good and has endured the passage of time, with a few lost buildings from the period to remind us to be careful in future.

    This survey is, as it were, a grainy print of the canvas upon which the future of London will be planned and formed.

    Over the last 50 years or so the context and modus operandi of architects has altered immensely with the gradual introduction of comprehensive building regulation setting minimum standards in the digital age where all of our concerns are now global. Important but often ignored are the architects themselves, who helped set these standards, dreaming of and drawing up plausible solutions with integrity. This essay is an attempt to explain who these people were and the context they found.
    London is probably as close as any major world city when looking for intelligent ways of managing our environment at a sustainable rate, although no one has yet fully understood or fully agreed quite what our problems are and how to deal with them in the looming collapse of current economic practice and the lack of cohesion on the issues between political systems worldwide.


    For the foreseeable future we are faced with an ever-growing need to develop and adapt our existing urban settlement in order to absorb the migration of rural and less well off populations into centres of opportunity throughout the world.

    At the large scale there are many reasons why this migration happens, some of which are good and some not so good; up to a point it is a phenomena that is well understood and accepted as inevitable and in the long term has to be taken on board when we make plans for our environment. Skill, judgment, and discipline of all is now needed in order to achieve a tolerable world both now and for the future, without doing too little or too much, carefully measuring and harmonizing the places we inhabit and use.

    The difficulty we face is the lack of consensus over what should be done and when and where to put in place objectives which serve the ‘common good’ and, hopefully, future generations. Needless to say this should not be so difficult now that we know the ecological and biological ‘foot print’ each of us requires to survive on this planet.

    What we need to understand is that our world has, as far as we can see, a finite resource, an uncertain ability to renew itself and the un-written law that we must allow every one the opportunity to have a fair share, including good education. Only then can we agree to exercise a healthier and civilised approach to the current world population increase.

    At the small scale we must develop and create our cities to withstand all the rigours of ‘urban life’ in neighbourhoods where families can live with some dignity in a well-tempered environment and the young can be weaned into the bustle and, some times unpredictable, reality of the compact densely populated city.

    It is here that planners and architects have to look carefully at the private world of their ‘client’ and its context - the public realm.


    A significant improvement would be the insertion into the urban brief of sufficient provision for semi-public open space in the form of shared spaces placed in-between the private world of the inhabitants and the public realm.

    With the creation of gardens and courts dedicated to specific groupings of dwellings will come secure places for the young, forming an in-between cushion, allowing fresh air and safe recreation for all. London already has many examples (called communal gardens) of these shared, semi-public, in-between places and, what with its enormous stock of good buildings and its many public parks – the lungs of the city – is rich in the most important ingredients necessary for the development of a safer, truly habitable and civilized urban environment.


    The Architecture Club Exhibition - ‘50 years of London Architecture 1960-2010’ - is the chosen period and title for this survey of London’s massive conurbation.

    The last time the Architecture Club put on an exhibition of modern architecture in London was in 1947. It was presumably seen as an expression of the immediate post war enthusiasm for repairing the damaged environment and the pressing need for new development in this strategically placed city. There were other shows, in the period between the first in 1923 and the most recent in 1947, which demonstrated the Club’s keen interest in architecture and planning.

    Although this next exhibition took a long time coming, there has been no lack of interest in the meantime, as, since its foundation in 1922, the Club has held two regular meetings annually to debate Modern Architecture and has organised many other events on the subject involving its diverse 300 plus membership who have always constituted 50% laymen and 50% architects.

    In 1947 it published, with Country Life, a book on Recent English Architecture 1920-1940. In the introduction to the book, Lord Esher, the then Chairman of the Club, wrote:

    “it seemed that the most useful contribution to the future that the Club could make was to publish a representative selection of English architecture in preparation for the time when fine building can again be undertaken and its progressive evolution be resumed.”

    The Executive Committee of the Club have now decided it is time to put on a new show in pursuit of the members’ aims and traditions.
    This new exhibition fills in the period from 1960 to 2010, bringing the history of the club and its interest in London up to date, showing many of the important buildings and places that have been built.


    While the club let pass the period from 1947 to 1959, there are several important buildings from this time in the show; these include the Royal Festival Hall by Leslie Martin and Denys Lasdun’s Cluster Block in Bethnal Green, both of which have more than survived with extensive restoration. These refined and well designed buildings illustrate a particularly British soft modernism and, when compared with the ill-proportioned and crudely decorated 1961 Shell building by Howard Robertson and the neo-classical building of 1956 by Richard Seifert for Woolworth on the Marylebone Road, an apparent restlessness of style and direction existed.

    It could be said soft modernism is not only a style as it is also the result of regional traditions, climate and local methods in play with a design process to be expected in modern architecture.

    This soft modernism had carried over from the pre-war work of Oliver Hill with the Midland Hotel in Morecambe, Charles Holden’s London Underground, Owen Williams’ Boots Factory at Beeston and Daily Express building on Fleet Street, with its Deco entrance lobby designed by Robert Atkinson, and Frank Hoar who designed the first commercial ‘hub’ terminal for Gatwick known as the Beehive (1935). All of these architects, while plainly dealing with a wide range of building types, had developed a highly functional approach which allowed some aspects of the Deco style into their working details and interiors.

    There were some who did not seem entirely to fit in with either design approach such as the prolific Frederick Gibberd, who had roomed with F. R. S. Yorke at art school, with his Pullman Court housing in Streatham (1936) and the early Terminal Buildings at Heathrow Airport (1950–1969).

    Among the exceptions, who pioneered uncompromising modernism in Britain, were Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, who had done Kensal House on Ladbroke Grove, London (1937). Fry and Drew often collaborated with and were close friends of Ove Arup, who engineered their Sun House in Hampstead (1935). In the early 1950’s, they did much of the early housing with Pierre Jeanneret in Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh, the new capital of the Punjab. It is likely the Chandigarh project went to Le Corbusier on the recommendation of Fry among others. After the initial master plan prepared by the American architect-planner Albert Mayer had failed, Nehru asked the UK Government to advise on planning and architecture and suggest an urbanist. Later in 1955-58 they designed the Usk Street Housing Estate at Bethnal Green with Denys Lasdun.

    It is worth noting Maxwell Fry was a consummate net-worker and well connected to the pioneers in Europe. He was one of a few British truly modernist architects working in Britain in the thirties. Most, like Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff, who collaborated on the Bexhill Pavilion (1935) and Walter Gropius (one of the Bauhaus architects), who did a house on Old Street in Chelsea, were émigrés from continental Europe where modernism had originated.

    From 1934 to 1936 Fry practised with Gropius and from 1937 to 1942 he worked as secretary, with architect and urban planner Arthur Korn, as chair, on the governing committee of the MARS group plan for the redevelopment of post-war London. Fry was in the main stream of British architecture and clearly seeded several further generations of architects.

    Arthur Korn was also a link with Europe and the Bauhaus. He knew Erich Mendelsohn in London and as part of the MARS group had connections with Sigfried Giedion (CIAM), Morton Shand, Wells Coates, Fry and F. R. S. Yorke as the founding members. Korn was active in the 1920s modernist architectural movement in Berlin and had associated with architects Walter Gropius and Ernst May. He was still teaching at the Architectural Association in the 1960’s.

    Another modernist architect associated with this group was William Crabtree, who had worked with both Patrick Abercrombie and C H Reilly. Crabtree worked for Joseph Emberton on the elegant Simpsons on Piccadilly and then built his best building - Peter Jones store (1937) on Sloane Square – commissioned by John Spedan Lewis, the founder of the John Lewis Partnership and creator of the John Lewis profit sharing partnership which included its entire staff.

    Crabtree was apparently influenced by and knew Erich Mendelsohn at the time he was working on the exemplary Peter Jones, an early example of a glass curtain walled building, which has become an important landmark in London.

    Other players include Wells Coates with his version of the ‘machine á habiter’ Isokon flats at Lawn Road (completed in 1934), F. R. S. Yorke of YRM, who wrote about modern architecture and who, with Eugene Rosenberg and Cyril Mardall designed many buildings including the post-war St Thomas' Hospital and Warwick University, Connell Ward and Lucas, who had become masters of the new ‘egalitarian’ style but who did not continue their practice after the war. Basil Ward went on to set up his own firm in London, Amyas Connell went to Kenya and established TRIAD and Colin Lucus went on to the LCC where he worked on housing. These are the origins and instigators of modern architecture in the British Isles.


    Art Deco is just one of several decorative styles, or possibly variants, like postmodernism and the various (neo-) classical revivals that have persistently competed with, pursued and plagued modern architecture since its beginnings to the present day.
    A classic example of the schism between Modern and Deco can be seen in the Maison de Verre in Paris, designed by Pierre Chareau in collaboration with the Dutch architect Bernard Bijvoet (1931) and is clearly hard boiled modern - a precursor to the much later ‘high tech’ - compared with his other work which was mostly Deco.

    Perhaps the modern architects from the first period of the ‘pioneers’ onwards have always seen the Art Deco style as superfluous decoration just as classical adornment of the 1920’s by architects Edwin Lutyens, Edward Maufe and Raymond Erith and now remains a faded and patronising strand as practiced by architects like Quinlan Terry, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, John Simpson and Robert Adam.

    This liking the English have for traditionalist architecture is understandable yet somewhat unsophisticated. Just compare Venturi and Scott Brown’s neo-classical colonnade morphing onto “the face of a much-loved and elegant friend” in Trafalgar Square with, for instance, the Town Hall at Heerlen (Holland 1936-1942) by architect and engineer Frits Peutz, with its astonishing application of classical fragments and detail submerged into the modern morphology avoiding any pomposity or fake opulence.

    As with other modernists all over Europe, Peutz was also struggling with style at this time with his Schunck fashion house and department store (1935) near to the Town Hall. It was a year earlier but very different, with its utterly modern glass façade and its rational concrete frame with mushroom head columns, allowing an open plan, thereby demonstrating discords in his approach similar to those that had confronted Charles Holden and Owen Williams in England.


    During the intervening 13 years (1947-1960) we saw the dawn of post war modern architecture in Britain get off to a slow start with a lack of political will to look at the physical picture and bring architects and planners into the debate to properly influence the future of our cities and the environment generally.
    There was little structural or spatial planning in these years except for the 1944 Abercrombie (Greater London) Plan and the London Ringways plan of the 1960’s, both of which were so heavily compromised as to be ineffective when solving the expected traffic congestion, the depressed housing, the inadequacy and misdistribution of open spaces, the inappropriate jumble of houses and industries with the unplanned sprawl of London and consequent suburbanisation of surrounding country towns.

    Of course 1947 was conspicuously the date of the first British comprehensive planning act, which established statutory consent as a requirement for land development. Ownership alone no longer conferred the right to develop the land.

    The Act re-organised the planning system from the existing planning authorities and required them all to prepare a comprehensive development plan, now called a local development framework, in the context of the United Kingdom as a whole.

    The period from 1947 up to 1960 and through to the present day saw for the first time the construction of all new buildings in the context of comprehensive planning regulation. The success of this process - although much criticized, occasionally constructively, by the experts and professionals from its inception - is to be judged by all, using references like the Architecture Club’s current exhibition as a starting point.


    Any continuity, such as it was, in design and development of styles of building has emerged through the hands of several generations of architects since 1960 and, as every where else, it is essential we understand some of the overlapping and seeding of these successive generations who have played a part in building London. Through these architects and their offices flowed many of the later and current architects and practices.

    The 1947 to 1960 period saw a whole new generation including the Architects Co-Partnership of Leo de Syllas, Michael Grice and others. Although founded in 1939 the practice was restructured in 1948 to foster team-work and it often used industrialized components with its most celebrated building the Rubber Factory at Bryn Mawr (1946–9).
    Many of the leading modern architects worked on the hugely successful 1951 Festival of Britain (over 10,000,000 attended in a 5 month period) led by Hugh Casson and Leslie Martin, such as Chamberlin, Powell and Bon working in the ‘square mile’ - the practice was founded in 1952 by Geoffrey Powell, Peter Chamberlin and Christoph Bon following Powell's win in the 1951 architectural competition for the Golden Lane, Powell and Moya, who had designed the Skylon Installation at the 1951 Festival of Britain, with their Churchill Gardens housing estate in Pimlico, Denis Clark-Hall with his schools and housing in Finsbury, Wells Coates with his late work on the 1951 exhibition and the BFI and Berthold Lubetkin with the young Denys Lasdun at Tecton with the masterly High Point and other post war housing schemes at Westbourne and Finsbury, all applying this particularly British soft modernism heavily influenced by an English conservative, local context to be contrasted with other modern constructions like Erno Goldfinger’s ill-understood Elephant and Castle (1959-1963) which was one of the first major brutalist projects. Sadly only some it has survived.

    Leaving aside their aesthetic preferences it was Lubetkin and Goldfinger with a few others who were among the first to strongly argue for a modern approach at this new dawn in Britain. A major force were the group of hard-line modernists in the LCC’s Architects’ Department, first under John Henry Forshaw (1941) followed by Robert Matthew (1946) and after him Leslie Martin (1953) with Kenneth Campbell, who had taken over housing and schools, encouraging Oliver Cox, Graeme Shankland, Edward Hollamby, Peter Moro, Colin St John Wilson ("Sandy" Wilson), Robert Matthew, Stirrat Johnson-Marshall and other architects in the LCC who produced a substantial number of well designed modern buildings, the finest of which are the Roehampton Alton Estate (1952–5) and the Festival Hall (1951). Another was Ralph Tubbs who designed the outstanding and popular Dome of Discovery (1951), which at 365 feet in diameter made it the largest dome in the world.

    Many of these architects went on to form their own practice and continued working in London - Powell and Moya, Richard Shepherd with the Halls of Residence for Imperial College and many others including Shankland with Cox a little later, Hollamby, Moro and Matthew who set up with Johnson-Marshall. Some of these firms survive to the present day and grew quite big.

    In the meantime Owen Williams continued practicing and produced the M1, Britain’s first proper motorway, the massive Daily Mirror building in Holborn and the completely brutalist BOAC Maintenance Hanger and Headquarters at Heathrow and Denys Lasdun, who had left Tecton, set about building his astonishing and powerful oeuvre and was by this time also pursuing a more brutalist approach with work on Cambridge, East Anglia, Leicester and London Universities, Keeling House (Grade II* listed: The first example of post-war council housing to gain this distinction), Bradley House at Bethnal Green and the National Theatre on London's South Bank, which Prince Charles compared to a nuclear power station.
    Needless to say new comers to London were appearing all the time and one such was George Grenfell Baines from Preston, who in 1951, had caught the attention of Anthony Chitty and the London Modernists with his work on the New Towns of Newton Aycliffe (planned 1947) and Peterlee (1951) and was invited to design a pavilion for the Festival of Britain. He later founded the vast and enduring BDP (1961) leading the way to multidisciplinary working. BDP is still playing a major part in the London scene and has spawned many other practices.

    By the 1960’s a whole new generation including Gollins Melvin and Ward, Lyons Israel and Ellis, RMJMs, Leonard Manasseh, Jim Cadbury Brown, Bill and Gillian Howell, John Killick, John Partridge and Stanley Amis, Leslie Martin with Patrick Hodgkinson, Richard Llewelyn Davies and John Weeks, Hugh Casson and Neville Conder and Peter Moro, to name some of the best, who started off the last fifty years of modern architecture in the London we see in the exhibition.


    Alison and Peter Smithson - also briefly architects at the LCC - had come into view with their Hunstanton School (1954), the Economist building (1965) and their Robin Hood Gardens housing project (1972) and formed a wider international association in Team 10 (Team X), the successor of CIAM.

    While Team 10 had its roots in the 1953 meeting attended by the Smithsons, Aldo van Eyck, George Candilies, Shadrach Woods, Bill Howell and others over the break up and schism within CIAM, when they challenged CIAM’s doctrinaire approach to urbanism, the first ‘official’ Team 10 meeting did not occur until 1960.

    This group’s response to CIAM took up a new strand of discussion, dwelling on humanism and meaning in architecture, which lasted some 28 years and by 1981 the group had faded away leaving the individuals to gain influence through their practice and teaching, seeding along the way their own architectural offspring.

    In Britain two different movements emerged from the break up of CIAM.

    One was the New Brutalism of Jim Stirling and other British architects; a group which, while the term ‘New Brutalism’ was coined by Peter Smithson, did not quite include the Smithsons or Theo Crosby and Ralph Erskine, who, although similarly severe in their approach, were more inclined to the Continent and the ‘Structuralism’ of Dutch and other Team 10 members.

    These Structuralists - predominantly van Eyck (Orphanage Amsterdam), Jacob Bakema (Lijnbaan Straat Rotterdam), Giancarlo De Carlo (University Urbino), Candilies and Woods (Free University Berlin) - were looking for new configurations and archetypes, bringing into the discussion another kind of ‘soft modern’ architecture seen in their projects, with John Voelcker, José Coderch and Reima Pietilä with their regional modernist influences, picking up on context, as the Economist Building did, by respecting the existing urban grain with a ‘foot-print’ that extended the public realm onto the site and using natural stone in the design of the facades.

    By 1958 Stirling and Gowan had built their Ham Common flats and the School Assembly Hall in Camberwell, bringing in the lessons of the ‘Pioneers‘ from Europe and the new ‘Brutalism’ which rejected frivolous decoration and without doubt influenced the whole of the Barbican and the Roehampton Projects, ramming home the message that modern architecture was here to stay.

    James (Big Jim) Stirling, today considered among the most important and influential architects of the second half of the 20th century, studied architecture at Liverpool University (1945-1950) where Colin Rowe was his teacher. In 1956 he and James Gowan had left Lyons, Israel, and Ellis to set up in practice, building many fine projects in an exiting new style, such as the Faculty of Engineering at Leicester University (1959–63), the History Faculty Library at Cambridge University (1966) and the Florey Building for Queen's College Oxford (1966).

    THE 1960’s

    Jim Stirling with his work at Leicester, Oxford and Cambridge, while less absorbed in the Structuralists thinking, was significantly part of the New Brutalist group in Britain, patronised by senior figures Leslie Martin and Richard Llewelyn Davies.

    It included Neave Brown, who built Alexandra Road, forming a new kind of local pedestrian street with stepped-back rows of flats and maisonettes, Alan Colquhoun and John Miller with their Forest Gate School with its large meeting place, the hall, at the centre of the school holding together all the other spaces, Douglas Steven and Ken Frampton with their white cubist Campden Hill and Corbu influenced Craven Hill Gardens flats, Brian Henderson and David Allford (the second generation at YRM) doing one of the first ‘grown-up’ airports at Gatwick and Patrick Hodgkinson whose Brunswick Centre (1967) achieved Grade II listed status in 2000 in the face of being widely disliked by the anti-modernists and has proved to have been a brilliant urban form. There were others like Jack Nicholson strolled along the concourse and down the main staircase of Hodgkinson’s building in the 1975 film The Passenger by Antonioni.

    A little out on his own was Cedric Price, who worked for Erno Goldfinger, Maxwell Fry and Denys Lasdun before he started his practice in 1960, with the Fun Palace (1961) he developed in association with theatrical director Joan Littlewood, the north Staffordshire Potteries 'Thinkbelt' project and notably the Aviary at the Zoo with Lord Snowdon and Frank Newby (the groups favourite engineer). In 1969 he contributed, with planner Peter Hall and New Society’s Paul Barker, to the publication of Non-plan, which challenged planning orthodoxy.

    Price went on to build the transformable Inter-Action Centre in Kentish Town (1971); this ephemeral ‘framed shed’ was designed on condition that it had just a twenty year life span and indeed is no longer there. Working with Buckminster Fuller on his Claverton dome project for the American Museum in England and with his interest in the emerging computer technology, cybernetics and game play, he kindled Archigram’s interest in post-apocalyptic psychedelic plug-in cities, inspired by science fiction. While not that interested in futuristic concepts - albeit beautifully drawn by Michael Webb and David Greene - Price was attracted by ideas inspired by anarchy and how these might be used for cultural transformation.

    Architecture for Cedric Price was not so much about the finished building but more about an ability to enable and facilitate transformation in a changing world and to “allow us to think the unimaginable” as he sought to demonstrate with Inter-Action and the Aviary securing him the position of one of the first in this period to embrace the new high tech. A position that is likely to have enthused Farrell and Grimshaw, in 1967 Terry Farrell and Nick Grimshaw had designed their student hostel in Paddington with its free standing circular, ramp access bathroom tower made of glass placed like a giant drain pipe up the back of the buildings - an uncompromising functionalist fit out of students’ facilities against the plain restoration of the existing houses, and a little later led Norman Foster and Richard Rogers to adopt a similar approach and which certainly spawned later architects and practices.

    Some are Peter Eley (who with Frank Duffy and John Worthington set up DEGW), Paul Hyett and Will Alsop, the architect of the community centre and library in Peckham and North Greenwich Jubilee Line Station with John Lyall who recently completed his handsome Cranfields Mill town centre complex in Ipswich. Later on in 1984 Price proposed the redevelopment of London's South Bank, anticipating the London Eye (Marks Barfield) by suggesting that a giant Ferris wheel be built by the Thames.

    By 1965 the severe young Evans and Shalev had joined in with their Children's Reception Centre in St John's Wood (1970-75) and their home for the Younger Physically Disabled in Camden (1972-76), both now ruined, contrasting heavily with Ted Cullinan’s ingenious family house on Camden Mews (1965) laying out the site with a configuration of building and open space where the street becomes richer, extending the threshold through a small court to a ramped route, dividing the site laterally between garden and house, taking the public realm up into the private world of the home, continuing this ‘soft modernism’, dwelling on the humanist values gleaned from Team 10.

    Five years later Richard MacCormac with similar principles set up MJP, working for the Oxford and Cambridge universities developing a rural approach to modernism; then recently with his BBC project eccentrically emulating its older sister across a new urban entrance court looking like a return to the Post Modern days.

    For some this period tested architectural tenacity and stamina with Sandy Wilson, taking on the British Library (1975-1997). In reality this project was started on a site next to the British Museum in 1965 with the compulsory purchase of vast tracts of north Bloomsbury but failed when the National Library as part of the British Museum was hived off with the British Library Act of 1972.

    Then at the RIBA Hampton Court 150th anniversary dinner in 1984 when Prince Charles, the guest of honour, spoke about the winning design for the National Gallery by Ahrends Burton and Koralek, he disastrously mistook their design as the work of Rogers.

    Ove Arups’ engineering practice, ever expanding and embracing, worked with many of these architects and influenced the debate across town through their own vast portfolio of collaborators and clients.

    All these architects became the core of those working in London and were acquaintances as well as, in some instances, collaborators.

    They included in their circle the teachers and writers Colin Rowe and Reyner Banham who partook in their search for a style of modern architecture based on humanitarian principles and exemplified by a brutal lack of exterior decoration with austere lines and the use of exposed reinforced concrete and other structural materials.

    Rogers and Foster were on the fringes of this New Brutalist group, doing good modern houses on Murray Mews in Camden and their rigorously modern family House in Cornwall and formed Team 4, when they began to developed their High Tech position, working with Su Brumwell and Wendy Cheesman, whose sister, Georgie Wolton, is the architect of the well sculpted and carefully planned Cliff Road Studios.

    Also out of the LCC, or the GLC as it was then known, came Warren Chalk and Ron Herron, two of the founding members of Archigram, who had completed the South Bank arts buildings (1968) including the Hayward Gallery, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room, all without a doubt late Brutalist works.

    THE 1970’s and 80’s

    Following this crowd, the seeds were sown for the future generations and many able firms of architects appeared including those of Peter Foggo, Rick Mather, Future Systems, Farrell & Grimshaw, Fred Lloyd Roche and Terence Conran, Mike Gold and other members of the ‘grunt group’, Tchaik Chassay, Avanti Architects, my own with Michael Baumgarten and many others, all making a contribution to the modern building stock over the last 40 years - albeit still with different approaches and styles, which in some cases have the commercial appearance of brand naming the building as belonging to its architect rather than the client.

    The 1980-90’s saw Foster and Rogers shedding their generally modernist stance of the 1960’s for an altogether more industrial machine made style – so called ‘high tech’ with buildings like the ITN building, the Channel 4 building and Lloyds - all tough stuff. Simultaneously, and in contrast with Foster and Rogers, Terry Farrell, now on his own, developed a style playing with decoration by reference to Art Deco with his Post Modern TV-am (1983) in Camden Town and his more recent MI6 building at Vauxhall. These differences in manner have to a degree lessened in the recent decades, as can be seen when looking at Terry Farrell’s elegant curving office building on Paddington Basin next to the M&S head office by Richard Rogers, where it seems that some of the old extremes in style have been abandoned and the work has fused into the main stream of current British architecture.


    The position and influence of the current three generations of architects remains rather difficult to appraise as it is on a quite massive scale and fairly international, what with works by Renzo Piano and Herzog and de Meuron and the architectural scenery is still morphing.

    The architects now working in London encompass a diverse bunch of players ranging from Zaha Hadid and Daniel Libeskind through to AHMM, Allies and Morrison, David Chipperfield (who made his name with Nick Knight's house and had worked for Douglas Stephen, Rogers and Foster), Dixon Jones (two of the grunt group), Alfred Munkenbeck who recently went on his own after 25 years with M and M Architects, Eric Parry, Ian Ritchie and Stanton Williams with Rogers, Foster and Farrell still in dominant positions in a world where globalization, changing scales, big values and roles have manifestly changed.

    No doubt the battle of styles persists and has taken on a new form in some conflict with what is left of the architect’s professional duty and with the media too lazy to research the subject and Building Design still pushing the notion of “the building team” presumably in the name of multidisciplinary working. A form more often driven by commerce and branding that looks to be heading for frivolity if not oblivion if FAT and Libeskind get a hold.


    Never the less the last ten years has seen an explosion of good work, as amply demonstrated in this exhibition - too many to mention here other than a few exemplary projects;

    there is Fielden Clegg’s well thought out and crafted St Mary Magdalene Academy School in Paddington, Peter Barber with his properly scaled compact city block of housing at Donnybrook, the majestic homage of the Lords Media Centre by Jan Kaplicky and Amanda Levete, Rick Mathers’ well tempered Times HQ and last but not least the hugely successful Tate Modern at Bankside by Herzog and de Meuron.

    And some smaller projects such as Jonathan Woolf’s inspired semi detached Brick house for two brothers, Tim Pitman and Luke Tozer with their well-honed Gap House in Paddington, all busy repairing and renewing London.

    Let’s not forget the indispensable nomads – John Cannon, John Carpenter, Norman Chang and Desmond Lavery and others who have quietly contributed their talents to many of London’s fine buildings.


    Important have been particular clients and patrons, both laymen and established architects, who were keen and who chose to use and work with good architects and were genuinely involved, hands as well as minds, on making excellent buildings.

    They include Courtney Blackmore for Lloyds, Stuart Lipton with Broadgate and the new Treasury building, Charles Rifkind and the MCC, John, Nick and Jamie Ritblat whose British Land development company, formed in 1856, with its descendants has in time morphed into Delancey, building along the way not only Broadgate and Regent’s Place on the Euston Road but much else as well.

    There are of course many others including the various projects by departments of government that allowed good things to happen like the Tate Modern and as it has turned out the Dome - now the successfull O2, no doubt with the sound advice of Stuart Lipton and John Ritblat.

    Among the established architect-clients have been Hugh Casson, Sydney Cook at Camden, Leslie Martin, Roland Paoletti (the chief architect of the Jubilee Line), Dickon Robinson at Peabody, Peter Bell at Lords and Max Gordon who designed the Saatchi Gallery and resuscitated the fading Louis de Soissons by bringing them the huge Brighton Marina; all clearly working in the interests of some kind of continuity they felt was needed if modern architecture was to have a free and logical direction.


    In many parts of London local forces have played powerfully in the transformation and changing shape and character of the city during the period.
    The structuring of the exhibition is chronological, showing architectural invention and the changing styles and does not discriminate between the new geographical and social conditions across the conurbation that can be, as at 2010, characterised in four distinct parts (zones):

    The Thames Riverside as the natural expanding linear nucleus of the whole, with the O2 Dome, the Tate Modern, the South Bank and the wheel, Vauxhall and Millbank, Battersea and Chelsea reaching up to Putney and Richmond, all now heavily revitalised.

    The Centre, north and west London with the extension of the old city including Westminster, Covent Garden, the West End, Chelsea, Notting Hill Gate, Chiswick, Stoke Newington, Camden and North Kensington.

    The massive eastern extension of the City into the docklands with the City adding much density and vast North Docklands out to the east into Essex.

    The land south of the Thames reaching down into the southern edges of the metropolis including South Docklands, Borough Market, Southwark Cathedral area at Vauxhall, Battersea, Putney, Richmond and down to the south west near to Kingston.

    To characterise London in these four parts is of course an over simplification and the reality is more complex; however, they all have many particular neighbourhoods that have undergone prevailing and significant transformation that has re-weighted the structure and density of habitation throughout.
    This can be seen at Shepherds Bush with the expansion of the BBC and much gentrification and densification with a subsequent new emphasis on working and commercial development and the inevitable arrival of gross ‘mall style’ shopping. Here we see a new city centre caused by a rise in population and local wealth, placing increased powers in the hands of the local authority with scant investment in new infrastructure thus far.

    And south of the Thames by Tower Bridge the complete transformation and opening up of the old fabric for new uses, again at an increased density, has reached a recognisable maturity in the so called Docklands (Surrey Quays) which stretches from London Bridge through ‘More London’, the new Mayors office (both by Foster), Shad Thames and Bermondsey to Rotherhide. Here creating a continuous linear centre with the new Jubilee Line tracking its route with bright new stations by Ian Ritchie, Buro Happold and others and the glass-roofed bus station designed by Eva Jiricná, which serves as a hub for services in the Rotherhithe and Bermondsey area, shifting London’s notional centre to the east.

    Another is to the north of the City where the ‘humming’ streets make up the new ‘Hoxton Square’ that has become the centre of a lively new arts and entertainment district with many new small businesses and residents inhabiting revitalised buildings served by a large number of bars, nightclubs, restaurants, and art galleries all spread around Shoreditch, Hackney and Old Street and up to the Angel pulling at the old Square Mile.

    The influence of recent events on the shifts in focus-points in the fabric of London has undoubtedly caused new living and working areas to emerge with a re-organised transport network, including new underground and over ground railways with expanded recreation policies and better access to much of the public realm.
    All are parts of London’s growth and political progress since 1960. Significantly it is clear that from 1889 the LCC, which later became the GLC, was a reasonably good mechanism for overseeing the planning of London and it was only in 1986, when this role was abolished by Margaret Thatcher in her quest for deregulation, that chaos ensued.
    The lack of a coordinated transportation system and abandonment of any strategic regional planning, including the failure to resurrect the 'motorway box' the Conservatives had cancelled back in 1973, saw over the ensuing 14 years, up until the creation of the GLA in 2000, a period when London, a world city, had no effective strategic government or any other control over its expansion and development.
    This has left some permanent scars on the city’s face. The result of this chaotic period can be seen in the inappropriate irreversible development in places like St. Giles and Piccadilly in the West End, the whole of South West London near to Heathrow airport and the Isle of Dogs where Michael Heseltine’s 1981 LDDC plan, while its planning team made some good projects happen, had little power to stop big business and their land deals resulting in the huge pile of inappropriate and low grade building still to be seen in Docklands today.
    The current gang of architects working in London, although diverse and fragmented by commercial forces seemingly beyond their control, is quite healthy and still growing and will have to do a lot of thinking about the extensive environmental and ecological issues we all face if London is to lead the way and move on with intelligence.
    The big question is: Did London do well with its modern architecture in this period regardless of the political indifference or was it predominantly the ‘market’ that dictated how the city has grown and changed.

    Julyan Wickham.

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