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We all have a life in architecture

Paul Finch
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I shared with my late father a connection with a huge variety of buildings, writes Paul Finch

Everybody has a life in architecture: the buildings in which we are born, brought up, educated; the buildings where we work, play, travel, worship; the buildings where we retire and, of course, die. They form the inevitable backdrop to our brief existence.

I always wonder about individual lives and buildings at funerals, and so it was at my father’s last week. At the age of 95 he had, as they say, a good innings, involving a huge variety of buildings which we were able to contemplate in a spirit of celebration.

Shutterstock 756844657

Shutterstock 756844657

Chief among them were churches where he had a personal connection, starting with St Gabriel’s Pimlico (pictured), which he guarded as one of the youngest ARP fire wardens at the start of the Second World War. He subsequently saw active service with the 7th Hussars, a tank regiment which fought in Egypt, then worked its way up through Italy, where he was part of the Anglo-American liberation of Venice.

Post-war, he was a member of the choir at St Gabriel’s before moving to St Luke’s Chelsea, then to St Marylebone’s and finally (at least as a choir member) to St Bartholomew’s in the City of London, his favourite. Work places (he was a civil servant mainly with the former Department of Trade & Industry) included EPR’s ‘capsule’ offices in Victoria Street, and Ronald Ward & Partners’ Millbank Tower, with its magnificent views over the Thames. In later life, he organised the legal libraries of various barristers’ chambers, and enjoyed Sunday services at the Temple church.

Home architecture was a mixed bag. He was brought up in early years in Westminster, in the Dickensian-sounding Perkins Rents, off Old Pye Street. Orphaned at an early age, he was sent to various homes by the Church of England’s Waifs & Strays Society until, old enough to work, he went back to live with his sister in Westminster. Money was in short supply, and he was contemptuous of descriptions of Britain recently as being an ‘austerity’ society – compared to what he knew in the 1930s.

After marrying in St Gabriel’s in 1948, I arrived on the scene, and the young Finch family lived briefly in a requisitioned flat in Eaton Square, before moving to a new eight-storey Westminster Council housing block, designed by a former associate of Lutyens. We subsequently moved to Powell & Moya’s Churchill Gardens nearby, where he remained until his final illness. 

My father’s interest in music resulted in a long relationship with Aldeburgh and its music festival, an annual visit which had its own set of architectural connections, notably the Maltings at Snape, of which he was inordinately fond, eventually meeting and occasionally chatting to Derek Sugden, Arup’s wizard acoustician, on his annual visits. He was an inveterate attender of concerts at the Albert Hall, Wigmore Hall, and so on.

Of course, the description of a life in architecture is inevitably only partial, because talking only about architecture excludes people. They are another story …

If you have the chance

Architect Philip Gumuchdjian’s exhibition, Sensing Place, is on until 30 June at Messums in Tisbury, Wiltshire. It celebrates 20 years of work and accompanies a thoughtful associated book, with a foreword by Níall McLaughlin. Philip was an excellent member and chair of the RIBA Awards Group. We once had to visit Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI project in Rome to decide whether it should receive an international award. We decided to visit separately and were delighted to have reached the same conclusion about its virtues over lunch the next day. It went on to win the RIBA Stirling Prize. His sound judgement is much evident in his own work.

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