Spring Flowers

I took these this morning to cheer myself after reading the latest news from parliament: the obstinacy and intransigence of the government in the face of ever increasing and such obviously appalling news from the business community, including the lady shaking with justified rage on Question Time, and the fact that exactly what is happening is what was said to be likely to happen, by the Treasury and others, but the Brexiteers dismissed it all – and maybe still do – as idle naysaying. It turns out all to be increasingly true:-

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Jane Priestman

I sat next to Jane Priestman at the award ceremony last night. I half knew how important she had been in architecture, but only half. She was General Manager in Architecture and Design at the British Airports Authority and was responsible for commissioning Norman Foster to design Stansted Airport. Then, from 1986 to 1991, she was Director of Architecture, Design and Environment for British Rail in the days when we still had an integrated rail network and commissioned the new international terminal at Waterloo from Nick Grimshaw after seeing his exhibition Product and Process in 1988 at the RIBA. She should have won the inaugural Jane Drew prize for Women in Architecture, but it was felt that she ought to have commissioned younger practices. But the point was that, in 1988, Grimshaw was in effect a young practice and public bodies have to be confident that a practice has the experience to deliver a big project. And, besides, her faith in Grimshaw was proved right by the result.

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Sir Nicholas Grimshaw (2)

Tonight was the actual award ceremony.

Simon Allford of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris gave a long and thoughtful analysis as to why Grimshaw was deserving of the Gold Medal: his interest in the changing use of buildings and belief that architects should have an interest in how their buildings could be adapted; in the process of construction, evident in his very first project, which was a service tower, full of bathrooms and now demolished, for a student hostel in Paddington; and in the use of new materials, including ETFE, which he used to construct the biodomes of the Eden Project. But, most of all, it is for the support he has given to the development of his practice, important in Australia, where he has designed Southern Cross Station in Melbourne, a great project, described by Antony Gormley as like dunes in the Sahara, and the United States, where the practice was responsible for the EMPAC Concert Hall in Albany, New York.

Peter Cook, who taught him at the AA, described him in an entirely different version of the film as like one of the boffins of the Second World War, interested in the detailed technology of engineering.

I benefitted from his moral support when he was PRA. It was clear from the applause that I was certainly not alone amongst all those who had worked with him.

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Sir Nicholas Grimshaw (1)

I was very pleased to attend an event this evening to celebrate the award of the RIBA Gold Medal to Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, the opening of an exhibition of his practice’s work upstairs at the RIBA, and a film made by a member (or maybe ex-member) of his practice.

In the course of the evening and from a supplement to the RIBA Journal, I learned more about his and his office’s work.

His great grandfather was Sir George Anderson, a civil engineer based in Alexandria, and his father, Thomas Grimshaw, was an aircraft engineer. So, engineering is in the blood.

This is what he looked like as a child:-

He went to Edinburgh School of Art and then the AA in autumn 1962 where he was taught by Peter Cook, whose approach to architectural design gave him a 1960s conceptual freedom, and was inspired by Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes.

After leaving the AA, he went straight into private practice jointly with Terry Farrell, which was unusual for an architect of his generation, many of whom went to work in the public sector on housing schemes. One of his first projects was 125 Park Road, a semi-industrial building, more like an office building than an apartment block, which is now listed and where he and his family lived for its first six years.

Image result for nicholas grimshaw and terry farrell

The first time I remember being really impressed by his work was his building for the Financial Times, just east of the entrance to the Blackwell Tunnell, with its great gleaming presses rolling in the night.

Next was the new terminal at Waterloo, curvaceous and sleek, using the language of nineteenth-century engineering to dramatic effect. It ceased to be the terminal for Eurostar in 2007, but is now apparently again in use.

Throughout the film, he showed how influenced he has been by the great engineers of the nineteenth century – Paxton and Brunel; by the work of Charles and Ray Eames; and by an interest in the use of industrial components and the quality of industrial detailing.

It was a pleasure to see the consistency of his approach to projects large and small and his constant sense of humour, teamwork and self-deprecation.

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Feilding and Morrison

Since visiting Cuddesdon last week, I have been trying to find out more about the architects of the (not at all distinguished) house that my parents lived in there. I remembered that the architects had designed an advanced modernist house in Dorchester-on-Thames and that one of them was the daughter of the owners of Beckley Park, a very beautiful Tudor house down a lane on the edge of Otmoor.

Their names were Julia Feilding and Donald Morrison, both now deceased. Julia only died last year and their Miesian house on stilts, overlooking Dorchester Abbey, has now been sold:-

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