Peter Smithson, 1923-2003

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Peter Smithson, 1923-2003

Postby Paul Clerkin » Wed Apr 23, 2003 1:22 pm

somehow i missed this...

British architect Peter Smithson died on March 3 of this year. He worked with his wife Alison Smithson, with the London County Council Architects' Department before establishing a partnership with her in 1950.

http://www.cdnarchitect.com/article.asp?id=17640
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Postby alan d » Wed Apr 23, 2003 1:37 pm

As a young student in London I had a chance to work for them on drawings for their British Embassy in Brasilia. An amazing project which, had it gone ahead would have given them true international recognition but was sadly scrapped by a Labour government. The were excellent and very generous architects.
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Postby RSJ » Mon Apr 28, 2003 6:30 pm

But could you say they talked better than they built? I've never quite got the Smithsons.

All I see is a lot of overblown rhetoric, and a few ambitious but deeply flawed buildings. Visiting the Hunstanton School was one of the biggest disappointments of my life.

Even their famous Economist complex in London left me tapping my fingers: a slight variation on the American tower-and-plaza concept, with roachbed Portland stone used as a thin decorative veneer. It's not bad at all - just not exactly revolutionary.

I'd say the Smithsons came into that category of talk-the-talk architects, cushioned by a coterie of mutually back-scratching friends and colleagues and critics (London's Independent Group, incorporating Reyner Banham as house Boswell).

There are other architects who talk better than they design: William Wilkins, Robert Venturi, Philip Johnson, Piers Gough, Rem Koolhaas, to give a random selection.

Things might have been different had the Smithsons won the Coventry Cathedral competition, who knows? And no doubt they were inspiring to work for. But as it is, I think they are a parochial footnote in architectural history.
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Postby alan d » Tue Apr 29, 2003 11:20 am

I guess RSJ, that one of the benefits of not having your name printed is that you can afford to be quite forthright in your opinion, which I in part agree with. The trouble is I have contact with a couple of the architects you refer to. Of those I don't I would add to your "walk the walk" comment are Libeskind and Hadid. Enough has been said already about the former although he has done only one building of note yet is the world's most famous architect and it is interesting that you should mention Coventry Cathedral in relation to Alison and Peter Smithson. That project, had in gone ahead in 1950 would predate all of Hadid's supposedly radical new work by fifty years. On such projects, international reputations are made and the Smithson's came close. Same with the British Embassy in Brasilia.

As for the Economist Buildings. they remain my favourite commercial buildings in London and when completed in 1964 they may have been finished twelve years after SOM'S Lever Building and six years after their Inland Steel Building in Chicago but were radical for a heritage centric city like London.
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Postby alan d » Tue Apr 29, 2003 11:57 am

Well, how silly of me.

Click on the profile bit hidden at the bottom of the page and you get a clue. Please pass on my regards to Ms Hadid.

My opinion though still stands, Libeskind can speak for himself and try stopping him.
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Postby RSJ » Tue Apr 29, 2003 8:37 pm

Oh blah, there's a hole in my invisibility cloak. I blame Paul Clerkin and his all-seeing electronic engine.

Well, it's true there's nothing new. Everything's been thought of before by someone else, not necessarily always Frank Lloyd Wright. (he could talk AND walk, like Corb in that respect) The Galilee Chapel in Durham Cathedral is a medieval Stansted, etc.

I take the point about Hadid. As for the concerns of Danny L and the expressive void, one precedent there would be the Memorial of the Deported on the Ile de la Cite in Paris. Georges-Henri Pingusson, 1962. And could we stretch the comparison to Lutyens and the Thiepval Arch? Maybe not.

True too that lost competitions are the cruellest thing. Had Mackintosh won Liverpool Cathedral, we might regard him as more than just a floppy-cravat interior decorator.

Only joking.
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Postby alan d » Wed Apr 30, 2003 10:28 am

No it's a relief really, for a second I guessed you were a career opportunist with a laser guided interest in architecture or the editor of an italian design magazine.

Setting the bar a bit high though RSJ, don't you think. No architect in the last 1OO years has been able to measure up to FLW, the only consolation for any of us is that he turned a bit flakey at the end and was by all accounts a bit if a shit and Corb makes Mies look like a bloke who had a couple of nice ideas.

We'll see I guess if Hadid has something more to offer than form searching for content when I see her Cincinatti Gallery and will be prepared to eat my words but your comment about a career cushioned by a coterie of mutually back scratching friends and critics seems to have a contemporary resonance. Somehow by comparison the Smithsons don't seem quite so bad, to me anyway

And while we're at it lets add Herzog and de Meuron's Tate Modern to the list of major disappointments made worse by critical acclaim. Catherine Slessor's glowing AR review leads you inevitably to the conclusion that she really needs to get out more.

As for Toshie, well I think Michael Corleone summed up contemporary Scottish Architects best when he remarked that for years they had been trying to gain legitimacy but Mackintosh somehow keeps dragging them back in to a life of corruption.

Anyway, I'll sign off now for am sure you have no wish to enter into a dialogue with someone you may have to be rude about in the future.
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