Gowan, James (9 of 10) National Life  Story Collection: Architects' Lives

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  • Recording date

    2012-06-20, 2012-09-18, 2012-12-05, 2013-10-22, 2013-11-12, 2013-12-04

  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home, London

  • Interviewees

    Gowan, James, 1923-2015  (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Dillon,  Niamh (speaker, female)

  • Abstract

    Part 9: Track 9 [01:34:33] [Session Five: 12 November 2013] JG explains how Stirling and Gowan got the commission for the Engineering Building at University of Leicester through Leslie Martin. Mentions that their early work on Ham Common flats and the house on the Isle of Wight had received a lot of publicity. [00:04:57] JG explains why Leicester needed an engineering building. Talks about the engineers’ involvement in the building – the engineers on the building were Steensen Varming and Mulcahy – “our job was mainly the fabric of the building inside and outside and not the furnishing of it with technical equipment”. [00:08:28] JG reflects on the brief from Professor Parks – they looked at the Cambridge laboratory and JG adapted the idea of the flooring in the lab. [00:11:21] JG characterizes the Cambridge engineering laboratory – mentions Professor Parks always raised queries with JG not James Stirling (mentions some people were wary of Stirling). [00:14:54] The other person in the office was Michael Wilford. Mentions their offices were in central London in York Terrace (later Gloucester Crescent). Recalls a surprise visit from the Chancellor of the University. The Engineering Building at Leicester University was the main project in the office. [00:18:53] Mentions how they were trying out various options for the building. [00:20:50] They didn’t have physical model for the Engineering building – they were “inventing it from scratch” – JG explains they resolved the design through drawing rather than discussion. Mentions the hydraulic tank had to be 60 feet high so this determined the height of the tower – the building committee was very keen on a high tower facing Victoria Park [00:24:16] – JG feelings about the tower. JG discusses the university’s reputation. [00:26:29] Describes buildings on the site. [00:28:54] Time spent on the design before construction – it took approximately two years to build. [00:31:33] JG did the drawings for the back of the building, and MW and JG worked on the front elevations – “MW and JS didn’t have the experience for a highly technical building” JG responded by testing materials particularly tiling and adhesion – Hope Bagnol advised on the acoustics of lecture hall. [00:34:21] JG on the problems of using of wall tiling. JG on risks changing the technical vocabulary – JG on the amount of time allocated to a design. [00:0:42] Discusses whether traditional building forms were being challenged at the time: compares Norman Foster and Richard Rogers – JG references the palm houses at Kew Gardens. [00:44:09] Technical challenges on the Engineering building – camber on the trusses. [00:46:21] Discusses to what extent the building was technically innovative – discusses the durability of the aluminum on the LEB. [00:50:27] Discusses J Stirling’s reliance on engineer Frank Newby. [00;53:54] Explains how Frank Newby was employed as engineer, talks about his partner Felix Samuely, anecdote about his lack of humour. [00:57:24] Other key consultants: Steensen, Varming and Mulcahy. [00:59:33] Discusses costs and budgets. [01:01:27] JG thinks most of the material were from the UK except from tiles from Holland. Use of stone as a building material – JG used York stone for the plinths on the Schreiber House. [01:06:12] Comments on Engineering Building at Leicester – aim of the university. JG describes the reception to the building when it opened – [01:12:06] Mentions meeting Lord Snowdon. [01:13:46] Reaction of architectural press to the Engineering Building – importance of press coverage to James Stirling. [01:16:20] Explains in details why the Engineering Building was the last project they worked on together – Stirling continued to work with Michael Wilford. [01:23:14] JG views on the importance of housing and education – JG reflects on the initial reaction to state sponsored housing and education and how this changed over time. [01:30:23] Reflects on the bureaucracy of the welfare state.

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