Brown, Neave (4 of 19). National  Life Story Collection: Architects' Lives

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  • Recording date

    2013-12-07, 2013-12-14, 2014-02-08, 2014-03-08, 2014-03-15, 2014-03-29, 2014-04-26, 2014-07-27, 2014-08-10, 2014-08-17, 2014-12-06

  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home, London

  • Interviewees

    Brown, Neave (1929-) (speaker,  male)

  • Interviewers

    Franklin, Geraint (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 4: Most of NB’s group of friends at AA had done national service: John Miller [JM], Adrian Gale [AG], CG, Patrick [Hodgkinson] [PH]. Hesitation at first. In first year worked in studio with Leonard Manasseh and Olive Sullivan. Began with designing primitive hut; description of NB’s design. [Background noise] PH reserved and sophisticated; CG the committed Corbusian; AG less certain of himself. Mentions Michael Powers’ comment that difference between public school and non-public school education is evident for the first two or three years only. [00:04:22] Awareness of way in which AA was different from traditional architectural education of other schools such as the Bartlett. ‘De-educated’ at first, then ‘re-educated’ in response to pre-war Modern Movement and post-war situation. Commitment of AA to Modernism. Mentions initial exercises with colour, texture, model of primitive hut; only started designing buildings at end of the second term or the start of the third term. Design exercises included studio extension to Hampstead house of Kenneth Capon and small town hall. Mentions study of Le Corbusier, ‘the New Architecture’ by Alfred Roth, the Bauhaus, Alvar Aalto. CG the ‘leader’ of group. [Cough] [00:07:17] Second year with ACP [Architects’ Co-Partnership] designing housing, school and small factory at Vigo [in Kent]. CG, NB and one other in design group. Their ‘austere’ decision to build on flat summit of hill, rather than the more picturesque layout of buildings down slope. Mentions ACP members: Kenneth Capon, Michael Cooke-Yarborough, Michael Powers, Leo de Syllas; their work on schools. Predominance of public-sector work. Description of principal Robert Furneax Jordan [RFJ]. Protest of NB’s group at appointment of Michael Pattrick [MP] as RFJ’s replacement. [00:10:42] Describes independence of NB’s group and their decision to work at home in third year, attending AA for crits and tutorials. Group met up in each others’ flats: Kenneth Frampton [KF], JM and Ram Karmi worked in basement flat; NB and David Gray [DG] shared flat in Earl’s Court; PH had flat in Chelsea. NB’s group ‘scornful’ of notion of orthodoxy of AA. Affinity with older architects Sam Stevens [SS] [Thomas Stevens], BH and Stan Amis [SA]. Feeling of membership of a ‘committed group’ that included students and practicing architects. [00:15:47] CG’s involvement in politics of AA and decision to leave the school at the end of his third year. NB spoke at committee meeting at full-time appointment of MP. Independence of NB’s group of friends due to support and privilege of AA. [Some background noise]. [00:18:59] Their rejection of Hilton Wright’s fourth year programme; adoption of their suggestion of three major projects: factory, housing scheme and Finnish Seamen's Mission. Most students produced blocks in a Corbusian or Scandinavian idiom. Description of PH’s ‘remarkable’ scheme of continuous building. NB’s group’s desire to show how their thinking carried through into detailed design. NB’s description of window details for Finnish Seamen's Mission. Role of detailed design in education. [00:24:21] Fifth year comprised final projects or Tropical School, run by Maxwell Fry [MF] and Jane Drew [JD]. AA’s focus was global, not local. Projects for different tropical climates. .Story of NB’s final project. [00:27:21] Influences on NB’s aesthetics LC, Bauhaus, Alfred Roth and later Alvar Aalto, for whom PH later worked. Description of NB’s final project, for Faculty of Classical Architecture and Archaeology in Cambridge, headed by Professor [Jocelyn] Toynbee. [00:29:24] BBB’s marriage to NB’s school friend George Spring [GS] [loud cough at 00:29:39] and move of couple to Dar es Salaam in Tanganyika (now Tanzania). BBB and GS commissioned a house from NB. NB’s stay at Dar es Salaam; design not built. NB’s work for local practice, designing hospital for American medical mission. [00:33:38] NB’s return from London, ‘feeling stranded’. DG and JM had joined Lyons Israel Ellis [LIE], whose employees included Jim Stirling [JS] [James Stirling], James Gowan [JG] and Alan Colquhoun [AC]. Remarks on LIE and the architectural influence of [Tom] Ellis [TE]. Description of working process: the partners would produce diagrammatic layouts, which would be worked up by their assistants. LIE’s use of courtyard layouts and pavilion plans with linking sections. Every detail was designed. Office highly productive, but possible to spend time on resolving details. Important training experience. [00:38:00] Other employees included Christopher Dean [CD], Richard MacCormac [RM] , Eldred Evans [EE]. Remarks on formality of LIE office and relationship between assistants and partners. JM and Alan Colquhoun formed a practice, DG became partner [in 1970]. NB’s design for new workshop at Hammersmith Hospital. NB left practice because didn’t want to work on large hospital building. [00:41:24 break in recording] Description of TE, and LIE’s pragmatic approach to architectural design. LIE’s use of a large range of components and adaptation of details for specific purpose; not affected by standardisation and mass production. System of production permitted economic adaptation. Mentions CD’s Upholland School, influenced by LC’s vaulted buildings; and DG design for academic building with lecture hall on top. [00:48:38] Building industry unable to adapt components today; details come out of catalogues. Mentions prefabricated systems for designing schools. [00:52:38] NB left LIE. NB mentions [HJ] Whitfield Lewis [HJWL], who had previous worked for LCC Architect’s Department [head of Housing Division, 1950-59]. Two design factions at LCC Housing Division: NB preferred Corbusian housing at Roehampton, designed by future partners of Howell Killick Partridge & Amis [HKPA]. HJWL favoured other faction, which produced brick towers and low buildings adapted from Scandinavian models. HJWL became chief architect of Middlesex County Council Architect’s Department. NB obtained job there, working for a group leader named Anderson; DG and KF also there. NB designed four new schools and one extension, of which two were built. Description of NB’s school designs. [00:56:46] Remarks on changes in LC’s attitude to architecture. LC’s post-war work criticised by JS as a betrayal of pre-war modernism. [01:00:21] Richard Rogers [RR] worked briefly for Middlesex County Council [MCC]; remarks on RR’s lack of drawing ability, and communication of intent by other means. [01:02:31] NB mentions teaching evening classes at Regent Street Polytechnic [RSP]; pupils included [Wendy Cheeseman], member of Team 4 and later wife of Norman Foster [NF]. Started teaching whilst working at LIE, continued during employment at MCC. Mistakes made by architect supervising construction of NB’s schools; lesson of seeing a building through to site. [01:04:32 brief interruption; 01:05:10 loud cough] Mentions AG’s work on office block on Victoria Road [New Scotland Yard] and their lunchtime meetings. NB’s lifelong contact with friends from AA year group, and later AA graduates including Ed [Edward] Jones, Jeremy Dixon. Explanation of ‘grunt group’ [group of AA graduates including Christopher Cross, Michael Gold, Jeremy Dixon and Edward Jones]. Their year group arrived at AA younger because of abolition of national service. Mentions Peter Ahrends. [01:07:23] Comments on freedom of working in public office. Simultaneous work on strategic and detailed design. Mentions own commitment to architecture. Decision to leave MCC. [01:10:03] NB’s friendship with Tony Hunt [Anthony Hunt, AH], engineer for [Felix] Samuely, with whom worked on workshop block at LIE. AH established own practice and NB shared office with him in Southampton Row. NB’s wish to live in a modern house rather than Victorian terrace. [Having set up in private practice] NB designed houses and house extensions, but nothing was built. NB mentions projects undertaken jointly with Paul Manousso, a friend and AA graduate, whose father [Luke] was a developer. NB designed small terrace of houses on Lillington Street [in Westminster] for [Luke] Manousso, abandoned after compulsory purchase of area for Lillington Gardens estate. NB’s design of house extension off Hampstead Heath for developer client; project passed on from LIE. [01:14:25] AH located small site for five houses; description of site [in Dartmouth Park, London] that later became Winscombe Street houses. NB assembled group of five people: NB, AH, Adam Wolfit, Inger and Lewin Bassingthwaighte [LB] and a fifth, an antique dealer. AH and the antique dealer left the group and Michael and Patty Hopkins, and Ed and Beatty Jones took their places. NB designed Winscombe Street house at same time as Hampstead House for LIE client. Story of abandonment of Hampstead House project. [01:17:22] Discussion with group of five clients for Winscombe Street and decision to form Pentad Housing Society. NB by then working for architect’s department at London Borough of Camden. Description of arrangement between housing society and Camden to finance development. Camden’s condition that development designed to space standards of Parker Morris report. Remarks on Camden’s housing programme, established soon after organisation of London boroughs [in 1965]; twin aim of provision of council housing and support of housing associations. [Loud cough at 01:20:44]. Anecdote of separate discussions with four clients for design of identical houses. Value of NB’s experience with LIE and MCC in understanding what a builder could build. Description of aesthetics, and pragmatic and adaptable use of form and materials. Notion of collective living applied to communal garden. Brief description of site layout. Description of house layouts, and rethinking of plans after discussion with PH. Three strata: adult life, children’s life and shared life. Comments on significance of Parker Morris standards. [01:27:58] Relative aesthetic freedom of Winscombe Street scheme departed from orthodox modernism; criticism by Chris [Christopher] Woodwood [in Architectural Design, July 1968]. Detailed description of window-wall relationships in Winscombe Street elevations; comparison with [80-90 South Hill Park, Hampstead, designed by BH and SA]. Examples of concrete, timber and metal staircase; and edge detailing of floor slab. [01:34:24] Winscombe Street not designed as prototype, but became the model for NB’s later schemes at Alexandra Road and Eindhoven. Conceptual development and continuity through NB’s work. [01:36:16] Preparation of detailed drawings and bills of quantities for tender; quantity surveyors Monk and Dunstan. Builders’ comment that they had built buildings several times the size with half the number of drawings. Description of site foreman, Mr Eckersley. Complication of setting out centre line from middle of circular staircase. Story of dropped hand plane. Demands of NB’s design on a builder. [01:41:17] During final year of construction of Winscombe Street, NB invited by Colin Rowe [CR] to teach for a semester at Cornell University [in Ithaca, New York]. JM supervised building on site in NB’s absence. [01:42:25] Winscombe Street an important step in NB’s life. Comments on planning at Winscombe Street. Remarks of transmission of sound from floor to floor via central staircase, but acoustic isolation between houses. [01:45:00] Mentions design of ‘barn doors’, and discussions with window manufacturers. Detailed comments on detailing of softwood windows and NB’s use of mounted [ie glued] sections instead of joinery. NB’s use of steel reinforcing mesh [used in reinforced concrete] for balustrades at Winscombe Street, Alexandra Road and building in the Netherlands. [01:50:24] Acquisition of technical knowledge at LIE, and comparison with detailing of DG, JM, JS and JG. Detailing expressive of and consistent with overall thinking. [Loud cough at 01:53:18]

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