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February 2011 5.

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SYNCHROTRON
THE

SOHEI NISHINO POSTLERFERGUSON JAMES STIRLING ANTHONY VIDLER/ODILE DECQ/KENGO KUMA/BOLLES + WILSON/KERSTEN GEERS/PIER PAOLO TAMBURELLI/RICHARD MEIER/ANTONINO CARDILLO THE LINDSTRM EFFECT

THE LEADING MAGAZINE OF ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN

BLUEPRINT ISSUE 299

BLUEPRINT

FEBRUARY 2011 5.50

FEATURES

42

48

JAMES STIRLING/MICHAEL WILFORD FONDS, CCA MONTREAL

POSTLERFERGUSON

36

13

36

DIAMOND LIGHT SYNCHROTRON


In the countryside south of
Oxford lies the Diamond Light
Synchrotron. The project has
become a centre of excellence in
British scientific research. The
remarkable building, 235m in
diameter, is ring-fenced for
funding and will see 69 million
invested in it over the coming
years. Tim Abrahams reports on
the existing facility and how
plans to expand it will continue
to synthesise the architecture
with the research it houses

42

POSTLERFERGUSON
Martin Postler and Ian Ferguson
are best known in the UK for an
arsenal of build-it-yourself
cardboard weapons. Owen
Pritchard meets the designers
and finds that despite their
infamy, the company has
ambitions beyond the design of
single objects. Through
collaboration with international
clients, PostlerFerguson is
finding ways to operate in
new markets by exporting their
skills and knowledge

48

JAMES STIRLING
Pritzker prize-winning James
Stirling was the architect behind
Britains most famous post-war
buildings. The most prestigious
architecture prize in the country
is named after him, yet his work
continues to divide opinion.
Ahead of a major exhibition at
Tate Britain later this year,
Anthony Vidler writes about the
archive and legacy
of an architect who remains
Britians most important
modern architect. Accompanying

his essay, Blueprint asked eight


leading international architects
how encounters with Stirlings
buildings and the man himself
have influenced them and their
work. With contributions from
Richard Meier, Odile Decq, Kengo
Kuma, Peter Wilson, Antonio
Cardillo, Kjetil Thorsen, Kersten
Geers and Pier Paolo Taburelli,
the responses reveal Stirlings
international reputation and an
insight into how his work is
interpreted outside the UK
BLUEPRINT FEBRUARY 2011

48

JAMES
STIRLING
AN
INTERNATIONAL
ARCHITECT
ALL IMAGES: JAMES STIRLING/MICHAEL WILFORD FONDS, CCA MONTREAL

JAMES FRAZER STIRLING IS


BRITAINS MOST CELEBRATED
AND DIVISIVE ARCHITECT.
AHEAD OF A MAJOR EXHIBITION
AT TATE BRITAIN, ANTHONY VIDLER
AND A HOST OF ARCHITECTS FROM
AROUND THE WORLD DISCUSS
STIRLINGS OWN INFLUENCES AND
THE IMPACT OF HIS WORK

BLUEPRINT FEBRUARY 2011

49

Over the 17 years since his untimely


death, the built work of James Stirling has
become a controversial topic. The upkeep
of his early buildings has often failed to
maintain their integrity, while his projects
from the Florey Building, Queens
College Oxford, the Cambridge history
faculty building, the housing estates in
Preston and Runcorn, to No. 1 Poultry in
London have aroused scorn from
traditionalists and modernists alike for
transgressing both canons.
His projects have been the object of
fierce admiration the current campaign

by C20 to save the Florey Building at


Oxford is an example. But little or none of
his public housing remains standing. On
its demolition Runcorn was even
compared to the American version of
failed public housing at Pruitt-Igoe.
Reyner Banham, writing in 1984, stated:
Anyone will know who keeps up with the
English highbrow weeklies, the only
approvable attitude to James Stirling is
one of sustained execration and open or
veiled accusations of incompetence.
It is a common criticism to say that
historians and critics have interpreted

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50

the architecture of Stirling in a number of


widely different ways. Some have seen his
work move through a series of brilliantly
eclectic modern styles, from his
modernist or Corbusian thesis at
Liverpool University (1950), the Brutalist,
and also Corbusian, flats at Ham Common
(195558, with James Gowan), through the
constructivism of the engineering building
at Leicester University (195963, with
James Gowan) and the history faculty at
Cambridge (196467, with Michael
Wilford), to the post- or late-modernism of
later work. Banham cited Gowans motto
The style for the job; Frampton titled his
essay of 1975 Transformations in Style;
Summerson spoke of him as homo
ludens; and Nikolaus Pevsner, less
charitably, wrote of his Expressionism.
Others have insisted that Stirling was
a steadfast modernist, freely utilising the
diverse vocabularies of the Modern
Movement according to what was
appropriate for each commission. Others
have noted his allegiance to the tradition
of British functionalism, to regional
architectures, and to vernacular and
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51

PETER WILSON
BOLLES + WILSON
GERMANY

Top left: a Forest Rangers


Lookout Station, 1949,
drawn while Stirling was
at Liverpool University
Top right: Stirlings model
for his final year thesis
project on Newton
Aycliffe Town Centre,
1949-50
Bottom left: a page from
Stirlings thesis book, the
drawing style echoes that
of Le Corbusier
Bottom right: Stirlings
landscape study for a
visitor centre in Newton
Aycliffe, Co. Durham

building traditions outside of


architecture, as evinced in the 18thand 19th-century Liverpool docks and
celebrated in the special issue of the
Architectural Review in 1957, six years
after Stirlings graduation from the
Liverpool School of Architecture.
Others have proposed a fundamental
break with modernism some time in the
mid-1960s, or more precisely in 1968,
when the young Luxembourg architect
Lon Krier joined the office. Krier, with
his love of neo-classicism and distinctive
drawing style, has often been seen to have
steered Stirling towards a kind of modern
classicism, beginning with the stern
symmetry of the Siemens Office Building
(1969) and the crescent for the Derby
Civic Centre competition (1970). Krier,
who later redrew most of the earlier
projects for the publication of Stirlings
first volume of complete works,
certainly introduced neo-classical
figures and furniture, with evident
inspiration from Karl Friedrich Schinkel,
into his perspectives.
Others again, like Peter Eisenman, in

his canonical essay, Real and English: the


Destruction of the Box (1974), concluded
that the design of Leicester Universitys
engineering building was, precisely, iconic
because it suggested that the theoretical
implications of modern architecture and
the abstract implications of the abstract
logic inherent in space and form, must yet
again be the subject of investigation.
Raphael Moneo, in his own version of
eight canonical architects, opened with a
consideration of Stirling, because, as he
wrote, he could not think of another
architect whose work illustrates an entire
cycle of recent architectural history as
eloquently as his.
Finally, critics like Robert Maxwell
have tried to embrace both of these last
theses in one, holding that Stirling was, in
Maxwells words, a crypto-classicist,
referring at once to abstract modernism
and to historical precedent through the
use of fragmentation. Colin Rowe, in what
remains one of the very best assessments
of Stirlings architecture and its
importance, concluded that he was among
those who have always thought that

If I were to single out one work by James


Stirling, it would probably be the Braun
factory in Melsungen. Why? Mostly because
of the experience as you approach it: the
way it sits in the landscape, the strength
and self-assurance of its form. It is a
mature work that nobly reconciles many
of the diverse themes that characterise
his career.
Stiring was literate and informed, but
also intuitive and unquestionably talented
in his ability to invent and recode
architectural spaces. And its always
possible to recognise a Stirling building I
find that admirable. His buildings chronicle
their time. They are perhaps the best UK
witnesses of neo-constructivist late
modernism (Leicester, Cambridge) and
subsequently a reconnection to historical
memory (Tate, Stuttgart). One hesitates to
evoke the term postmodernism, which,
while still holding currency in the fields of
philosophy and cultural studies, was so
debased in its Mickey Mouse architectural
use. Now, after the mandatory 20-year
limbo, a responsible re-assessment of
Stirlings work would place him at that
critical turning point when what we today
take as normative, in terms of urban and
historic awareness, was seen as dangerously
new and exciting.
Stirling was an external examiner at the
Architectural Association in the early 1980s
and I had to present work to him and that
was an influence on me. A few years earlier
he judged the then highly influential
Shinkenshiku Competition (subject: a House
for Schinkel) and he awarded us an
honourable mention. We were and still are
grateful to him for the chance to decontextualise the Prussian Baumeister.
His reception in Germany was
controversial although since then hes
been eclipsed by myriad achitectural media
debates. But those are just ripples in the
memory. No, these days Stirling's reputation
is the responsibility of serious historians
or perhaps even English Heritage.

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52

KENGO KUMA
KENGO KUMA
ASSOCIATES
JAPAN
I consider sense of humour in architecture
(or in writing) to be important. I think the
greatest attraction of British architecture is
humour. And in Stirlings works, I can see
the gifted sense of humour of a humanist.
I have always been an admirer of
Stirling. I visited Leicester University, his
gallery in Stuttgart, and the bookshop at
the 1991 Venice Biennale. His interest in
technology is well reflected in his early
works at the same time he never failed to
have a British sense of humour, and later in
his career he presented his own view of
tradition his own interpretation.
Stirling is a significant figure, having
lived in the typical age of modernism,
where he tried to retrieve architecture of a
human scale. He was a pivotal figure in the
transition from modernism to
postmodernism or minimalism.
He was an architect who dealt with
the contradictions of his time. In the
21st century, there are many types of
transparency. Materiality conflicts with
transparency, and is a paradox, yet the
two can be compatible. I want to erase
architecture, but only by creating a
new method of design called
defeated architecture.
When I was a student in Tokyo and New
York during 1970s-80s, I became interested
in the industrial feeling of Stirlings works.
For example, the engineering department at
Leicester: although it looks industrial, it
was not at all cold and I could sense his
humanity there.
Because of the RIBA prize bearing his
name, Stirling is relatively known in Japan,
and he has his followers. However, generally
speaking, he is a rather forgotten figure.
Despite this, his proposal for Kyotos new
station building drew a lot of attention in
Japan and I still think it was the best of
all the proposals.

BLUEPRINT FEBRUARY 2011

Above: an axonometric
drawing for Churchill
College, Cambridge, by
Stirling & Gowan, 1958

modern architecture was an important


and never a simplistic affair.
Stirling himself contributed to these
diverse views through his own writings.
This was especially in his early essays on
Le Corbusiers shift in style from the
strict modernism of the Villa Stein at
Garches and the Villa Savoye, Poissy, to
the post-war work at Ronchamp and the
Maisons Jaoul. Le Corbusiers move
represented, according to Stirling the
Crisis of Rationalism. Comparing
Garches and Jaoul (which represent the
extremes of his vocabulary: the former,
rational, urbane, programmatic, the latter,
personal and anti-mechanistic), he wrote:
If style is the crystallisation of an
attitude, then these buildings, may, on
examination, reveal something of a
philosophical change of attitude on the
part of their author; a change that in
formal terms could be characterised as
from the urban, Cubist, Parisian, to the

//IF STYLE IS THE


CRYSTALLISATION OF AN
ATTITUDE, THEN THESE
BUILDINGS MAY, ON
EXAMINATION, REVEAL
SOMETHING OF A
PHILOSOPHICAL CHANGE OF
ATTITUDE BY THE AUTHOR//

53

ODILE DECQ
ODBC
FRANCE

Above right: an
axonometric drawing
from House Studies,
Stirling & Gowan, 1956
Below right: a diagram
from Stirlings notebook
that explores the
evolution of modernism

vernacular, Provenal farmhouse. Written


at the time of Stirlings apparent shift
from the Corbusian vernacular of the flats
at Ham Common to the glass and brick
constructivism of Leicester and
Cambridge, this indicated to his critics
that Stirling was entirely self-conscious of
his own stylistic moves and more
concerned with style than substance.
But Stirling also contributed to
divergent interpretations of his work in
another way: his well-known reticence
and laconic refusal to speak in depth
about influences, sources, and anything
that in any way tasted of theory. In a long
and typically urbane article written for
The New Yorker under the Sky Line
byline in August 1989, Brendan Gill
surveyed Stirlings career, and assessed the
recently completed performing arts centre
at Cornell University. Recognising the
obvious references to Italian hill towns in
the composition of the centre, references

that Stirling himself had shrugged off


when asked, Gill concluded that Stirlings
shrug was a veiling of his sources of
inspiration, but also a silent rebuke to Gill
for a speculation too narrow to do his
design principles justice.
For, as Gill realised, securely
underlying his [Stirlings] pranks his
joyous exploitation of our latest
technological resources is the centuriesold language of neo-classicism, and
Standing there in the shadow of the
marble tempietto alongside the Center, I
ought to have perceived that I was
simultaneously in contemporary Ithaca,
in Renaissance Tuscany, and in the Land
of Stirling, where mingled traces of a
couple of thousand years of
architectural experiment emerge, catch
the light and disappear.
By far the best appreciation of
Stirlings mercurial architectural
temperament, however, came from John

I didnt really like the style of James


Stirlings buildings, which was very
particular. He was really British in the
way he thought through design and
the selection of materials and the use
of colour.
I did like his ideas, though. The Neue
Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart, which allows
visitors to climb the ramp and pass
around the volumes but remain outside
was a direct influence on my work at
the MACRO in Rome (see page 28). He
presented a way to experience a building
without entering it. You go to a museum,
and not go in, but still travel through it.
Its more than experiencing the outside
of a building.
I first encountered Stirlings
architecture during the 1970s-80s when
I was studying. He was one of the most
interesting architects in terms of what
was happening at the time, everyone was
talking about his library in Cambridge.
He was doing something part modern,
part postmodern and part something
new, but not too postmodern.
Stirlings presence was incredible and
it was moving to speak with someone as
an equal about design. You could meet
and discuss ideas with him, even if you
were nobody you dont get that
nowadays with our starchitects. Im not
sure he has the same influence now as
when I was studying. He was so widely
published and his buildings were new.
The pavilion in the Venice Giardini is
very good. I saw it before the copper
roof went green; it is simple, elegant,
even. He wasnt saying too much, this
was his strength. He was always thinking
about space and place. It is a very
simple and practical architecture, yet
at the same time, strong. Stirling never
did too much, this is what I like most
about his work.

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55

Stirling was an important part of the


continuum of architecture. I'd like to
think that I am still a part of that
continuum today. He is now in the past
and architects should study his work and
build on it. His career marks an
important milestone in the Modern
Movement of the 20th century.
He is a significant figure because he
designed significant architecture. While
he was alive, students, professionals and
peers all recognised Jim's outstanding
contribution as an architect. Stirling was
more important as a practitioner in terms
of philosophical approach. He was a very
good teacher and his students were
heavily influenced by him. Sadly, I
doubt that many American students today
know of his work.
He was not only an important
architect, he was also a good friend of
mine. I met him when he first started
teaching at Yale School of Architecture in
1959 and we stayed in touch until he
passed away 33 years later. Jim was very
much part of the Modern Movement and
when he was in town, he would come to
the dinners that Philip Johnson and I
organised at the Century Club in New
York with our peers at the time. He would
stay at my apartment in New York.
I have visited a few of his buildings,
the University of Leicester, the Neue
Staatsgalerie at Stuttgart, the Clore
Gallery and his building at Cornell
University. The Neue Staatsgalerie in
Stuttgart is my favourite building of
his. It works well as a museum and it
works in terms of its contextual
relationship to its surroundings.

MATT NEALE

RICHARD MEIER
RICHARD MEIER AND
PARTNERS
UNITED STATES

Summerson, in an essay written on the


occasion of the opening of the Clore
Gallery at the Tate. In the article, entitled
Vitruvius Ludens, Summerson apologised
for his early dislike of the Leicester
engineering building as old-style
functionalism grossly overdone. Now
seeing Stirling as the fulfilment of a
prophecy he made in 1957 to the effect that
a new generation would have to study the
overtones of architecture and the
geometrical discipline of space as space; to
learn not only to use space but to play with
space. Against the dogged seriousness
that characterised the generation of the
1920s, of which New Brutalism was the
last gasp, this new generation would be
dedicated to serious play.
I see Stirling, Summerson wrote,
as the architect, who, more than any
other in this country, or perhaps
anywhere, has identified himself with
this transfiguration, turned the old

seriousness back to front and re-engaged it


as play. Stirlings play, Summerson added,
would not be the high game of a Lutyens,
or even the jeu savant [intellectual play]
of Le Corbusier but more that of Richard
Norman Shaw in his New Zealand
Chambers or Lowther Lodge. If there were
still traces of technological or social
functionalism in Stirlings work, then
these were used for a brilliant, arrogant
play, forging an imagery expressive of a
deep functionalism. And if some projects
evoke neo-classical sources Runcorn
implying a debt to Gandy, Siemens to
Ledoux, or Derby to the Burlington Arcade
then this was no less modern: the
Modern Movement sprang from NeoClassical soil and to that soil it is always
liable to return. But Stirlings return was
not for Summerson a recessional but
rather an inspirational act.
Stirling then, resisted and resists all
labelling he rejected the appellation New

Above: the engineering


building at Leicester
University remains one
of Stirlings most
celebrated buildings

BLUEPRINT FEBRUARY 2011

57
Brutalism as much as he disliked the
categorisation of postmodernism. A letter
from Stirling and Gowan to the New
Statesman, 26 July 1958, in reply to
Reyner Banhams Plucky Jims, reviewing
Ham Common in the issue of 19 July,
objected: We do not consider ourselves
new brutalist in regard to the design of
the flats at Ham Common. (New
brutalist is a journalistic tag applied to
some designers of architectural credit, in a
morale-boosting attempt to sanctify a
movement as Britains contribution and
to cover up for the poor showing of our
postwar architecture).
He subsequently contested the efforts
of Banham to include him among the
practitioners of New Brutalism even as he
scorned the attempt of Banhams student,
Charles Jencks, to put him in a

postmodern niche. Indeed, the struggles


revealed by and in the archive were not
engaged in for the benefit of historians,
but were those of an architect forging his
own manner, convinced that within the
discourse of architecture a contemporary
expression had to be teased out.
His first exercises in modernist
languages were learning experiences, but
also attempts to work those languages for
present purposes. His turn to regional and
vernacular precedents was in no way
nostalgic, but an understanding that their
unselfconscious functionalism offered a
way out of style for styles sake. His
experimentation with combinations of
technological and machine-age elements
were entirely of the moment not the
Crystal Palace but factory sheds, not
constructivism but Cape Canaveral. His

Above left: a perspective


drawing of the design for
the Siemens AG
Headquarters 1969-1970
Below left: the
presentation model for
the History Faculty
Building at the University
of Cambridge, 1963

KERSTEN GEERS
OFFICE KERSTEN
GEERS DAVID VAN
SEVEREN
BELGIUM
PIER PAOLO
TAMBURELLI
ITALY
Stirlings architecture properly starts in
1964. After the clash with former partner
James Gowan over the Cambridge history
faculty, he started following the beat of his
own drum. He thought that the formal
principles found in the history of
architecture were the ingredients for new
architectural experiments. It is this
continuous exploration of architectural
vocabularies and languages that defines his
individual work after 1964. Actually, for
Stirling, there was no complete, reliable
architectural language (modern or
classical): his view was that you use
architectural knowledge no matter where
its found. Yet, the ambition to create a
universal system of forms if not precisely
a theory was not alien to Stirlings work.
The consistency of his collection is seen
only in the entirety of his work rather than
piece by piece. Stirlings work is a shortcut
across the minefield of modernist
historiography. The reduction of historical
context to the flatness of a collection was
instrumental in Stirlings learning method:
forms are just available. It doesnt matter
how and when they were produced. His work
is not modern or postmodern: it side-steps
a linear perception of history that allows
ideology to take hostage the debate on
architectonical form. By removing the toodirect and too-ideological elements of
architectures vocabulary, Stirling achieves
his aim by talking and remaining unclear at
the same time.
The original text of this article appeared in
OASE no. 79 (2010)

BLUEPRINT FEBRUARY 2011

58

ANTONINO CARDILLO
ITALY
The first time I came across the work of
James Stirling was during my studies of
Contemporary Architectural History. I still
cherish the memory of seeing a black and
white photo of the engineering department
at Leicester University built in 1959. The
hypnotic harmony that was somehow out
of balance achieved by cantilevering the
volumes of the building, seemed to make
reference to the Club Risakov by Russian
avant-garde architect Kostantin Melnikov. It
gave me the impression Stirling wanted to
carry on writing the truncated history of
Russian avant-garde.
Particularly with the engineering
department at Leicester University, Stirling
produced a romantic vision of the curtain
walls and horizontal windows belonging to
the modernist vocabulary of materials. This
ability to critically combine these somehow
obvious materials is a constant in his work.
At a certain time on his creative path,
though, Stirling swapped part of his
modernist vocabulary for more
historical references.
This is evident in the Neue Staatsgalerie
in Stuttgart, Germany. I always get the
impression that in this building Stirling
didnt manage to firmly control his
emerging architectural vocabulary. The lack
of synthesis here is also spatial. I like to
think of this building as an aborted
experiment part of a creative path that
was abruptly interrupted by Stirlings
sudden death.
His engineering department at Leicester
University, though, has a visionary power.
Its a building thats able to communicate
with any other period in history beyond
the period in which it was designed and
constructed. Its a meta-historical building.
There is an intriguing similarity
between Stirlings work in Leicester and the
Torre Velasca by BBPR in Milan, completed
in 1958. Both projects were engaging with
the idea of modular structures and
interested in resolving the passage from an
octagonal base to a rectangular module.

work on prefabrication and housing


attempted to bring both into the spatial
forms that had proved so resilient as
armatures for the relation of public and
private; his apparent turns to classicism
and to the typological precedents of
institutions were not literal but abstract
notations of the history that these
institutions brought into the present; his
plays with colour were a not-too-subtle
countering to white architecture.
In all these shifts, the central unifier
was his ability to join and weld
volumetrically an ability aided from
early in his career by his recognition of
the power of the axonometric projection
not only as representation but as a vehicle
for the process of design. It is this process
that the archive most clearly explains. It
documents the intense and difficult
BLUEPRINT FEBRUARY 2011

development of buildings that when


built or drawn as projects seem both
effortless and all too final.
For Stirling the development of an
architecture was a continuous and
continuing process. Even as one drawing
or sketch led to another, so each building
apparently finite in itself was another
stage of the never-ending exploration of
space and material, function and
expression by which (with not a little wit
and a great deal of ebullient pleasure), an
architecture might be created

This is an extract from Anthony Vidlers


book, James Frazer Stirling: Notes from
the Archive. There will be an exhibition,
James Stirling: Notes from the Archive at
Tate Britain, 5th April 21st August 2011

Above: a plan of the


Wissenschaftszentrum
in Berlin, a project by
Stirling, Wilford &
Associates, 1979-87
Below: the Clore Gallery
extension to Tate Britain,
where a major exhibition
on Stirling will be held
later this year