Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The Milo Lecture at the RIBA - 12 February 2013


This Worshipful Company of Chartered Architects’ lecture is named in honour of the first Clerk to the Company, Lt. Col. Peter M. Milo, who did much to establish the Company in 1985-6.

Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) is best-remembered for his country houses, the Cenotaph and the city of New Delhi. He was born in London, and although he spent much of his boyhood in Surrey, he developed an enthusiasm for buildings in London while at the Kensington School of Art (out of which the Victoria and Albert Museum would later evolve).  He acquired an extensive knowledge of London buildings of all periods, particularly the Wren churches and St Paul’s Cathedral, which was reflected in work as diverse as the British School in Rome and the viceroy’s study in New Delhi.

I shall review examples as prelude to discussing his buildings in the City of London.

These City buildings were designed in the inter-war period, when he refined his classicism to address the challenge of new 'palaces of commerce':  Britannic House, Finsbury Circus (1920-4); the former Midland Bank HQ in Poultry close to The Mansion House (1924-39) and the Leadenhall Street branch (1928-32) and the former Reuters building at 85 Fleet Street (1934-38). The Palladian temple form of the Mercantile Marine Memorial (1927) facing Tower Hill from Trinity Gardens is one of his finest war memorials. These will be illustrated with my own photographs, supplemented by The Lutyens Trust Photographic Archive, and examples of Lutyens’ sketch designs, courtesy of the RIBA drawings collection.

In 1940, as President of the Royal Academy, Lutyens led a team of architects to prepare a reconstruction plan for post-war London, distilled from his core convictions of a sense of place and the enduring worth of classical values.  His concept for the St. Paul’s precinct was based upon the extensive clearance of bomb-damaged areas around the cathedral.  A major feature of this was the axial vista from the south transept to the Thames. Accepted in principle by the City of London Corporation, this vista (together with the Millennium Bridge) is one of the most significant additions to the post-war cityscape of the capital.

Sir Edwin Lutyens died on New Year’s Day 1944, and his ashes were interred in the crypt of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

The Master (centre), the Master Needlemaker, George Borthwick (left) and Margaret Richardson, Trustee of the Lutyens Trust.

The MILO Lecture of The Worshipful Company of Chartered Architects, ‘Lutyens in the City of London’, was given by the Master in the Jarvis Hall of the RIBA on 12 February 2013, before and audience of 225. This included Masters from over 40 livery companies, as well our own Livery, Freemen and Students, a sprinkling of Lutyens Trustees, architects and historians.  The choreography of thy event involved Geoffrey Purves, Renter Warden introducing Angela Brady, RIBA President, whose mellow Irish tones welcomed everybody and introduced me.

The wood-lined Jarvis Hall has the atmosphere of an exclusive intimate cinema of the 1930s – hardly surprising as it was completed in 1934.  The lecturing rostra are small pulpits either side of an enormous cinema screen.  I’d had a quality check of my presentation before finalising it, had seen it uploaded and tried it out well before starting time, so I knew it looked fine and the system worked.  A sound check made sure that, short of mumbling down at my feet, every word would be heard.  However, there’s always a feeling of apprehension as you start, until the adrenalin kicks in and you sail through the presentation.  I’d got notes for quotations, but barely used them, and in retrospect, while there were a few things that I didn’t say which I wished I had, there was nothing I had said, which I wished I hadn’t.  So it felt successful.

My lecturing technique has been honed by many years of speaking to the Decorative Arts Societies, ‘trial by tweed’ as we call it; ladies who lunch, with the killer instinct of judges on the X factor (or so I’m told since I’ve never watched it).  Assembled Masters, even those from the Great Twelve are pussy cats by comparison. Even so, I was relieved when Jaki Howes, Upper Warden chaired the question session, and put her oar in with a blinder about Lutyens’ contemporaries, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Peter Behrens confronting respectively the then limits of the Arts and Crafts and the emergence of Modernism, while Lutyens looked to the past.  One significant name was missing. ‘But you didn’t mention Frank Lloyd Wright, who was born in 1867’, I replied. ‘I don’t like Frank Lloyd Wright!’ came the riposte.  However that enabled me to discuss the synergy between FLW and EL, who met during the former’s visit to London in 1939, and the way in which the posthumously-published Lutyens Memorial Volumes became bibles in the Taliesin Studios in the 1950s (review copies surely since FLW wouldn’t have paid for them).  The question session was more rewarding than many, and Jaki ended with a vote of thanks that rounded off a lecture, which I am delighted to know raised the profile and prestige of WCCA.  Except for the Reception when people were happy to continue the architectural dialogue, rather than hasten away.  Obviously I can’t post a full text (there isn’t one) but the synopsis above together with a few pictures below gives the gist of my lecture.
Mervyn  Miller - Master 2013 WCCA

1. The former Reuters'/Press Association Building, 85 Fleet Street

 2. The former Midland Bank Headquarters, Poultry
3. The Mercantile Marine Memorial, Tower Hill and Trinity Gardens
4. Britannic House; the corner with Moorgate

1 comment:

  1. A very suave restaurant - 'The Lutyens' - in the rear GF of the former Reuters building. Worth a visit by those with fat wallets!