Monday, November 20, 2006

Community Center for Newton Aycliffe: James Stirling's Thesis Project at the University of Liverpool School of Architecture (1950)

"Digging through the archives at the Stirling office, I came upon the original copy of his 1950 student thesis -- a community center. Stylistically, it falls somewhere between the Royal Festival Hall and Le Corbusier's Marseilles Block. Both had set powerful directions for European architecture at that time. But he doesn't let it go at that. There are peculiar, pointed exceptions to the prototypes.

"Like Marseilles, Stirling's thesis includes a roof-garden with mechanical equipment designed to function as roof furniture. But he rips off the sculptural disguise adopted by Le Corbusier, and fantasizes about the dynamic qualities of the exhaust stack, positioning his by now characteristic wind vane atop the building and strutting out the whole affair with guy wires like the equipment it is, rather than treating it as an abstract sculptural form.

"The building is also on pilotis, like Marseilles, but the planning reasserts connections to the ground in a manner Le Corbusier strenuously avoided, by the creation of a lounge-coffeeshop at the interface.

"Finally, like the Festival Hall, there is a sense of veneer, of the building as a thin container. But where Festival Hall's formal composition is gratuitous and ingratiating, the community center becomes airplane-like, with cross-braced wires and modular panels emphasizing the structural rigor of the design. No concessions whatever are made to the paunchy conventions of 'civilized' postwar Britain. It is, over all, an abrupt, rhetorical reply to the signal prototypes after the war. It says, 'I'm not having any,' without so much as a thank you.”

From Craig Hodgetts, “Inside Jim Stirling” Design Issues 100 (1976), quoted in Robert Maxwell, ed. James Stirling/Michael Wilford (Birkhauser 1999).

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