Sunday, 3 August 2014

Richard MacCormac: The City in Miniature

As a tribute to the late Richard MacCormac I thought I would post a few photos of his buildings in Oxford.

Jowett Walk, Balliol College. 

This is an example of his penchant for articulating a building as a series of towers.

The Garden Quadrangle, St John’s College.

This deeply historicist building was voted by the Oxford public as the best new building to be completed in Oxford in the last 75 years.

Kendrew Quadrangle, St John’s College.

An impeccably modernist building which reinterprets the quadrangle typology. It is a beautifully detailed building, mixing timber, steel and glass. It incorporates decoration distinctly influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright.

I have to admit I am puzzled by Richard MacCormac’s nomination of Burrell’s Fields at Trinity College, Cambridge as his best project, a project I admittedly haven’t seen in the flesh. If I had to nominate my favourite  MacCormac project  I would probably choose   the Bowra building in Wadham College. This building introduced me to the idea that there was more to MaCormac in Oxford than the Sainsbury building at Worcester College.

The student rooms are distinctly articulated, either by L-shaped  plans  or bay windows into two zones. This meets the  dual purpose needs of these rooms: studies and bedrooms. They are expressed as a series of towers. Expressing such small rooms as individual towers conveys an impression like that of a metropolis. However, perhaps the most inspired space in this building, intriguingly lies at the heart of the structure.

What is this space? Is it an external corridor or an internal street? It is remarkable, the way in which something as simple as stairs  can express the edge condition of a building so forcefully.

This is an example of the building as city in miniature;  a concept many architects have aspired to but rarely achieved as successfully as here. It is indicative of the level of intelligence at which MacCormac practiced architecture. I suppose many gardeners have produced remarkable things but only a master can produce a bonsai.

It is always a little sad that when someone as rich as Lord Sainsbury wishes to gift a building to a university, he chooses somewhere already financially as well endowed as Oxford University. Wouldn’t be good if poorer universities were occasionally gifted outstanding buildings? Still, must focus on the bright side. Great architect and great guy.