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Thursday24 July 2014

A toast for Isi

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Ellis Woodman joined hundreds of friends and admirers to remember the late Isi Metzstein

The original plan was that Saturday night’s tribute to the life of Isi Metzstein might be held at Glasgow’s Art School. However, it soon became apparent that the numbers of friends and admirers eager to pay their respects would demand a different scale of venue altogether. 

And so we found ourselves in Gilbert Scott’s gothic Bute Hall, a room which many of the former Metzstein students in attendance had last visited when sitting their exams. The assembled fanclub filled this cavernous hall comfortably – there must have been close to 500 guests. 

All Glasgow’s architecture scene was there while the sizable contingent across from Edinburgh for the night included Richard Murphy, Niall Gillespie, and the two Charlies, Sutherland and Hussey. The London train had brought Isi’s one-time students Clare and Sandy Wright, Amin Taha, Tim Pitman and Luke Tozer, as well as former teaching colleagues Richard MacCormac, Ted Cullinan, Julyan Wickham, Gordon Benson, Brendan Woods and Gavin Stamp.

The speeches were largely scripted by the late lamented himself. Acerbic Metzstein one liners were recounted with relish. Richard Murphy recalled his assessment of the entries in the Inverewe Visitor Centre competition – “Muff, these other schemes are so shitty, you might just win.” 

We heard about the time that Dick Cannon made the mistake of asking Isi what he had made of one of his buildings – “I didn’t like it but it could have been worse.” And close to the end, when he was drifting in and out of consciousness, an enquiry about whether he was awake was rewarded with: “Just because I’m awake, doesn’t mean I’m alive.”

As everyone gathered on Saturday knew well, being given a hard time by Isi Metzstein had been one of life’s great pleasures. If it was impossible to take offence, it was perhaps because it was clear that his central motivation was always to see you succeed. As his daughter Ruth observed, he was someone who had lived to stimulate people.

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