Sunday20 August 2017


Matthew Springett Architects presents models, but no buildings

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Ed Frith finds MSA’s founder in a candid mood at the first of this summer’s Architecture Foundation lectures

The expectation of the Architecture Foundation’s Summer Nights lecture series is slick presentation by bright young practices, new buildings and projects, with a summer breeze throbbing Isley Brothers-style through the swaying audience.

First up was Matthew Springett, who as Springett Mackay had undertaken work on Nicholas Grimshaw’s house, crafted a classic mews house for his parents, built a poetic swimming pool in Northern Ireland, and launched into a series of competitions. And he had also worked with Chris Wilkinson and Studio 8. Beautiful details and cool architectural renderings should have made for a mellow evening.

Instead, this was an edgy one. Outside there was lightning but inside there were no flashy photos of newly built projects. But there was thunder in the form of deep rumblings from Springett’s inner being. He soon revealed all: he was not happy doing soulless projects for small developers. He needed to find himself, he needed to regroup.

Had Woody Allen entered the stage to present an exercise in introspective flagellation? I was by now expecting him to reveal his star sign and discuss its relevance to his situation. “Regrouping” and “back to basics” were the terms he used — but perhaps this could be considered to be an appropriate response to economic conditions?

Springett used the lecture as a tool to find the fundamentals of his new practice, MSA. The key to its collective architectural production was the model. The model was to hold the night, the practice, the regrouped body together. The models presented were high quality, visceral and took us through a series of speculative projects under general titles.

Models were categorised during the design process according to concept; development; narrative; and testing for schemes as varied as quarries, bunkers, houses and schools. An intriguing, unwrapped model that drew out the briefing process of the Building Schools for the Future programme for a school in Birmingham was presented, plus an exquisite model of bunker-meets-quarry for a house in north London, currently in for planning.

Many architects leave their student past well behind them, but Springett referred constantly to his architectural origins — particularly his 1998 RIBA silver medal-winning project for a pig factory in New York — in his quest to “re-find” himself and the practice. He opened with images of his concept models and analysis, then introduced his interim models, before the stunning final models arrived. Other student models were shown by some of his MSA office associates. All were beautifully made and all, of course, came from one source: the Bartlett.

It was commented afterwards that “Bartlett” had cropped up over 60 times in the lecture. There were first-year models from teaching, analysis of how it was before and after Peter Cook, and comparisons with the AA. It appeared to be the lover returning to his first love.

Indeed, following a previous presentation of his practice’s work, Peter Cook had said that Springett had lost the essence of his diploma project, but he has now certainly returned to his modelling essence, and claims that testing and building will follow.

Slight frustration manifested in the audience that no buildings had been presented, but the therapists and teachers in attendance were nodding sagely at his self-analysis. This was a brave presentation by someone prepared to question his position instead of just going with the flow.

The AF’s Summer Nights lecture series continues with Voon Wong & Benson Saw on August 20 and Dow Jones Architects on August 27. Building Design Partnership, 16 Brewhouse Yard, London EC1. www.architecturefoundation.org.uk

Matthew Springett

Architecture Foundation Summer Nights, London


Original print headline - Models, but no buildings


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