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Friday25 July 2014

Tributes pour in for Alan Colquhoun (1921 - 2012)

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Profession pays respects to late architect and critic

John Miller, former partner at Colquhoun & Miller

“Alan and I worked together in partnership for some 30 years. We were friends for many more.

“He believed in the continuities of architecture. A typological approach being paramount. He brought a needle sharp critical mind and eye to bear on design projects as he did in his writing and teaching. His ex students have continued to benefit from the incisive criticism they received at both the AA and at Princeton University.

“There is a clarity in his essays on architecture. Words have been chosen with care to avoid prolixity, texts rewritten until free of any excess.

“He once wrote in Oppositions 12 that “Criticism occupies the no mans land between enthusiasm and doubt, between poetic sympathy and analysis. Its purpose is not, except in rare cases, either to eulogise or condemn, it can never grasp the essence of the work it discusses. It must try to get behind the work’s apparent originality and expose its ideological framework without turning it into a mere tautology.”.

“His last book Collected Essays in Architectural Critcism was published this year.”

Joseph Rykwert, Paul Philippe Cret Professor of Architecture Emeritus, University of Pennsylvania

“The passing of Alan Colquhoun is a great sadness, I had known him for sixty years or so, and was always impressed by the uncompromising clarity of his thinking as well as by his ability to draw with the same clarity as well as great speed - his drawing was like his thinking.

“His unflagging loyalty to the ideas as well as the formal language of the modern movement was an example to me - and, I hope, will continue to be so for many others.”

Robert Maxwell, emeritus professor of architecture at Princeton University

“I met Alan in 1946 when we were both in the Bengal Sappers and Miners, at Roorkee, India. He was then Captain Colquhoun, adjutant of Depot battalion, and I had one pip, so he was my boss.

“He loved India, and when his demob leave came up, he adopted the dhoti, and made a tour of India, anti-clockwise, starting with Jaipur, taking in Bangalore, Madras, Calcutta, ending in Benares, where he stayed with a friend Deben Battacharia, who later lived in Paris and became well-known as a collector and publisher of folklore. Alan always had interesting friends.

“I got married in 1951 to Margaret Howell, and Alan was my best man. When she divorced me in 1973 I married Celia Scott, and Alan was again my best man.

“We shared a friend in Sam Stevens, whose grandfather founded Bradfield, where Alan went to school, and whom I met at Liverpool University. Sam taught us both to enjoy late Beethoven quartets, and Alan became a fervent music lover. I learned a lot from listening in his company. At Roorkee, we both had cardboard boxes covered in black passepartout, containing 78 speed records of mainly Mozart. We shared them.

“As adjutant, Alan enjoyed a large bungalow with high clerestory windows, and my memory is of us lying on camp beds a few inches off the ground listening to Mozart’s piano quartet while a grave old gentleman called a punkah-wallah pulled a hanging sail to and fro to make a draught.

“At Rookee, after dinner in the mess we would lie on low wooden chairs waiting for sunset. As soon as the sun went down a beautiful fragrance from the flowering shrubs wafted over us, renewing our hopes for tomorrow. But by then Colquhoun had already left.”

Patrick Lynch of Lynch Architects

“Reading Alan Colquhoun’s ‘Typology and Design Methods’ was one of the experiences that I remember most vividly as an architecture student. Not because everything suddenly made sense, but, rather, because ‘everything’ suddenly got much more interesting and difficult.

“He doesn’t make complete sense and yet neither does architecture – the imagination isn’t really methodological, but it’s not solipsistic invention either.

“As a consequence of his heuristic approach to architecture, design and history - or rather, experience and theory - suddenly seemed to me to be two sides of the same coin; and he taught us that it was fine to talk about them as such. A better metaphor might be: that praxis has different sides to the same scale rule.

“Alan Colquhoun reminded us that whilst not all good thinkers are really good architects, you rarely find the latter who isn’t also primarily the former.”

Christoph Grafe, co-editor of the recent issue of Oase devoted to Alan Colquhoun

“The first time I met Alan was at the TU Delft in Holland in the late 1980s, when students had invited him for a conference titled ‘Context and Modernity’. I remember how impressed we were by the lucidity and the elegance of his argument, but above all by his very genuine eagerness to share his thoughts with students, without even the slightest hint of attitude.

“Much later I met Alan regularly in London. In our conversations it struck me that he never lost his curiosity and readiness to engage with new ideas, and, while his body was failing him, he seemed to bemiraculously rejuvenated by conversations.

“Last year Alan went to Wolfenbüttel, a small town in Northern Germany, and his account of being in the house once inhabited by the Lessing, the author of Nathan the Sage, was one of youthful enthusiasm. For me Alan embodied a humanistic version of the spirit of enquiry of the Enlightenment, in a way that is rare among architects and writers on architecture.” 

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