This exclusive interview with legendary architect Quinlan Terry of Quinlan and Francis Terry LLP was conducted by Nicola Linza and Cristoffer Neljesjö in Dedham, Essex during November and December 2010
Interview with Quinlan Terry
We would like to be able to discuss each of your seven misunderstandings about Classical architecture and its tradition, but if we may examine one misunderstood element, in your list of seven the first which happens to be pastiche. Please outline this as it is surely one of the most common misunderstandings of the Classical tradition.
I have re-read the piece I wrote over 25 years ago on pastiche in the 'Seven Misunderstandings about Classical Architecture' and have not much more to add. The word 'pastiche' comes from pasticcio which is a word used by Italian pastry chefs. The analogy with cooking is accurate because a good cook takes care to use natural ingredients to achieve the right interpretation of a classic recipe and he should not be concerned with adding his own personal originality or the spirit of the times. In my experience pastiche is now a derogatory term used by Modernists in their attempt to discredit classical architecture. That said, there are, sadly, plenty of examples of bad classical architecture carried out today which gives the opposition the opportunity to discredit the real thing.
In your writings about classical tradition misunderstandings you clearly note powerful and relevant connections made in the history of classical architecture, over time that have used and translated into timeless examples fostering new buildings. For example, you mention Bramante’s contemplation of the juxtaposition of the circular pagan temple (with an early Christian basilica,) having a direct impact on the Renaissance churches as seen in St Peter's. Would you please expand upon this theory in the classical tradition, and how it significantly translates into quality architecture today?
I think I did say something about Bramante's use of the way the juxtaposition of the circular pagan temple with an early Christian basilica. I am not sure how many opportunities we have to create the hitherto unused formula. In my experience it is more profitable to relearn the wisdom of the way people built and laid out cities in the past, particularly the use of squares, terraces and crescents, all of which seem to be anathema to the Modernists.
Please elaborate upon the importance of thermal mass in a building’s design, not only in terms of the classical tradition but moreover how this translates in terms of benefits in this age of environmental conservation and energy resource depletion further proving the inherent sustainability of the classical tradition.
I would refer you to my article 'Leaving an environmentally sound and attractive legacy' which was published by Notre Dame in 2005 when I received the Richard Driehaus prize. This covers my thoughts on thermal mass as well as thermal movement, longevity, carbon emissions in manufacture and the ability for materials to be re-cycled.
What in your opinion are the most important aspects of hand drawing and direct observation?
The important point about hand drawing is that it encourages you to spend time looking at a building. Ideally, if you can sit in a square in a reasonable climate and spend four hours looking at a building and then trying to convey what you see in three dimensions on to a piece of paper, the probability is that you will understand the building far better than listening to a lecture about it. I have already referred you to the Driehaus Prize booklet. There is an article by my son on 'Sketching with my father' which you might find interesting.
Of all the Regent’s Park houses we would like to focus on Ionic Villa. While you clearly create your own signature in the Classical tradition there are highly relevant and important relationships that can be described within this particular house. Please describe the importance of Palladio to the final plan of this structure.
It is difficult to remember all one's sources for buildings designed many years ago, but I do remember that one of the influences for the Ionic Villa was Villa Ragona on plate 40 in Palladio's Quattri Libri. It is an ingenious arrangement with a wide entrance hall leading to a staircase in the centre with doors into four rooms, and with a giant Order in the main front.
In Chester House, Belgravia you were given the opportunity to produce a new significant building in a conservation area. What unique aspects did that particular project present?
Chester House is just off Belgrave Square which was laid out in 1826 from designs by George Basevi. It was also strongly influenced by Cubitt. The building I designed was really an extension of Chester House and was not to be a particularly significant building. I always feel the highest praise that one can receive is that the finished building looks as if it has always been there, and that is what I attempted to do. The Greek Doric portico is characteristic of many buildings in Belgravia.
In closing, please describe the challenges and achievements working on the State Rooms at 10 Downing Street with the deficiencies you had to overcome, and especially as your mentor and esteemed colleague, the legendary architect Raymond Erith notably worked on the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works when you first entered his practice.
The State Rooms at No 10 Downing Street were not touched by Raymond Erith when he carried out his work in the late 50's and early 60's. They had been neglected and much of the architectural ornament had been reduced by previous incumbents. It was Mrs Thatcher's wish that these rooms should be upgraded because they were used to entertain important visitors. It is possible that William Kent had been involved in the 1730's but there was nothing left which would be regarded as Kentian except possibly the fireplaces, although even that is doubtful. I did not alter the heights of the rooms or the door openings or the window openings or their reveals. I simply added cornices to the rooms to make more ornamental ceilings and added surrounds to the doors and over mantels to the fireplaces.
We are priviledged and honoured to present the following epilogue which is being reproduced from private communication between Nicola Linza and Quinlan Terry with the expressed written permission of Mr. Quinlan Terry.
The more I think about the rights and wrongs of classical architecture, the more I feel that there are bigger issues at stake than the details of this kind. I suppose my concern is that classically minded people in the architectural world are seeking answers to the visual collapse of our society without realising that there is a bigger malaise which also needs to be addressed, and a greater hope and consolation than can be achieved by bricks, stone & mortar.
All my life, over the last 50 years, I have been defending supporting, upholding and - to some extent - suffering for the cause of classical architecture. It has been both a practical and ideological battle. Practical, in that the powers that be and the architectural establishment have an entrenched opposition to any return to traditional materials and the practical way of building; and ideological, in that we are opposed not by reason but a blind faith in the tenets of Modernism. In fact, what I have been up against is a religion, or rather a faith which I have opposed by reasons based on a belief in the wisdom and application of classical principles. It is ironic that in a secular age the primary battle is religious!
This aspect of the importance of belief is accurately described by David Watkin in the opening paragraph of his recent book "The Classical Country House".
"The Classical houses here derive from three beliefs; first, that the roots of the architecture of modern civilization lie in classical antiquity, second, that they were uncovered and revived in the Renaissance, and finally, that they should form once more the basis of modern architecture."
As I think on Watkin's evaluation of the beliefs of classical architecture I see how this runs parallel to the beliefs of classical Christianity, so it could also be said -
"Classical Christianity derives from three beliefs: first, that the roots of Christianity in western civilization lie in the teaching of the Apostles in the1st century AD which was anticipated by the patriarchs and prophets of antiquity. Second, that these roots were uncovered and revived at the Reformation, and finally that they should form once more the basis of belief and practice today."Christopher Wren rightly said that "Architecture strives at Eternity". My concern is that unless this new breed of enthusiastic classical architects can see things as Wren saw them this movement will become an idol which will end in disappointment. It is not a crusade, and although architecture is a satisfactory and worthwhile occupation, it could lead many to erect the superstructure for their lives on the wrong foundation.
All my life I have seen how classical architecture runs parallel with classical Christianity which I have also defended, supported and upheld (albeit feebly) over the last 50 years. I say the two have run parallel, in fact my conversion to classical Christianity and to classical architecture were influenced by similar causes. First, the sad and depressing realisation in my student days that the world around me was visibly, spiritually and morally in terminal decline. Second, my mentors and teachers would not sympathise with this view - they were wholly taken up with the idea of progress, and regarded my spiritual and architectural ideas as a vestigial characteristic of a bygone age. Third, I began to understand and love Pauline Christianity and Palladian architecture.
These final observations are not directly relevant to your questions. However, they do highlight the important comparison between our hopes for the present and the future. As we occupy ourselves now with designing beautiful buildings and look forward with enthusiasm to the day they are completed; so we should contemplate the chief end of our existence on earth and look forward to the city that has a permanent foundation, designed and built by the Supreme Architect. Indeed, whatever success we may achieve here bears no comparison in terms of scale, magnificence and glory with that city described (albeit symbolically) in the last chapter of the Apocalypse,
With best wishes
The above interview with Quinlan Terry 2011 © Manner of Man Magazine/Welldressed. All rights reserved. Reproduction is strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher.