Lord Patel had the chance at Leicester University to hear a talk by James Stirling who had designed the new building for the Engineering Department in about 1962.
He was an entertaining , larger than life chap, resembling an unmade bed who seemed bewildered about the remarkable praise James Stirling Michael Wilford and Associates were getting for their building.
He spoke with remarkable frankness about the problems on site - the then novel extruded aluminium window frames, especially the complicated joints on the workshop roof requiring his direct attention atop a ladder to explain the drawings to the fitters.
The celebrated "raw brutalism" of the concrete shuttered interior stair wells, were in fact dictated by rising costs. Shortage of funds meant the clay floor tiles that should have been laid on all stair cases and landings were dropped - as a result the bottom riser on every stair case is slightly higher than the remaining treads.
A friend, Tom Shearer, became the Bursar of the Engineering department and struggled for years trying to stop the windows leakign and eventually ended up colour coding the windows with sticky labels, for those that should remain shut, those that could be opened for a couple of inches and the remaining few that could safely be opened without falling out. As the building was not air conditioned, hot summer days could be unbearable.
The tiles that clothed the tower were constantly falling off, which was not only hazardous but could only be replaced at great expense.
The cheerful old fraud went on of course on a stellar career to produce a library / greenhouse for Cambridge which either fried the books and their readers or leaked so badly you required an umbrella to study.
We mention this because he was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize as was Jørn Utzon who died yesterday at the age of 90.
In 1969 Lord patel was on his Grand Tour and took in the Utzon designed Sydney Opera House which he had been struggling to build with the help of Ove Arup his seminal and famous building. In 1966 Jorn Utzon had left Sydney, never to return after cost soared (The final cost exceeded budget bu 100% eventually) and he got fed up with the politics.
In 1969 it was a hole in the ground and funded by endless lotteries.The good news is that Jorn Utzon who had retired to Majorca - with his son Jan and their firm Utzon Architects - recommenced work with the Sydney Opera House Trust on renovations.
Utzon at the same time was also building The Kuwait National Assembly famously slings a huge curved canvas over the main spaces: square, parliamentary chamber, large conference hall, and mosque. Quite why this country, which is entirely run by the El sabah family need a National Assembly is one of the mysteries of Gulf Politics.
Housing Projects in Denmark
Probably Utzons finest contribution outside these two buildings were the state funded Kingo Houses in Helsingør. Built just before Stirling started work in Leicester these 63 simple houses were built within cost restrictions set up by the government to keep the costs below a certain level for low income workers. The 63 houses were built following the undulations of the site, providing a specific view for each house, as well as the best situation possible for sunlight and shelter from the wind.
He had noted that in China, farm houses were completely closed to the outside, but open to a central court. He also observed that in Turkey, a building regulation prohibited any building that would block the view of existing houses.
These are located about 45 kilometers north of Copenhagen (Koebenhavn) on the Island of Sealand (Sjaelland) and are known locally as Romerhusene (the Roman houses) because of the typical roman atrium-architecture. Romerhusene and their adjoining areas were listed as worthy of preservation on 30th June 1987. (booklet in English about them here .pdf)
A second project for housing for Danish foreign service retirees at Fredensborg in about 1961 consisted 47 courtyard and 30 terraced houses grouped around a square in staggered blocks of three, with all entrances from the square. Each house had a view of, and direct access to, a green slope.
Two points arise. Why can't public housing simply copy these superb schemes ? The other , those interested are advised to root around and look for his other Danish projects eg the magnificent mid '602 Esbjerg (pop 130,00) Municipal, theatre, arts centre.