Articles & Reviews
From The Architectural Review (November 2008)
Peter Carolin is a former Professor of Architecture at the University of Cambridge.
Trevor Dannatt: Works and Words, Roger Stonehouse, Black Dog Publishing
ISBN 9781906155216 £29.95
Reviewed by Peter Carolin
Few can claim to have played such a distinguished role in English architecture as Trevor Dannatt: sole survivor of the Festival Hall team, last secretary of the MARS Group, editor of the Architects' Year Book and much else. He even played a vital role in preventing Wren's Royal Naval Hospital falling into the hands of the private sector. This book records and analyses his fifty years of practice.
The nature and thoughtful quality of Dannatt's work is clear from the sections into which this book is organized – running from Hearth, Domestication and House through to Worship, Institution and Exhibition. Each is preceded by a short essay followed by building summaries. In addition, there are introductory essays by Roger Stonehouse and Dannatt and a sec lion containing the latter's writings.
Scattered throughout this book are quotations from a passage in T. S. Eliot's 'Little Gidding' – part of which, in his 1960 RIBA lecture, Dannatt used to summarise his approach to architecture. Referring to this passage, Stonehouse writes, 'There can be no more precise a description of (Dannatt's) intentions in bringing an architectural/technical order to his buildings, to the whole and to the parts, nor of the order and propriety he seeks ...'
Eliot's Four Quartets – of which 'Little Gidding' is part – draws on a musical analogy and it is intriguing to see it now applied to architecture. Just occasionally, this application seems to overcomplicate Dannatt's designs. But there are plenty of exceptions. Among these, the shop for Primavera (1955) was magical in its simplicity: the setting for the Jackson Pollock exhibition at the Whitechapel (1958) was brilliance on a shoestring; and the mosque in Riyadh (1975) embodies a rare spirituality.
This book is a timely celebration of a distinguished body of work. It is also a reminder of a gentler age in which, from very modest beginnings, a small office could work to a huge variety of briefs, crafting work of teal quality and providing settings which have enriched the lives of many. And it differs from so many current monographs in that it is not a means for practice promotion but an exposition of a particular line of thought.