Michael Ventris (1922-1956) graduated from the AA in 1948. However, he will be remembered as the man who deciphered Linear B – an early form of Greek script used for writing Mycenaean. After hearing Sir Arthur Evans say that the Minoan tablets hadn’t yet been deciphered in 1936, he made it his life’s goal. By the age of 8 he spoke 5 European languages and throughout his life, he picked them up in a matter of months. He amazed his friends from the AA, Oliver Cox and Graeme Shankland, by slipping into the native tongue when they travelled to Italy and worked in Sweden together. Cox and Ventris’s entry to the T.U.C. Memorial Building competition were published in the AJ of 22.07.48.
Ventris’ mother was friends with the art world’s leading lights like Gabo and Moore. Breuer made their furniture and Gropius personally advised the young Ventris to go to the AA. But he had a brilliant, analytic mind that produced sterile architecture. The design for his own house, which appeared in Country Life on 12th November 1959, seems most conventional but Mark Girouard’s title ‘Keeping the Children Under’ alludes to the fact that the children had the ground floor while the parents lived above. His unconventional working methods in both architecture and deciphering were to involve everyone and be open about the problem and current knowledge.
Ventris was a man of means and gave up architecture in 1951 while he concentrated solely on his hobby of Linear B, which he finally cracked in 1953. Ventris then worked for the AJ as a researcher looking into architects’ information systems. The first two articles were published on 15th and 22nd November 1956. By then, Ventris had resigned and been killed in a car crash at the age of only 34.
Originally published in the Architects' Journal 28th August 2008.
|Architect & Building News, 16 July 1948, p.57|
|Country Life, 12 November 1959, p.830|
|Country Life, 12 November 1959, p.831|