Ted Cullinan

It’s hard to find somebody today who doesn’t have a good word to say about the latest RIBA Gold Medal winner, Ted Cullinan. So I thought I’d see how he appeared in the journals – the cutting edge of architectural historiography. His first new build was his Uncle Horder’s house (1958-1960) and actually published in House & Garden in May 1963. There were small appearances in the ‘70s, particularly with the Highgrove housing, but he really started attracting media attention around 1983 – half way between starting out and receiving his Gold medal.

In September 1983, the Architectural Review focused on “Romantic Pragmatism” – architects who “have a pragmatic approach to building organisation and construction, and a romantic sensibility”. Cullinan and MacCormac were put forward as the main protagonists, the former being called “the father of a generation of Romantic Pragmatists” in Brendan Woods’s article and both being called “The English Wet Brigade” by Peter Cook.

However, Cullinan’s real media moment occurred in May 1984, RIBA’s sesquicentenary. AR featured the rebuilding of Barnes church and Cullinan had requested that Cook write the criticism. Later in the issue, when asked the question “Is there a British tradition?”, Cook responds with “screw the English tradition” and Cullinan with “I think tradition is an active thing.” T.S.Eliot could have almost based his 1919 essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” on the pair.

But the real question is whether Prince Charles had read this issue of AR when writing his famous “monstrous carbuncle” speech for the RIBA later that month, claiming Cullinan as “a man after my own heart” and not-so-subtly suggesting that the school of Romantic Pragmatism could provide the alternative. Perhaps this is the reason that British architecture in the 1980s is now remembered for the High Tech movement.

(I am indebted to Jonathan Hale’s “Ends, Middles, Beginnings” for the references)

AR Sept 1983: pp23, 39-51 AR May 1984: pp24-31, 40-47, 58-59

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