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The Ar­chi­tec­ture of John Simp­son

David Watkin (Riz­zoli, £55)

This sump­tu­ous vol­ume is a tes­ta­ment to a re­mark­able ar­chi­tec­ture ca­reer. When John simp­son boldly started to prac­tise in 1980, the Clas­si­cal flame seemed on the point of ex­pir­ing. That it has blazed back into life is, to a sig­nif­i­cant de­gree, thanks to him: his scheme for pa­ter­nos­ter square, re­plac­ing a mod­ernist mono­lith, was not built as he de­signed it, but the con­tro­versy cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of the pub­lic and won the sup­port of The prince of Wales.

Now, as we can see from this book’s glam­orous pho­to­graphs, Clas­si­cism is firmly es­tab­lished as a vi­able al­ter­na­tive to the main­stream and mr simp­son’s own cor­pus of work is far big­ger than any­one could have pre­dicted 35 years ago. And as ar­chi­tects do not re­tire young, there may be much more to come.

Va­ri­ety is as strik­ing as vol­ume. As The prince of Wales ob­serves in the foreword, mr simp­son has de­signed schools, art gal­leries, recital halls, ho­tels, univer­sity build­ings, chapels, mu­se­ums, li­braries, gym­na­sia, a de­bat­ing cham­ber and a mil­i­tary re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tre for se­ri­ously wounded ser­vice­men and women. in New York, he has been re­spon­si­ble for the first fully Clas­si­cal build­ing for half a cen­tury.

mr simp­son is noth­ing if not eru­dite and his an­tique sources are an­a­lysed in a pen­e­trat­ing text by David Watkin. Col­umns whose ori­gins lie in some­times ob­scure sites in Asia mi­nor are com­bined with crafts­man­ship rarely equalled since Lu­tyens and painted dec­o­ra­tion some­times rem­i­nis­cent of owen Jones.

how­ever, the ge­nius of simp­son is that his won­der­ful build­ings are more than the sum of these ex­quis­ite parts: he is a real ar­chi­tect—one, that is, whose mind nat­u­rally op­er­ates in three di­men­sions to achieve ef­fects of surprise and in­ge­nu­ity wor­thy of soane.

These qual­i­ties are to the fore in his sen­si­tive re­arrange­ment of his­toric build­ings, such as Kens­ing­ton palace, and make vis­it­ing The Queen’s Gallery at Buck­ing­ham palace a de­light. Clive Aslet

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