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