Cham­bers of Mem­ory, Richard Eng­land

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - BOOKS -

Life and ca­reer, re­flec­tions and ex­pe­ri­ences, anec­dotes and in­ter­ests Kite Group (2018) www.kite­group.com.mt 480 pages

Con­rad Thake I have to con­fess that my first en­counter with Richard Eng­land was with his ar­chi­tec­ture rather than with him as a per­son. It was way back in 1970, when my par­ents had en­gaged him as their ar­chi­tect to de­sign our new house on a va­cant plot of land in Marsas­cala that had been gen­er­ously do­nated to them by my ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther. By the time that the house was com­pleted and we moved in, I was then a 10-year-old child. Marsas­cala at that time was still a quaint and rather sleepy sea­side-set­tle­ment still un­con­tam­i­nated by the ram­pant spec­u­la­tive devel­op­ment that would sadly trans­form it into a labyrinthine-sprawl of non­de­script build­ings. I still harbour fond child­hood mem­o­ries of our house, spa­tially innovative and ex­cit­ing with an in­ter­nal con­crete bridge cross­ing over a spa­cious dou­ble­height en­trance hall and with a dis­tinc­tive large cir­cu­lar win­dow on the façade which com­manded scenic views over the Marsas­cala Bay.

My first per­sonal en­counter with Richard Eng­land would be many years later, in 1987/88, when I was in my fi­nal year of the un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree course in Ar­chi­tec­ture and Civil En­gi­neer­ing at the Uni­ver­sity of Malta. Eng­land had just been ap­pointed as dean of the Fac­ulty of Ar­chi­tec­ture and would act as the prin­ci­pal ex­am­iner of our fi­nal-year projects. By then he was not only Malta’s lead­ing and most sought-af­ter ar­chi­tect but he had also ac­quired con­sid­er­able in­ter­na­tional ac­claim for his ar­chi­tec­tural projects. Although his ten­ure as dean of the fac­ulty was un­for­tu­nately brief, he im­me­di­ately em­barked on var­i­ous rad­i­cal re­forms that were in­tended to re­vi­tal­ize the ar­chi­tec­tural cur­ricu­lum. His first ini­tia­tive was very telling as he re­cruited an art his­to­rian, Prof. Mario Buha­giar and one of Malta’s lead­ing artists, the late Al­fred Chir­cop to join the depart­ment and con­trib­ute to widen­ing the ed­u­ca­tional for­ma­tion of ar­chi­tec­tural stu­dents beyond the con­ven­tional cur­ricu­lum. Fur­ther­more, he tapped into his ex­ten­sive in­ter­na­tional net­work of ar­chi­tects to in­vite them to lecture in Malta and in­jected a new lease of life into what was pre­vi­ously a rather staid and in­su­lar state of af­fairs.

On a per­sonal level, my friend­ship with Richard Eng­land ma­tured from the mid- 1990s upon my re­turn to Malta fol­low­ing post­grad­u­ate stud­ies in North Amer­ica. We be­came good friends, meet­ing on a reg­u­lar ba­sis and shar­ing our views and ex­pe­ri­ences on cur­rent ar­chi­tec­tural de­bates and pe­ri­od­i­cally even col­lab­o­rat­ing on projects that were sub­mit­ted for in­ter­na­tional ar­chi­tec­tural de­sign com­pe­ti­tions.

Richard Eng­land’s in­ter­ests go well beyond the realm of ar­chi­tec­ture. He is an ac­com­plished artist, poet, sculp­tor, pho­tog­ra­pher and writer. His eru­dite knowl­edge of var­i­ous lit­er­ary texts is com­ple­mented with his life-long pas­sion for the opera, in par­tic­u­lar Ital­ian tenors. Richard is quintessen­tially a hu­man­ist, a mod­ern-day uomo uni­ver­sale in the Re­nais­sance tra­di­tion, em­brac­ing a wide spec­trum of in­ter­ests and artis­tic pur­suits. How­ever, it should be stressed that to him these en­deav­ours do not have rigid bound­aries, they are in­trin­si­cally fluid and per­me­able, all en­rich­ing in their own way. Still, in spite of his wide range of in­ter­ests he con­sid­ers him­self to be first and fore­most an ar­chi­tect. The Bri­tish poet Sa­muel But­ler once stated that “ev­ery man’s work, whether it be lit­er­a­ture, or mu­sic or pic­tures or ar­chi­tec­ture or any­thing else, is al­ways a por­trait of him­self”. And in this re­spect Richard, lit­er­ally breathes and lives ar­chi­tec­ture.

There have been var­i­ous in­ter­na­tional pub­li­ca­tions and mono­graphs that pro­vide ex­ten­sive cov­er­age of Eng­land’s ar­chi­tec­tural projects. It would have been point­less to re­it­er­ate and re­peat what has al­ready been widely dis­sem­i­nated. The lat­est ti­tle Cham­bers of Mem­ory is about Richard Eng­land’s life and ca­reer ex­pe­ri­ences and his hu­man­is­tic out­look. It is not in­tended to be an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy in the tra­di­tional sense of the word. It is not com­posed and pre­sented as a chrono­log­i­cal lin­ear nar­ra­tive of his life and ex­pe­ri­ences. Rather, it is dis­parate and frag­mented in con­tent and wide-rang­ing in scope. It fo­cusses on var­i­ous themes; on his favourite build­ings, ar­chi­tects, works of art, lit­er­ary texts, po­etry, mu­si­cal com­po­si­tions, etc. It also in­cludes var­i­ous anec­dotes as to his in­ter­ac­tions with for­mer teach­ers and ed­u­ca­tors, prime-min­is­ters and politi­cians, popes and cler­gy­men, fel­low ar­chi­tects and stu­dents.

It took quite a lot of coax­ing and armtwist­ing to con­vince Richard to put these me­moires and re­flec­tions to­gether. He was ini­tially re­luc­tant to em­bark upon this pro­ject per­ceiv­ing it as be­ing po­ten­tially self-serv­ing or be­ing mis­in­ter­preted as pre­ten­tious. Three in­di­vid­u­als were in­stru­men­tal in con­vinc­ing him to un­der­take this mis­sion, in this re­spect his beloved wife, Myr­iam, his son, Marc and the late ar­chi­tec­tural critic Charles Knevitt de­serve all due credit. The lat­ter had even con­ducted a se­ries of in­for­mal in­ter­views with him and col­lated sev­eral notes to­gether. Sadly, his hand­writ­ten notes jot­ted down on scraps of pa­per have re­mained as such due to his un­timely demise. In many ways, this vol­ume con­tin­ues along the same path ini­ti­ated by our dear friend Charles. Cham­bers of Mem­ory con­tains sub­mis­sions from some of the lead­ing in­ter­na­tional ar­chi­tects, ar­chi­tec­tural his­to­ri­ans and crit­ics who share a close friend­ship with Richard. This vol­ume tran­scends na­tional bound­aries and pro­vides the reader with unique in­sights as to the work­ings of the in­terna t iona l ar­chi­tec­tural fra­ter­nity. As one would ex­pect given the ar­chi­tect’s ex­ten­sive trav­els and par­tic­i­pa­tion in in­ter­na­tional projects there are var­i­ous en­ter­tain­ing anec­dotes from dis­tant lands as far afield as As­tana, Bagh­dad, Buenos Aries and Sofia. Cham­bers of Mem­ory is in­tended for a wider read­er­ship than ar­chi­tects and ar­chi­tec­tural stu­dents. It is a rich and di­verse mo­saic of life ex­pe­ri­ences of Malta’s most es­teemed ar­chi­tect with var­i­ous tan­gen­tial sources of in­flu­ences and ref­er­ences. The text goes beyond the purely ma­te­rial con­sid­er­a­tions and delves into a hu­man­is­tic and at times, even a spir­i­tual di­men­sion. Richard Eng­land dom­i­nated the ar­chi­tec­tural scene in Malta in the pe­riod from the mid-1960s to the be­gin­ning of the 21st cen­tury. This he did not only through var­i­ous high-pro­file build­ings but also through his nu­mer­ous writ­ings, pub­li­ca­tions, lec­tures and ex­hi­bi­tions. He has also over the years men­tored and served as an in­spi­ra­tional fa­ther-fig­ure to a younger gen­er­a­tion of ar­chi­tects – a kind of ar­chi­tec­tural émi­nence grise, still in­flu­en­tial and rel­e­vant. In the light of the ram­pant build­ing devel­op­ment we have wit­nessed dur­ing the past cou­ple of decades sev­eral of Eng­land’s ar­chi­tec­tural works mainly tourist ho­tels and vil­las have been lost. How­ever, two of his most im­por­tant works still sur­vive, the iconic Manikata par­ish church and St James’ Cen­tre for Cre­ativ­ity in Val­letta. One hopes that they will be trea­sured for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions to come. For as Ju­lia Mor­gan once wrote “my build­ings will be my legacy… they will speak for me long af­ter I’m gone”. The book is avail­able from lead­ing book­stores. Signed copies from www.kite­group.com.mt

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