Brunswick Life

patrick hodgkinson british architect_1930-2016

Patrick Hodgkinson (1930-2016)

It is with great sadness that we record that Patrick Hodgkinson, the architect of the Brunswick, has died aged 85. He died in his sleep on Feb 20th after a long illness. He last visited the building to be interviewed for a film about it made by a group of young film makers. He had previously opened the refurbished Tenants’ and Residents’ room when the major refurbishment carried out by Allied London was finished in 2006.

Patrick Hodgkinson was, in the 1960’s, one of England’s most successful and influential architects, running a practice from his large house in Bayswater and driving a dark blue drophead Aston Martin. At that time he was the architect for the redevelopment of the Foundling Estate – which was to become the Brunswick Centre – having acquired the commission when he was working with Leslie Martin in Cambridge and during which time he designed Harvey Court, transforming an initial scheme by Martin and Colin St. John Wilson into the canonical brick stepped section, a building and partis that exercised a considerable influence on a whole generation of architects and students and which was described by a young Cedric Price in Granta as a C14 building with 13 amp plugs, much to Patrick’s enjoyment.

He also had considerable influence on the design of the Oxford Law Libraries. Martin had heard of this talented student possibly via Alvar Aalto in whose office Hodgkinson had worked in 1956 before graduating from the Architectural Association, but more likely via Wilson scouting for talented young architects. In Harvey Court he demonstrated his ability to fuse rationalist principles with Aalto’s profound humanism. Originally asked to become involved in a housing project for the London Borough of St. Pancras he became a central figure in the Martin Studio. When that project failed to proceed he continued to flourish under Martin’s benign aegis but regrettably developing a lifelong rivalry with Wilson.

Hodgkinson was one of an extraordinary group of students at the AA comprising Kenneth Frampton, John Miller, David Gray, Adrian Gale and Neave Brown. Brown has said that he was ‘the most prescient of his AA cohort’, for Frampton ‘the most talented’ and for Miller ‘he stood out as a star’. His 1953 Brixton Housing Project developed ideas in contradistinction to the then current LCC fashion for mixed development – inspired by Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse and Unité in Marseilles. He explored the ideas of low rise high density in an attempt to renew the city in a more English way, building on the precedent of the Georgian terrace, enriched with a sectional complexity and providing a direct relationship to the ground and thereby the street. These were ideas subsequently developed by Martin and colleagues in the Land Use Built Form Centre in Cambridge.

His relationship with the Brunswick Centre came to an end when McAlpines, who had bought the site from the original developer, imposed an unrealistic programme for the working drawings and he felt he had no alternative but to resign. There then followed a very difficult time when a major commission in Oxford – Wellington Square – foundered, he was tutoring at the AA with David Shalev (when David Chipperfield was one of his students) but he failed to land the deanship of Cornell and his second marriage was in trouble. Salvation of a kind presented itself in securing a teaching post at the University of Bath where he established himself, carving out a role as a passionate and inspired teacher. His illustrated talks on Utzon, Aalto and Mount Athos are still vivid in my mind from the early 1990s when I got to know him while teaching there.

And it was in this mode that his teaching career came to a close around 1995. Still combative he saw off attempts by other architects to alter and/or extend the Brunswick until Allied London had the inspired idea to appoint him as architect for the refurbishment in the late 1990s. Assisted by Levitt Bernstein under the guidance of his old assistant David Levitt, he masterminded a transformation of the then unloved and unpainted SS Brunswick into a more intimately scaled and lively shopping concourse with Waitrose at its northern end and the previously utilitarian southern entrance transformed, with Carluccios and French Connection replacing the ramps for service vehicles. It meant that the long period in the wilderness, during which he never doubted the good sense and architectural and urbanistic value of ‘his bit of Bloomsbury’, was rewarded by Mike Ingall of Allied London’s faith in him.

I have lived in this building for over twenty years and grown to appreciate what an extraordinary achievement it is. Few architects can boast of anything comparable. As Alan Powers wrote some years ago about the portico to Brunswick Square, “Against the evening light, or on a winter’s evening, the tall thin columns standing out against the chiaroscuro background provide one of the few genuinely sublime architectural sights of London. “

Brendan Woods, 04/03/16

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