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Aldington Craig & Collinge
on 8 July 2011
John Craig met his future partner at the house Peter Aldington had just completed at Askett Green in the early 1960s. He described seeing the house as a revelation. "As soon as you walked into the building you knew what it was all about. I suddenly realised, here is design that is totally integrated, in that all the materials are right for the job they are doing. It was the nearest thing I've ever had to a spiritual experience."
Commissioned as one of a series on some of Britain's most intriguing 20th Century Architects this delightful book gets under the skin of its protagonists, more like an illustrated biography than a monograph. Alan Powers tells their story with warmth and affection, interweaving the thought behind their work with the trials and tribulations of architectural practice that led the two founding partners to retire in 1986.
Their best known work continues to be the three houses Aldington designed and to a large extent built with his wife Margaret in the village of Haddenham, one of which, Turn end is still their home. The thoroughness with which the details were thought through, the quality of construction and the relationship between the house and its garden became the defining qualities of the practice's work.
Aldington and Craig began by collaborating on an informal basis but it would be seven years from their first meeting before Craig gave up his advertising job to join Aldington full time, working from the studio at Turn End. Paul Collinge joined as an assistant in 1972, became a partner in 1980 and continues to practice under the name as sole principal.
According to the partners the cornerstone of their practice was the briefing process. Powers explores their methods through the individual projects, Craig developing a meticulous brief with the client and agreeing it with them before presenting it to Aldington to convert into a built form. Craig often described himself as the client's representative in the architect's office enabling him to counter the presumed arrogance of the designer and ensure that the client remained a part of the process throughout. By following the logic of a well-prepared brief they avoided formulaic solutions and were able to neatly side-step the issue of style.
In the 1970s the practice experimented with precision-welded steel, neoprene gaskets and exposed services, a shift Aldington admits was made quite deliberately to counter the hairshirt image of the early houses. The sci-fi ductwork of the Wellingborough Medical Centre or the steel and glass box of the Wedgewood House derived as much from the architects' preferences as from the functional requirements of the brief but the rigour of the detailing and unity of the whole are just as strong as in earlier projects.
Powers places Aldington, Craig & Collinge as independent practitioners outside the mainstream of British modernism, drawing parallels with close contemporaries whose pre-occupations they shared such as the Smithsons, Stirling & Gowan and Team 4. While some of these architects achieved commercial success with larger projects Aldington, Craig & Collinge remained a small practice. Powers does not spell out to what degree this was intentional but the story is an excellent record of the struggle a practice faces in trying to carry out work of quality and integrity.
The only thing that lets the book down is its format. Several projects such as the Anderton House or Chinnor Surgery are covered in sufficient detail to convey their qualities but for others the drawings are too small and the photos too few. There is something appropriately humble about it but these buildings need to be felt rather than glanced at and require a more comprehensive presentation. What comes across most strongly is the intense humanity of the work and the dignity which it lends to the lives of the people that come into contact with it.