Lasting impression

A Mole's-eye View of Modernism


As a diagram of functional modernistic expression, I think Denys Lasdun’s Charles Clore House 1 (1976) at University College London is terrific. It’s successful in a way that you wouldn’t necessarily expect, because it’s a really big building [its elevation is 230m long] and it’s sitting in streets of Georgian townhouses. But the fineness of detail – both of the board-marked concrete and the bronze anodised cladding above – makes it work.

I’ve long been a fan of Peter Zumthor’s work. The Bruder Klaus Field Chapel 2 (2007) is built out of rammed concrete – the same technique we are using on his Secular Retreat project in Devon – and the richness of the expression and the contrast between the inside and the outside, which could only be achieved in concrete, looks absolutely extraordinary – both as an imaginative feat and in terms of the actual experience.

Grafton Architects’ University of Limerick medical school and residences 3 (2012) is a heroic bit of modernist architecture that could only be achieved with concrete. There are cantilevered floors and a fantastic section around a four-storey atrium. I’d love to go to Peru to see the UTEC building they did afterwards. Because of the climate, it’s able to be much more open, exposing more of the structure – but actually it’s all there in the Limerick building. Once you go inside, you experience the space and the structure and material in a way that is incredibly rich and exciting.

There’s a different version of modernism in the 1950s buildings of Colin St John Wilson and Leslie Martin in Cambridge, such as Martin’s Harvey Court student halls at Gonville & Caius College 4 (1962). There’s a really interesting marriage between brick and concrete, where the concrete is used inventively – you couldn’t have cantilevered the construction without it – and in an expressive but not overwhelming way, while the brick makes it relate better to the historic context.

Meredith Bowles is principal and design director at Mole Architects