Expression & Restraint
John McAslan


John McAslan With Model Of Acton Training College

©Monica Pidgeon

My first recollections of wanting to be an architect date, I guess like most people, from childhood. I took a place to read architecture at the University of Edinburgh in 1972, although I knew very little about architecture at this point beyond an interest in traditional Scottish buildings and also a lively interest for the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his counterpart in Spain the Catalan modernist Antonio Gaudi. My commitment to architecture did not develop fully until I spent a four-year period intermittently working and travelling in the United States during university vacations between 1975 and 1979. I worked first in Baltimore with a company called ATKL Associates who were a large communal practice in Baltimore. I remember being enchanted by that city and its brownstones, its cast iron buildings and its animated waterfront. I "travelled extensively in the north eastern part of America. I ended up in Boston, where I worked with Cambridge Seven, introducing me to the type of practice I hoped eventually to run, which consisted of groups of design teams operating in an open studio environment. By late 1979 I felt it was time for another move. I had been briefly introduced to Richard Rogers in the USA and I returned to Britain to work in his studio, at the end of that year. During my three years at Roger's office I helped design and detail and supervise on site his PATS Centre Laboratory in Cambridge, as well as gaining the experience of working in an international office during a dynamic period. It was here too that I met my partner, Jamie Troughton who was a key member of the Lloyd's design team. Jamie left to form the practice in 1982, and I joined him six months later, early in 1983. Architecturally, our ideas were already developing from an interest in the [international modernism I had seen in the USA, combined with a continued love of "history, to an understanding from Rogers' office of the potential in the use of high technology in architecture. Rogers' high-tech introduced us to a set of "influences. But we were developing a much tougher architecture than high-tech and particularly our background makes us ever-conscious of tradition, honesty, restraint, climate, materials, economy, practicability and solidity; which combines itself well with our continued interest in the opportunities which engineering offers to our architecture. Slowly our work has evolved through its high-tech period (1984 - 86) and tentative experiments with modernism (1986 - 88) to a more direct modernist vocabulary.


Design House, Camden, London

©Peter Cook

I'd now like to pick projects which I think epitomise our developing architecture in various areas in which we've been involved: studio and office, residential, transport and educational and public buildings. As background to this I'd like to talk about briefly the growth in the 80's of refurbishment projects. During the 1980's Britain's economic boom created a demand for new offices, while traditional industry slumped. On the one hand the boom produced a spate of new custom-built office blocks, particularly in the City and in London Docklands, and the market in this case was international. At the same time small businesses prospered, especially those associated with construction (including architects themselves), design, advertising and public relations. Industrial decline had left a reservoir of empty space in the form of soundly built and often architecturally distinguished buildings which could be converted to studios for small firms. The Tory government's relaxation of planning regulations made it easier to build developments with mixed office and light industrial uses. We began our practice with the studio development at Design House, Camden Town, an economical refurbishment of a nondescript car showroom.

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