About this talk

Running time: 23 minutes

The late British-born architect Colin St. John Wilson studied architecture at Cambridge and London University. After working in the London County Council in the 1950s under the then Chief Architect Leslie Martin (see Sydney Opera House and A Constructive Point Of View), he joined him in private practice in Cambridge from 1956 to 1970, and then set up his own practice, all the time continuing to lecture widely and write about architecture. In 1975 he became Professor of Architecture at Cambridge University.

From his long experience he built up, he says, an unshakeable conviction that it is essential to pursue "the patient elaboration of whatever technique is suitable to ensure a proper dialogue between architect and user of the building". Upon this foundation, the architect can then submit his design to controlled criticism and revision. And the design must serve "not only at the level of utility and visual pleasure, but also at a deeper psychological level where both the reality and the image of wholeness and of structure in the environment restore us to a measure of balance amid all our contradictions... Only then does a building become architecture". Fine examples of such are his early buildings in Cambridge (Caius Harvey Court, Peterhouse, his own house).

But the building for which Wilson is most widely known is the huge British Library complex recently completed in London, despite having been on the drawing-board since 1970.

Wilson has written at length about the architecture of democracy (as opposed to the architecture of power demonstrated in the monuments of the past). His design for the British Library presents us with such an architecture.

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Colin St. John Wilson


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