Space & Community
John Miller


John Miller

©John Miller & Partners

I was a student at the AA in the mid 50s and like most of my contemporaries was convinced of the certainties and benefits of modern architecture which was founded on the work of the first generation of the pioneers. We were dismissive on the one hand of the '51 Festival style and, on the other, of the dilute examples of modernism in the shape of the all pervading housing schemes which dominated the architectural spectrum then. For example, our drawings were conceived as a means to an end. They were rarely conceived as works of art which is a contrast to the present preoccupation of schools. Our attitude to the existing fabric is that, at best, it was to be foil for the new and, at worst, it was to be replaced. At any rate, it was not to be accommodated. By the mid to late 60s the position had changed. And by that time of course I had formed a practice with Alan Colquhoun my late partner in 1961, and such utopian tabula rasa schemes were beginning to be challenged. And by the mid 70s the advent of Post Modernism was a further challenge to the status quo. For my practice with Alan Colquhoun this manifested itself in several ways. When I say 'manifested' I mean the interest in the study of our subject was modified as a result of the discussion, the discourse which was taking place outside. We became interested in a variety of things: in industrial building techniques on the one hand and, in contrast to this, in the work of the turn of the century architects. In terms of the way in which the practice developed with Alan, we started off working with the education sector up to about 1970. And then from 70 onwards through the early 80s we were almost exclusively concerned with local authority housing. And it was during that period, the latter period, when we started questioning the roots of our architectural position, that certain changes manifested themselves.


Caversham Road Housing, North West London. Exterior

©John Miller & Partners

Taking an example of housing: we had a number of projects in the office, one of which particularly I think was extremely important for us was a small infill in Camden Town, Caversham Road. It was two maisonettes stacked one on top of the other, completing a pair of semi-detached units that had been bombed in part during the War. So we had to complete the, what had been, a semi-detached house. The interesting thing was whereas previously one had imagined local authority housing to be either the simple 3-up-2-down convention, or the frame building which was stacked up in nine storeys, as a kind of convention for dealing with housing; here we were with a 19th century villa type which, in itself; was to be a condenser of a different sort, it had to accommodate two units in a shell, an envelope of a conventional, of the 19th century house, with front door, porch etc. etc.

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