Obituary: Peter Moro
Wednesday 21 October 1998
He was born in Heidelberg in 1911 and his style and accomplishment must have been in large part the product of his training, which began in Stuttgart and continued at the Technical University of Berlin-Charlottenburg. Moro was raised as a Catholic, but because he had a Jewish grandmother, he was asked to leave by the increasingly strong Nazi presence in school and transferred to Zurich for the final two years, studying under Otto Salvisberg.
He took his diploma in 1936 and came to England in the same year, having been promised a job by Walter Gropius who then claimed to remember nothing about it. Moro had 10 marks in his pocket, his English was limited to phrases he had heard in the movies and he could not understand feet and inches at all. Instead, he worked for Berthold Lubetkin and the Tecton Partnership for two years. There were many talented individuals there but, as Moro recalled, "it was thoroughly despotic - and I don't think you could have run the office in any other way, at any rate not with that sort of idiosyncratic approach to design. Lubetkin was by far the most interesting architect I ever worked with."
During this time, Lubetkin was designing the Finsbury Health Centre whose architectural form in many respects prefigures the Royal Festival Hall, for which Moro became the chief architectural designer in 1948.
In 1938, Moro was sharing a flat in Brunswick Square with Richard (later Lord) Llewelyn-Davies, then still a student at the Architectural Association, when they picked up a commission for a house at Birdham, Sussex. It is one of the least known but most original modern houses of the 1930s, sharing many of Lubetkin's poetic, even surrealistic devices, and was recently described by Moro in an article in the Journal of the Twentieth Century Society.
Shortly after it was finished, Moro was interned as an "enemy alien" on the Isle of Wight, a proceeding alleviated by the lectures given by Nikolaus Pevsner, a fellow-internee, and the concerts of the Amadeus Quartet. On his release, in 1941 he began to work at the Regent Street Polytechnic and established a reputation as someone who knew how to teach architecture in a modern way. Students from his class were drafted into the design team for the Festival Hall, working with the overall concept provided by Sir Leslie Martin at the LCC Architect's Department. "I chose a handful of the best of my former students whose ideas of design were sympathetic to my own."
As completed in 1951, to enormous acclaim, the building shows Moro's hand everywhere. Although the exteriors were altered in 1962 the interiors still show his care and wit in detailing, despite the intrusion of shops and cafes which he deplored.
In 1952, Peter Moro and Partners was formed, and carried out a variety of public sector projects until its dissolution in 1984. These included Fairlawn Primary School, Lewisham, 1957, of which Ian Nairn wrote in his guide, Modern Buildings in London, (1964), "some buildings get in this book through architectural elegance, more - not enough - through being humane and friendly places to be in. A very few are both, and this is one of them." Moro's own house in Blackheath Park, of the same year, a pavilion with a raised living floor, was described by Nairn as "guts with refinement". Thirty years later, it was one of the first post-war buildings to be listed, despite the prejudice against modern architecture then evident in ministerial circles.
In 1964, Moro completed his first theatre, The Playhouse, Nottingham. It was one of the earliest theatres to be adaptable either as a proscenium stage or as a "peninsular" stage, projecting forward. The theatre forms two sides of a paved pedestrian square, and inside it was an attempt to create a festive and ceremonial atmosphere for the audience "front of house", equivalent to the Festival Hall in intention and freedom of circulation, but achieved with the new vocabulary of rough concrete and cast metal reliefs by Geoffrey Clarke. The interiors here have also been altered, although not irretrievably.
Moro said "a theatre, however attractive, which does not work backstage, is a nuisance. A theatre which has the correct technology, but no magic, is even worse." He went on to design further theatres at Hull University and the Theatre Royal, Plymouth, completed in 1982, with an adaptable auditorium, which has proved very popular.
The practice designed much housing for the GLC and the Borough of Southwark. Its final commission was in 1983-85, for three theatres at the Academy of Performing Arts, Hong Kong.
Moro rejected criticisms of modern architecture, but in a way his whole output was a critique of what he called "the banality of functionalism", which, as he repeatedly demonstrated, could be overcome by the imaginative and technically skilful transformation of the ordinary.
Peter Moro, architect: born Heidelberg, Germany 27 May 1911; Lecturer, School of Architecture, Regent Street Polytechnic 1941-47; FRIBA 1948; LCC Associated Architect, Royal Festival Hall 1948-51; architect, Peter Moro Partnership 1952-86; CBE 1977; married 1940 Anne Vanneck (three daughters; marriage dissolved 1984); died London 10 October 1998.
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