ROBIN EVANS was a leading academic in architectural theory. But for the determination of his wife Janet, he would have joined Britain's academic exports. Instead, their family home remained rooted in north London, happy and welcoming, while from 1986 Bob Evans divided the academic year between Harvard and the University of Westminster (PCL) in London.
In the last year or so he was much in demand, and the offer of a professorship in London was imminent. To those that knew the years of struggling to earn a living as teacher and writer, the new jet-set academic complete with newly acquired laptop computer was wonderfully humorous.
Bob Evans grew up in Romford in Essex, and met his future wife, Janet Bance, at Romford County Technical School. Their background was not academic but the Sixties offered further education for all, and they took it eagerly. Janet read English at Leeds and Bob first went to technical college, then returned to school to take his A levels before studying architecture at the Architectural Association where he gained his Diploma in 1969 and the Bristol Prize. Access to education was formative in their lives, and gave both lasting dedication to its value. Bob Evans explored the world of ideas in architecture, and how they are manifest. Ideas which were by no means always benign, and his doctoral thesis at the University of Essex, tutored by Joseph Rykwert, explored the history of Prison Architecture and its philosophical underpinnings. Foucault's book Discipline and Punish was not then available in English, and Evans taught himself sufficient French to translate it. This was published in 1982 as The Fabrication of Virtue: English Prison Architecture 1750-1840.
Evans had a most original and brilliantly creative mind, never tied to a school of thought nor resorting to the need for a manifesto. Much theoretical investigation palls into faddishness when compared to his. His many essays and reviews, always in beautifully lucid prose, were published in journals such as Lotus, Casa Bella, Architectural Review, AA Quarterly, AA Files and 9H.
Seminal essays were splendidly encapsulated in titles such as 'Mies Van Der Rohe's Paradoxical Symmetries', 'When The Vanishing Point Disappears', 'The Developed Surface: An Account Of The Brief Life Of An 18th-Century Drawing Technique'. Reading these essays was demanding, as it forced the jettisoning of so many preconceptions, but led to a much richer understanding - by scholars and architects alike.
His recently completed book Architecture and its Three Geometries is due for publication next year by MIT, and in it he explores 'the nature of our reliance on projection, and how architects have attempted to escape from or to use it to advantage'.
Bob Evans was a fantastic teacher. His penetrating intellect was never used to intimidate but to enlighten at every level, relishing an enthusiasm and lack of cynicism found in his students and fellow teachers. He lectured widely: Harvard, Columbia, Pennsylvania, Princeton, MIT and Cornell in the United States, and Cambridge, the Architectural Association, and the Bartlett at University College London.
He was much loved by his colleagues and students. He was humorous and sometimes paradoxical, but a slightly shambolic appearance belied the organised person, just as the charming and kind manner made the deadly accuracy of his criticism more palatable. Everything for Evans presented a subject of interest - an MA student going anxiously for a tutorial full of serious thoughts about Heidegger came away relaxed into creative mood after analysing the Sound of Music. Evans's fascination was with the essence of ideas, and his own were startling in their originality.
This week he would have started a series of evening lectures at the Architectural Association titled 'The Picture Library' about which he wrote:
Imagination, as the word suggests, is about images - so at least we are led to believe. From Aristotle to cognitive science, the imagination has been described as pictures in the mind. But there is increasing disquiet about this idea. What if it were not? What else could the imagination be, and how can such questions affect what we do in architecture?
Bob Evans died suddenly at his home, tragically young and at a moment when his career promised so much more.
- More about:
- Higher Education
- Massachusetts Institute Of Technology
- University Of The Arts London