Obituary: Sir James Stirling

WHAT first struck me about Jim Stirling when he arrived in London from Liverpool was his powerful physical presence, writes Professor Joseph Rykwert. With time and age he put on weight - but even in his relatively early years he was 'Big Jim'. There was a gravity and an opacity about him which instantly arrested attention. A self-deprecating laugh softened the impact and masked the ambition and the intelligence without concealing them.

His fame had preceded him. His Liverpool teacher, Colin Rowe, one of the great teachers of architecture of his (and my) generation, had promised a brilliant new architect and Stirling's thesis design - for a university building composed of a mosaic of lecture theatres set sideways on the face of the block - showed his mettle and suggested a novel preoccupation, a quite different 'take' on functionalism from that of his contemporaries. Forms which had been generated and constrained by function so as to become irreducible, atomic, fascinated him. These he wanted to display and to relish in his designs - but also to frame and subdue them: the tension made him a true architect.

In his generation he knew best to resist the seductions of technology: a strong sense of irony kept them at bay, while his obstinacy and integrity preserved him from the soggy options of historicism. Yet he had a great love for the periods on which he drew most: the Twenties of this century, at the origins of modernism - but also the end of the 18th century, when a fascination with antiquity, with archaeology, transformed and enlightened the first industrial era. Unlike most architects, he had a very good eye for drawings, which he collected, as he did for furniture and ceramics. Nor were they just objects to admire; he loved using and handling them - and would himself wash the beautiful cylindrical cups from which his guests had drunk their coffee after dinner.

Maybe that gesture is quintessential 'Big Jim'. It has his love of beautiful objects, his independence and obstinacy - without all which some of the greatest buildings of our time, conceived and built against the indifference and the temper of the age, would never have happened.

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