Obituary: Sir James Stirling

THE CITY of London denied itself a contemporary building of outstanding quality by Mies van der Rohe when the Secretary of State bowed to the perceived spirit of the age in 1985, upholding his Inspector's refusal to permit the development, writes Lord Palumbo (further to the obituaries by Mark Girouard and Jonathan Glancey, 27 June). He could well have heeded Dean Inge's famous injunction that 'a nation that is wedded to the spirit of the age will be a widow in the next'.

This site at No 1 Poultry is the most important in London. Mies's architectural style was in contrast to the buildings that surround the Bank junction. James Stirling was a contemporary genius who would design in context, and that was his brief. The atmosphere was charged; the conservationist tide was at full flood. He recognised that the design must be of superlative quality to overcome objections to the demolition of listed buildings in a conservation area. He respected the Mappin & Webb building at the apex by Belcher, and his first design retained the building with a contemporary building of his own rising behind it. This was not a cynical exercise in expediency, but an intellectual attempt to conserve the best on the site and to complement it. The City Corporation rejected the proposal out of hand.

Stirling had no talent and no gift for the politics of planning, he cared only for his art, creating the best upon a site of physical complexity and of great prominence both in terms of location and publicity. He then designed a building for the whole site, which the City Corporation rejected, but which the Inspector, in a subsequent and second public inquiry, described as a potential masterpiece. Stirling well knew the drubbing that he would receive from conservationists of every stripe, but the integrity of his purpose, allied to the physical bravery that he had exhibited during the war, animated his concern to create the very best. Any genius will be his own man; genius without temperament is a contradiction in terms.

Having determined the area that was thought appropriate for the mix of offices and shops within the permitted height limits and with the additional amenity of roof garden and restaurant, the design was left entirely to the architect. There were no quarrels, no differences of any kind. We gave James Stirling creative freedom. I relished his scholarship, his grasp, his knowledge, his laconic style, infectious creative vigour, cultivated aesthetic taste, his gargantuan appetite for life and the stark contrast between him and the pygmies whose prejudice and ignorance left him, as ever, the prophet whose people give him scant honour.

Stirling had fully designed No 1 Poultry before the development was finally vindicated in the House of Lords in February last year. The artistic creations of any society, in any age, are the badge of its civilised values. The genius of James Stirling could, in this age, provide such a badge. When No 1 Poultry is built, the City of London will possess that great rarity in our times - a building of outstanding architectural quality. That will be not only his monument but our claim to be a civilised community.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes