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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment & HR Administrator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Business Partner

£55 - 65k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: A HR Manager / HR Business Partner i...

Recruitment Genius: Senior HR Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company's vision is to be t...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most