Architects honour husband and wife team: Michael and Patty Hopkins have managed to marry the ultra-modern with the traditional. Jonathan Glancey reports

Click to follow
The Independent Online
MICHAEL and Patty Hopkins, designers of the new opera house at Glyndebourne, the Mound Stand at Lord's cricket ground, the flamboyant Schlumberger laboratories near Cambridge, and the forthcoming Inland Revenue Centre, Nottingham, have been awarded the 1994 Royal Gold Medal for Architecture.

The award is among the world's most prestigious, a gift of the Queen and presented on her behalf by the Royal Institute of British Architects. Mr and Mrs Hopkins are only the second couple to have received the medal: Charles and Ray Eames, the American husband and wife team, won it in 1979.

The Hopkins' early hi-tech designs - notably their steel and glass house in Hampstead, north London (1975) - owed much to the work of the Eameses. The latter pioneered the use of industrial components in modern buildings, notably their own house in Santa Monica, California, built in 1949.

The couple set up practice in 1976. Mr Hopkins, 59, had been a partner in Foster Associates; he was project architect of the Willis Faber headquarters, the grand-piano shaped, black-glass office block in the centre of Ipswich, which is the youngest Grade I-listed building. Mrs Hopkins, 52, ran her own practice; both trained at the Architectural Association, London.

Their first buildings, such as the Greene King brewery, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, and the Schlumberger laboratories, made spectacular use of new materials and construction techniques. They pioneered the use, in Britain, of permanent lightweight fabric structures: the Mound Stand is the best-known example.

At Lord's, the couple married an advanced lightweight superstructure to an existing Roman- style brick arcade: it was this joining of ultra-modern with traditional architecture that made the practice popular with fans of the best contemporary architecture.

This method of forging a creative link between historic and modern architecture can also be seen in the practice's remodelling of Bracken House, the former Financial Times building near St Paul's Cathedral, London, and in the new 1,200-seat opera house at Glyndebourne, East Sussex. The Royal Gold Medal citation describes the Hopkins' work as 'not only a matter of exploiting technology to build beautifully, nor simply of accommodating difficult and changing tasks in the most elegant way, but above all of capturing in stone and transmitting in bronze the finest aspirations of our age'.

Current projects include the Inland Revenue Centre, offices for 200 MPs opposite the Palace of Westminster, a new performing arts and library building for Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and offices for News International near Tower Bridge, London.

'What best characterises the work of Michael and Patricia Hopkins,' the medal citation reads, 'is an equal appeal to ordinary people and to architects.'

(Photographs omitted)