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Downing College + University Arms Cambridge

What Has Been Will Be Again

The late David Watkin, Professor Emeritus of History of Architecture in the Department of History of Art at Cambridge University, was a super fan. He wrote at least two books on the architect: Quinlan Terry (2006) and Radical Classicism The Architecture of Quinlan Terry (2015).

Pastiche is a criticism often levelled at neoclassical architects but rarely at Modernist practitioners. Sammy Leslie, châtelaine of Castle Leslie, gives a sharp riposte to any suggestions of pastiche aimed at the traditionally designed houses by Dawson Stelfox of Consarc Design Group in the walled estate of her County Monaghan castle. “They’re original designs, not copies. For example, although they’re village houses, the bay window idea comes from the castle. The development is all about integration with the existing village. It’s contextual. These houses are like fine wine. They’ll get better with age. There’s a fine line between copying and adapting but we’ve gone for the latter.” And as Ecclesiastes 1:9 notes, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

Professor Watkin certainly believed in the aging Cabernet Sauvignon argument, and, evidently, the Oxford Comma. “Quinlan Terry notes that the Psalms are a patchwork of Moses and the Prophets; that in the New Testament the apostles constantly quote the Old Testament; and that Shakespeare can only be understood properly when one realises that he is frequently quoting earlier writers. Aristotle claimed in the Poetics that imitation, mimesis, is the common principle of all the poetic arts. He believed that the instinct of imitation is implanted in man from childhood and distinguishes us from the animals. For him, poetry is the imitation of life through rhythm, language, and harmony. The inventive response to precedent as well as the role of imitation are demonstrated by the fact that three major works of Quinlan and Francis, Hanover Lodge, Kilboy, and Ferne Park, have all involved their making sympathetic yet imaginative and large scale responses to earlier buildings, which, in the case of Ferne, they had designed themselves.” Jeremy Musson admired Kilboy in Country Life (2016) “Kilboy is a masterpiece, a highly crafted interpretation of the Palladian tradition that cannot fail to impress.”

Critic Jonathan Meades as ever gets it right. He writes about the “worldwide scream of accusatory architects: ‘Pastiche!’” in his essay France in Pedro and Ricky Come Again (2021). “The architectural doxa decrees that pastiche is a Very Bad Thing Indeed. The collective convention forgets the history of architecture is the history of pastiche and theft: von Klenze’s Walhalla above the Danube is based on the Parthenon; G G Scott’s St Pancras borrows from Flemish cloth halls; Arras’s great squares are imitations of themselves.” And in his essay Obituaries in the same collection: “Architecture like poetry is founded in copyism and plagiarism – both vertical, looting the past; and horizontal, stealing from the present. The obscure past, of course, and the geographically distant present.”

Quinlan Terry has designed several infill buildings in the sedate setting of Downing College, Cambridge. David Watkin writes, “The Fellows of Downing College voted for the appraisal of Quinlan Terry’s Howard Building (1986 to 1989) in 1983, not so much because he promised classical forms, but because they were persuaded that any building by him would be solidly constructed and would have a long life. Cambridge was by now acutely aware of the structural and environmental faults of the structural and environmental failures that afflict High Tech modernist glass buildings – James Stirling’s famous History Faculty Building (1964 to 1967), for example, was visibly decaying and surrounded by a wire fence labelled ‘Dangerous Structure. Keep Out.’ Members of the History Faculty came within one vote of demolishing it and replacing it with something more sensible.”

But demolition of the prominent neoclassicist’s buildings has indeed occurred. Professor Watkin again, “Terry also provided Downing College with a modest, one storied, freestanding Junior Combination Room that resembles a garden pavilion, as well as Richmond House, a range of shops and offices that fits effortlessly into Regent Street, next to the college.” The three storey plus attics Richmond House on Regent Street backing onto the grounds of Downing College is safe for now. But the single storey Butterfield House as the Common Room became known as is for the chop. Inefficiency of volume is the justification. Kathryn Ferry notes in Bungalows (2014), “The first book specifically dedicated to bungalow design was published in 1891 by the architect Robert Alexander Briggs.” Architects of the moment Caruso St John have secured planning permission to replace the 1987 building with a larger three storey block. Caruso St John’s design is still inspired by William Wilkins’ college buildings but is a much more streamlined toned down lower key less prescriptive interpretation compared to its predecessor on this site. Unusually, the replacement stone faced building will incorporate a hardwood panelled pediment over the second floor.

Two presumably more permanent 20th century additions to Downing College are Howard Court and Maitland Robinson Library. Again, the Professor Emeritus is full of praise: “Terry’s Howard Court at Downing College, a three storied range of chambers 11 bays long, continues the Doric colonnade of the Howard Building at right angles to it but as an open internal passageway. Casement windows on the top storey echo those in the nearby buildings from 1930 to 1932 and 1950 to 1953 by Sir Herbert Baker and A T Scott. A generous building of Ketton stone with widely spaced windows below broadly projecting Tuscan eaves – a development of Terry’s houses in Frog Meadow in Dedham – Howard Court is popular with the undergraduates who live in it.”

“Terry built the square planned Maitland Robinson Library (1990 to 1992) at Downing College of loadbearing Ketton stone,” explains David Watkin. “Its many Grecian references remind one of Wilkins’s scholarly knowledge of Athenian architecture, and include a powerful Greek Doric portico inspired by the gateway into the Roman Agora (10 BC) in Athens, and Wilkins’s own unexecuted Greek Doric porter’s lodge for Downing College, inspired by the Propylaca in Athens (439 to 432 BC). Additionally, the portico of Terry’s library, especially in its relation to the rest of building, echoes Wilkins’s now demolished portico of about 1805 at Osberton Park in Nottinghamshire. The metopes in the Doric frieze of the library are filled with large scale carved symbols representing the subjects taught and studied in the college. The doorcase in the portico combines Greek work, including canted architraves, with references to Michelangelo’s elegant doorcase in his Medici Chapel in Florence (begun 1520). The capriccio of Athenian references includes the octagonal tower surmounting the library, inspired by the Tower of the Winds in Athens (1st century BC), and the eastern portico, which is indebted to the now destroyed Choragic Monument of Thrasyllus (319 BC) on the Acropolis. The top lit octagonal staircase hall contains panels of stucco decoration designed by Francis Terry and inspired by those of the Ata Pacia in Rome.” Andreas Papadakis writes in Classical Modern Architecture, 1997, “The entrance door is a combination of Greek key pattern with splayed architraves.”

He jumps to Quinlan Terry’s defence once more: “Criticism of the Howard Building came from the distinguished critic Gavin Stamp in the Architects’ Journal in March 1988, even though he had previously written in praise of Terry’s work in Architectural Digest. His condemnation of the handling of the classical language in the Howard Building and of its ‘sham’ features were refuted, respectively, in two accompanying essays by the distinguished historian Sir John Summerson, and by the architect Léon Krier. Summerson explained, ‘I had an opposite opinion to Stamp where the exterior is concerned. My own first view of the building gave me a rare shock of pleasure. Here was a façade with something to say in a language that I happen to understand and love. The general proportions and the distribution of openings seemed absolutely right: the Corinthian order took my fancy – it has been carefully studied.’ Krier claimed that ‘if applied universally, Stamp’s criticisms would indeed have to condemn the majority of classical buildings in Cambridge and the world. It is that kind of moralistic radicalism that established and maintains Modernism’s intolerant reign.’ Stamp’s article, and the essays by Summerson and Krier, were reprinted for an American audience in the journal Progressive Architecture, in July 1988.”

Opposite Richmond House and overlooking Parker’s Piece is the University Arms, one of few hotels in Cambridge. Neoclassical architect John Simpson and interior designer Martin Brudnizki, the latter best known for fitting out The Ivy restaurants, revamped an existing Victorian and Edwardian building that had 1960s extensions. John Simpson really came to the public’s attention, or at least the coffee table magazine reading public’s attention, in 1991 with the house he designed for his parents. Ashfold House near Cuckfield, West Sussex, popped up absolutely everywhere from House + Garden to the Daily Mail Book of Home Plans. Clive Aslet lavished praise on the villa; his opening line in Country Life was, “Ashfold House is everyone’s dream. Later in the decade, Andreas Papadakis describes the building as, “A small country house, compact and practical for everyday use, but with the grace and proportions of an 18th century residence.” It is something of a reduced cross between Pell Wall Hall and Pitzhanger Manor given a cloak of Palladianism. University Arms, with its bulky new porte cochère bulging onto Regent Street, is definitely more on the Quinlan Terry end of the stylistic spectrum than the Caruso St John end.

The best place to take in a panorama of Cambridge, old and new and somewhere in between, is from the 360 degree viewing platform on top of the 800 year old tower of Great St Mary’s University Church. Immediately below the parapets are The Guildhall, King’s College and Chapel, Michaelhouse Centre and the Wren Library. Downing College blends afar into the honeyed blur of the city.

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Architecture Country Houses

Samarès Manor Jersey + Seigneur Vincent Obbard

Entertainment Value

These houses were built for entertaining. Samarès Manor is the only historic estate open to the public in Jersey. To that end, there’s plenty of entertainment to be had! You can tour the house; eat, drink and be very happy in the Herb Garden Café which breaks out under a verandah; stay in The Barn, The Forge, The Coach House or Farmhouse Apartments; walk the grounds; shop in the shop; and get married on the lawn.

The grounds are rich and varied. There’s the Japanese Garden with a pagoda and lake. The Walled Gardens contain the Herb Garden; Rose and Lavender Garden; and Fruit and Vegetable Garden. There’s the Willow Labyrinth and an ancient dovecot, or “colombier” as it’s called in Jersey French. In 1924, English businessman Sir James Knott, founder of Newcastle Pearl Shipping Line, bought the 5.7 hectare estate for £100,000 as his retirement home. He employed 40 gardeners to create the gardens. There are still eight gardeners employed on the estate.

The current 72 year old incumbent (Sir James’s widow Elizabeth remarried and had a son), Seigneur Vincent Obbard, lives in a first floor apartment in the house. Samarès Manor is long and low and colonial looking with green shuttered windows. Its architect is unknown. The island isn’t renowned for record keeping. “Much of Jersey’s history is conjecture,” says our Blue Badge guide. While there’s been a house here since 1250, the building today is mostly 18th century.

The low ceilinged three bay entrance hall has yellow walls and a stone flagged floor. “Historically, the Seigneur had the right to salvage. Legend has it that this Italian stone floor came from a wreckage!” There are photographs of The Queen dating from the 1980s and 90s on the bolection fire surround. “The Seigneur pays her a homage in Jersey French each time she visits the island.” The atmospheric three bay dining room is accessed off the hall. It has Grinling Gibbons style carved panelling. Two jib doors cut into the panelling lead through to the service quarters. The ceiling is smoky brown. The brown furniture is, er, brown. Even the wooden chandelier is brown.

“Dong! Dong! Dong!” Grandfather clocks chime at random times throughout the house.

An English oak staircase leads up to a short long gallery. The spacious drawing room is on the first floor and has a higher ceiling due to the particularly low vaulted chapel below. Three bays wide by four bays deep, the drawing room is two rooms combined. A Corinthian pilastered and columned screen decorates the join. It’s pure ocean liner plush with a deep piled carpet, sofas, club chairs and a painted Steinway mini grand. “Look at this painting of the island of Brecqhou. It shows it before the Barclay brothers built their huge house.” The twins live in a castle designed by Quinlan Terry on one of the smallest of the Channel Islands.

“Boom! Boom! Boom!” A marquee is being set up outside for a wedding. Somebody’s testing the speakers.

Gothic pointed windows on the front elevation announce the presence of the ground floor chapel to the outside world. Vincent Obbard hosts a carol service in the chapel each Christmas. It’s actually the undercroft of what was a two storey Norman building. The tour is complete. Our guide explains, “’Salse Marais‘ means ‘salt marsh’ in Jersey French.” The name evolved into Samarès.

“We are family!” The wedding band has arrived.

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Architecture Design Luxury Restaurants Town Houses

Four Seasons Hotel Buenos Aires + La Mansión + Elena Restaurant

Perennials | Alias Graceful

Harrods closed in 1999. Praise be then for that other stalwart of longstanding luxury still standing, the standing tall Four Seasons. This being exclusive Recoleta, a Beaux Arts mansion of seven hotel suites around a black and white Carrara marble staircase is plonked in the grounds. If Gatsby had a townhouse… It has its own romantic story attached, one with a happy ending. Dashing heir to a ranching fortune Félix de Álzaga Unzué built La Mansión in 1920 as a wedding splash for his smashing bride Elena Peña. It recently got a £40 million makeover led by Argentine architect Francisco López Bustos. These days? Serendipitous suzerainty in sunglasses. Indoors. Sexy has a new.

Buenos Aires reaches out across the Atlantic yet the endless Pampas encircling the city reinforce the feeling of an enraptured self involvement. The city clings to the edge of the land, looking towards Europe rather than America. French architecture dominates (or certainly did in the past); Italian cuisine reigns supreme; and there are plenty of Spanish speaking locals claiming Anglo Argentinian heritage, whether of English or Celtic descent. In the 18th century, Argentina was the non English speaking country to attract the highest number of Irish immigrants. Many would become eminent in the navy, arts and medicine. In some ways Argentina is more progressive than its European counterparts: unlike Spain, it banned bull fighting as early as 1822.

Buenos Aires translates as “good air”. It could just as easily stand for “the good life” to be enjoyed in winter, spring, summer and autumn. Restaurants, cafés and bars – and this hotel for sure – are alive and kicking, vibrating with the rise and fall cadence of polyglot chatter and laughter, well into the wee small hours. A dark tango erupts across this ambassadorial enclave under the dense shade of blazing jacaranda trees. A clock strikes 12. Midnight in the garden of good and upheaval.

Earlier in the day, away from the searing heat, mingling with mestizos, there was lunch in Elena. Yep, the Four Seasons restaurant carries her name. Between the crazy new block with its broken pediments (like an adopted lovechild of Philip Johnson and Quinlan Terry) and La Mansión is the surprisingly macho Pampas ranch style restaurant. It’s scalped out of the escarpment of the sloping site, lit by a dome which pops its transparent head up into the garden next to the swimming pool. The old and the new, the subterranean and above ground meld and depart; the mellow and the bonkers (condom shaped lights and door handles formed of chains in the loos anyone?) blur and collide.

Over lunch, a tangy aromatic Doña Paula Malbec 2017 on ice was just so cooling. The temperature rose back up when a sizzling cheese soufflé arrived from the kitchen. Mariscada was next. That’s: trout, octopus, shrimp, catch of the day (make that white salmon) and sautéed squid. A seabed of goodness; southern pemmican. Finally, mousse de chocolate amazónico 70 percent and proper Argentinian bean coffee. All four were so very this season.