MODERN VIEWS ON SPENCE'S WORK
It is good to see that the world turns: we are starting to appreciate that the best of Spence's work is of a clarity, simplicity and power that towers over the wilful egotism of today's gratuitous, post-modern shape making.
(Malcolm Fraser, Malcolm Fraser Architects, Edinburgh)
Basil Spence has always seemed to me to embody a gentle and definitively British approach to modernism. I've always loved Knightsbridge Barracks, and admired the way that it towers over Hyde Park without ever appearing unduly obtrusive. And I have vivid memories of being taken to Coventry Cathedral as a child in the 1960s and being told how its construction gave a literal symbol of hope to a city that had been devastated by wartime bombing.
(Alice Rawsthorn, design critic, International Herald Tribune)
Sir Basil Spence retains a place in history as one of 20th century Britain’s most influential, yet overlooked, architects. His poignant designs for the rebuilding of the heavily bombed Coventry Cathedral marked his name indelibly on the country’s post-war consciousness, and created a new template for the concept of architecture as sacred war memorial. His design for the Sea and Ships Pavilion at the 1951 Festival of Britain displayed a sense of grand theatricality that has rarely been seen in architecture since.
(Mark Jones, Director, Victoria and Albert Museum)
Basil Spence has fallen into a big hole in architectural history. Too young to be a pioneer of modernism. Too old to have enjoyed the extraordinary surge of interest in architectural shape-making that has so transformed the London skyline in recent years. Instead, his reputation is a solitary one. Too readily associated with unfashionable seventies Brutalism by fashion conscious antiquarians such as Lord St John of Fawsley (who said Spence had the distinction of ruining two London parks with his Hyde Park Barracks and Home Office buildings), Spence's culture was rich and subtle, if a tad elegiac. It unites the tradition of Lutyens (with whom he trained) at one end with the Habitat generation at the other (for whom he built the University of Sussex). In between came minor masterpieces, including the Sea and Ships Pavilion at the 1951 Festival of Britain, and major ones : Coventry Cathedral, of course. There is something wonderful in the mixture of Imperial-era tradition and McMillan-era futurism we see in his work. The new archive at last allows some serious excavation of the (w)hole.
(Stephen Bayley, author and cultural commentator)
I well remember the exciting and innovative design of Sir Basil Spence's Coventry Cathedral, it was like a breath of architectural fresh air. Its simplicity of form and its quiet dignity were quite exemplary. For me it helped to place Sir Basil, without doubt, in the position of one of Britain's greatest architects.
(Richard Wilson, actor)
I knew Basil slightly. I worked for Dennis Lasdun in 1951 and he saw Basil as a talented competitor so we talked about his work frequently. Certainly we thought Coventry Cathedral was a considerable achievement with what was a very difficult brief. As a furniture designer, I very much admired his laminated chair which was and still is a considerable technological achievement. I visited his holiday house at Beaulieu which I thought was beautiful and very relaxing and completely unpretentious.
(Terence Conran, designer)