Born: 17 July 1931
Elected: 26 June 1991
Over his long career Ted Cullinan has drawn on modernism’s social ideals and a romantic attachment to nature to create a highly personal and inventive architecture. He studied at Cambridge University and the Architectural Association just as the more far sighted tutors were beginning to realise that architecture needed to broaden its range of reference. On graduating he joined the office of the late Denys Lasdun RA who was striving to evolve the language of orthodox modernism, but he left to continue his studies at the University of California at Berkeley in the early 1960s. He found much to enjoy in the very different climate and culture of the American West Coast, and designed a tiny house which embodied many of the natural ideals of the very particular relationship with modernism that developed there. When he founded Edward Cullinan Architects on his return to London in 1965 he brought something of that ethos with him. It has always been a co-operative, and the open, relaxed feel of its offices and dress sense of its occupants belies the intensive work which takes place there.
Cullinan’s architecture manifests his romanticism in several ways. There is often a profound sense of community, which might reflect traditional forms of social organisation as much as the social patterns of modern institutions like universities, where he has done some of his best work. Examples include a scheme for Cheltenham College of Art, where student residences deliberately sit atop studio and teaching space. His detailing also has an exuberance; unusual components are celebrated in bright colours and, occasionally, components which do not need to be unusual are consciously made so. The effect can be gaudy, but in projects where there is constructional innovation, such as the timber gridshell at the Weald and Downland Museum, there is a real need for imaginative and skilful detailing.
Although this aspect of his work has some affinities with the Arts and Crafts Movement, this does not prevent Cullinan’s architecture from engaging with serious intellectual concerns. When designing the maths faculty at Cambridge he worked closely with its members, including Stephen Hawking.
Cullinan has an uncommon ability to communicate and enthuse lay audiences with ideas about architecture. He can draw and speak simultaneously to provide a compelling spectacle, and at its best his architecture is also highly communicative and evocative. It reaches its apogee where the context provides a latent narrative for his design to extract and make explicit, such as his string of rural visitors’ centres in evocative locations, such as Fountains Abbey or the sadly unbuilt proposals for Stonehenge.