John Partridge RA
Born: 26 August 1924
Elected ARA: 21 May 1980
Elected RA: 8 December 1988
As a young architect John Partridge took an active role in one of the defining struggles of post war British modernism. After completing his studies at the Regents Street Polytechnic in 1951 he worked for the London County Council’s architects department – then the largest architects’ office in the world – where the battle between modernism and traditionalism was replaced by a fierce struggle between the Marxist modernists who favoured designs with pitched roofs and informal site layouts, and the hardcore formalist modernists, who thought that architecture had to follow Le Corbusier’s precepts. Partridge, along with his erstwhile partners Bill Howell, John Killick and Stanley Amis, was firmly in the latter camp, as their designs for the Alton West housing estate in Roehampton, South West London, show. There great sculpted concrete slab blocks, derived from Le Corbusier’s famous Unitee d’Habitation in Marseilles, sail like so many ships on a green grass sea – and in contrast to the gentler pitched roofs and picturesquely angled towers of Alton East, designed by the rival camp.
Setting up a private practice with his three colleagues in 1959, Partridge developed his interest in sculpted concrete in an increasingly original way. Initially much of their work was in universities, and Partridge’s own projects included several buildings for Wolfson, St Antony’s and St Anne’s Colleges, Oxford as well as a large hall of residence at Reading. Rather than treating the buildings as single monolithic concrete objects, he devised concrete units elements could be pre-cast and assembled into sculpturally powerful forms. This repetition of standard components reflected the repetition of standard spaces, such as study bedrooms inside. That in turn helped to shape his approach to designing other buildings which become large through amalgamating smaller units, such as law courts which became another specialism of his practice. He designed several across the UK, the Medway Magistrates Court, in Warrington, Basildon and Haywards Heath, though the most important is the Supreme Court for Trinidad and Tobago, a beehive of 28 separate courtrooms with all the ancillary accommodation, skilfully composed to reflect the hierarchical relationship between them.
As concrete became unfashionable Partridge turned to other materials but retained a powerful sense of form. Chaucer College, a college for Japanese students at the University of Kent is largely brick, but with convexly curved roofs and expressed steelwork above its brick walls, its effect is also sculptural.