Piers Gough RA
Born: 24 April 1946
Elected RA: 5 December 2001
Piers Gough once famously and not entirely fairly described himself as a “B movie architect”. His work certainly has a sense of playfulness that serious modernists eschewed, though if anything this characteristic broadens its ability to engage with sophisticated social and intellectual agendas. He designed the RA’s exhibition on Sir John Soane, one of British architecture’s most intellectually demanding figures, while his Green Bridge in London’s East End turns two scrappy pieces of open space into a park by merging them into one green zone, and creates commercial opportunities in its undercroft.
Early on Gough’s natural playfulness found two creative stimuli. One was the atmosphere around Peter Cook and the Archigram Group at the Architectural Association, where he studied; the other an appreciation of decorative detailing which owed much to late 19th century eclecticism. At the outset his firm Campbell Zogolovitch Wilkinson and Gough struggled to find clients and those they did have, such as Allen Jones RA, frequently came up against the prejudice of planners. But as the 1970s moved into the 1980s the breath of fresh air which CZWG brought to a changing architectural scene began to have an effect. In 1981 Gough designed the hugely successful exhibition on Sir Edwin Lutyens at the Hayward Gallery, which did much to rehabilitate his reputation and that in turn provided respectability for some of Gough’s flamboyance and whimsy.
Those qualities proved themselves in both commercial and urban terms with residential schemes on Jacobs Island in Rotherhithe, and Cascades, one of the most successful early Docklands buildings. The prevalent post modernism of the time licensed eclectic decoration, but Gough’s was more controlled, wittier and had deeper roots in tradition, context and function than most. A house for Gough’s friend and fellow AA student Janet Street Porter followed, and its clever subversion of the conventions of a London terraced house, and its inventive use of “found” materials like metal mesh showed an affinity with Pop Art.
Gough has always had an ability to create powerful gestures, and recently several large scale urban projects have brought this skill to a new level. In a reworking of Sunderland town centre, the positioning of residential towers on the steep escarpment above the river, the taut bridge across it and the curving roof over a shopping precinct have inherent drama; but his understanding of public concerns, the “desire lines” that create patterns of movement across a site, reinforces it and redeems the design from sheer gesture. Gough’s ebullience also has a natural affinity with Brighton where he is designing an extension to the Marina and working on a seafront scheme with Frank Gehry Hon RA.
In March 2013, Gough was made Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy Schools.