Issue Number: 118
As Eric Parry RA’s new building on Piccadilly opens, Richard Cork asks him about his collaboration with fellow academicians on the project
Adventurous collaborations between contemporary architects and sculptors are all too rare in London. But when Eric Parry RA was commissioned to design Eagle Place, a large office, residential and retail building just off Piccadilly Circus, he showed an admirable determination to bring artists on board. A joint venture between The Crown Estate and Healthcare of Ontario, the building aims to enhance its prominent metropolitan site. And high up at cornice level, an elaborate polychrome ceramic sculpture by Richard Deacon RA gives Parry’s façade an extraordinary burst of sensuous, joyful and uninhibited colour.
I was fortunate to act as an adviser on this ambitious venture. So I shared Parry’s excitement when he invited me to don hard hat, boots and luminous jacket for an early exploration of Eagle Place near its completion last winter. Venturing onto the scaffolding to gain a fascinating closeup view of Deacon’s newly installed cornice, I marvelled at the glowing, painterly sensation of his work, which will be unveiled on 6 March.
Parry shares my enthusiasm for these spectacular explosions of colour. ‘It’s amazing when you get to see them at that level’, he says. ‘Three buildings came down to make way for our new façade, and in my early sketches I always perceived a ceramic cornice and façade because of the proximity of Piccadilly Circus. I wanted to explore polychromy and artifice. So the glowing glazed ceramic surface of the façade reflects the lights and kinetic movement of colour from Piccadilly Circus. It smiles through even the greyest London day – it will be very animated.’ For Parry, ‘There is a buzz, an erotic quality to this part of London, it’s a late night place, a rendezvous spot,’ and he conceived the façade as a kind of ‘powdered, rouged, madeup face in white, black and red. The giant red window frames create a soft blush that you can see from a distance.’
Of his partnership with Deacon, Parry says, ‘It’s been wonderful to watch Richard’s development of the sections. His voluptuous cornice is in dialogue with the architecture below it.’
Deacon is delighted the collaboration has borne fruit. ‘I’ve never done anything like this, integrating a sculpture with a building,’ says Deacon. ‘I think it looks fantastic, and it’s going to be in a million tourist photos of Piccadilly Circus. The forms within the cornice are like folding geometry, but with a kind of softness.’
Does he agree with me that the effect is very painterly? ‘Yes, I’ve done a lot of painting through working with ceramics in the past 10 years, and gained experience with applying colour. But I didn’t expect the cornice to turn out so well. In the relationship between the white sides and the coloured fronts of the blocks, something interesting happens – it looks as though it’s breathing. It’s so intricate, whereas from the front it’s like a plainsong musical score.’ Deacon is excited by the outcome: ‘I am impressed by how the richness of the colour on the cornice has been retained. Eric is exceptional in the way he honours artists and listens.’
Parry has also invited Stephen Cox RA to make sculpture for the same building, on the corner overlooking Jermyn Street. Cox has created a powerful, mesmeric face, which Parry describes as ‘amazingly mysterious. The great thing with Stephen is that you never know what will come out when he carves into stone. We talked about an anthropomorphic piece, and how to mediate between sky and earth. Stephen carved it in India, and responded with this cosmic face. It’s interrupted by a mask of gold or a sun disc. The face is peering through: it will catch the evening light, and glow and float.’