Three courthouses, at Warrington (1985–91), Basildon (1986–90) and Haywards Heath (1987–91), came into HKPA about the same time. John eschewed Bill’s use of rectangles with their corners cut off to ease circulation and re-introduced the structural column to punctuate corners. As concrete became unfashionable, John, ever resourceful, turned to brick. Warrington was a new generation of Combined Crown & County Court Centre, designed in Bill’s relaxed groupings of principal spaces under hipped roofs, linked together with the mortar of circulation under flat roofs. John chose Warrington as his Diploma work upon his election to the Royal Academy in 1988 and submitted a coloured Front Elevation, now in the RA Collection. These courthouses were a master class in discrete circulation, whereby the public, judge, jury and persons in custody “can only meet up in the courtroom.“ Much of this was worked out earlier on, including the pivotal court hall as waiting room, in Medway Magistrates Court (1972-79).
This was key to John’s planning of the Hall of Justice (1978–85) in Port of Spain, Trinidad, and winning that international competition outright. Sixteen civil and criminal courts, out of twenty-eight overall, encircled a vast Court Hall at its heart, filling the entire urban block. It is a monumental composition, symmetrical on both axes in the classical tradition. John reverted to the solidity of chamfered corners that was HKPA’s signature, but this time the concrete was seismic resistant. He also took advantage of the sun’s position on the Tropic of Cancer so that at noon, when it always sits vertically overhead, it would shine down the full height of the two octagonal stair cores, a stunning tour de force to draw you in, as an insect to light. Its cascade of tightly organised forms and its complexity and clarity of layout and circulation stand as a swansong and epilogue to HKPA’s rich language of cast and pre-cast concrete construction. It has been looked after immaculately by the Trinidadians ever since and is featured on tourist postcards.
Lastly comes Chaucer College (1989-92), Canterbury, for a Japanese educational trust (Shumei Foundation), a commission John was particularly fond of. The planners wanted a Japanese look, but John wanted an English college. A happy compromise is the result, with John’s curving roofs and expressed steel structure held aloft on brick walls, visible inside.
When HKPA ceased trading after 36 years in 1995, John had to deal with the messy breakup of the partnership and the heartache of making the whole practice redundant in a single day. He spent his remaining years in great demand, judging competitions, chairing committees, examining, consulting to the Foreign Office and, in particular, at the RA, which he really loved. “However, the thing he valued most in his career,” as his son Richard testifies, “was his professional status as an architect.” Although he hadn’t practised for over twenty years, he was still able to call himself an architect, until the day he died. His contribution to what HKPA produced under his watch, and the quality and magnitude of his achievements, have not been properly credited. His best buildings are a joy to encounter and his attention to detail makes them stand the test of time. Everyone who knew him will miss his three-dimensional mindset, his engaging sense of humour, his technical skill and creative flair, and his sure, twinkling eye.
Adapted from the eulogy given by Peter Schmitt at John Partridge’s funeral.