A Modern Paradox

When asked to describe his home in Ampthill, Bedfordshire, Sir Albert Richardson replied, “A Home, an Office and a University.”

Fifty years ago Sir Albert Richardson—architect, educator, collector and modern Georgian paradox—passed away. In September 2013 his unique collection was removed from his house in Ampthill, an 18th Century house without electricity so as to authentically appreciate Georgian architecture, and transported to Christie’s Auction House in London

As a response to the sale of Richardson’s collection—and the opportunity for a reappraisal of Richardson 50 years after his death—I have, for my design project, proposed a museum to hold Richardson’s collection, coupled with a satellite campus for The Bartlett School of Architecture and The Slade School of Art—institutions where Richardson once taught.

The site selected for the building is Stewartby, Berdforshire, which is the location of Richardson’s model village for the nearby brickworks and also happens to be a short distance from Ampthill. I propose to build on the existing quarry floor, with the roof/membrane of the proposal level with the land around the quarry, mimicking the pools within the quarry at sunset.

Beneath the roof/membrane is hung a billowing Italianate fabric landscape is hung over a garden and a cabinet for collections comprising objects, buildings and machinery. Similarly, light enters the subterranean landscape through glass apertures in the roof/membrane, distorted by a film of water.

In this depiction, the collection has already spread out into the garden of architecture below the Membrane/Sky, leaving space for objects from other sold collections. Models are left, contained within bell jars, depicting the houses which contain the collection, which are now below.

The Collection House contains objects from the Kitchen, Scullery and Dining Room, the principal rooms for preparing and eating food. The billowing Copper curtain fixed in a state suggesting the presence of weather within the bell jar. This refers to Richardson’s concern to capture a particular mood through the absence of electrical heating and lighting.

Under the Membrane/Sky the Museum expands into the quarry landscape, acquiring objects from demolished or sold houses, just as Richardson did. Over time a garden of architecture is created as student fabrications are exhibited amongst the collection.

Just as history is defined by an historian’s interpretation, the architecture of this project represents my interpretation of Albert Richardson. The museum proposal seeks to go beyond the caricature of Richardson as a living Georgian—a myth he himself perpetuated—and tease out his other fluctuating and myriad identities. Thus, the project begins to remind the viewer that the same man who would be taken to dinner parties around Ampthill in a sedan chair and Georgian costume, also taught a young Peter Smithson and, in the 1920s, lectured about the possibilities of architecture emulating the modern motor car and tube train, similar to Le Corbusier. Truly a modern paradox.

All images courtesy of Alastair King.