The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Chichester as concert hall, kitchen or boxing ring…

In today’s world of spin and the relentless talking up not just of the end result but of processes and relationships, its interesting to read Philip Powell admiting that designing the now Grade II* listed Chicester Theatre was “hectic and rather worrying”, and that the result “was crude and shoddy in some respects”.   We are currently agonising about the best way to treat the main staircases, which he refers to as “funny little things hanging below the cantilevers” and  “one of the weaknesses of the design” .   What to do when you know that the architect described his own work as:  “aesthetically …  hardly a success” and felt both invigorated and compromised by just a four month design period and twelve months on site?

This quotes comes from an account of a talk by the project’s engineer Charles Weiss, and the discussion afterwards, to which the architect clearly contributed in a very self-deprecating and genial spirit.   It was published in The Structural Engineer in September 1963, which was dug out by Haworth Tompkins, the architects currently proposing to refurbish and extend the building.  Weiss notes that “the number of chefs cooking this particular broth had been quite exceptional”  and explains that   “it had been a major achievement in diplomacy by the conductor [Powell,] that nevertheless the orchestra produced… good music without too many discordant notes , although there had been times when he had almost had to act as referee in the ring!” in order  to get the theatre open for the Summer season in 1962.   



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