The Architecture Society: Mr Richard Murphy

Wednesday, 21st November 2012

The Architecture Society was fortunate in having Mr Richard Murphy come to talk about the pleasures and problems of being a modern architect, using examples taken from his own practice.

Emphasising the need to use modern materials and techniques in a way that is sensitive to the setting and the history of each site, he showed how even a small commission for an extension to a house can give the chance for an attractive play with forms and spaces, using concealed lighting, ‘vanishing corner’ windows that can slide away, and shutters that can transform a ‘bird’s-nest’ for the summer months into a ‘cave’ for the winter ones.

His examples ranged from Edinburgh to Sri Lanka, with a particularly daring example of his approach being the design for an art gallery where the whole left side of the existing stone Victorian bank building would be rebuilt on a hinged steel frame that could revolve on a pivot, so opening during the day to reveal the entrance to the gallery but closing during the night to look like an ordinary building again. Sadly, this was turned down by the Scottish conservation authorities, who lacked Mr Murphy’s sense of humour. Another brilliant design for a Chinese whisky distillery, following the lines of a traditional Chinese zig-zag bridge, but this time up a hillside, was also turned down. However his greatest triumph has been the British High Commission building in Sri Lanka, where he was inspire by the indigenous architecture to create a poetic one-storey complex full of contrasts of light and shade, courtyards filled with flowing water, and a bullet-proof glass wall open to the street, to dispel the usual sense of menace and secrecy that embassies and such-like buildings too often project.

His lively talk, illustrated by vivid sketches on the over-head projector, was very much appreciated by the small but select group of boys that attended it, and their questions could have gone on way beyond the 10pm cut-off point.