1. Patrick Lynch
Lynch Architects / 1997 - Present
London - UK
‘Magical and More Real’
For anyone that follows Patrick Lynch on Instagram, you’ll know he’s into books. He kindly invited us to his studio to ask a few more questions about the books that have influenced his practice; a small window into the literature that has shaped his architectural practice and his life.
Having studied architecture at the University of Liverpool 1987-93 (with an Erasmus Exchange to Lyon in 4th year), he then went to work in Germany for two years, returning in 1995 to study with Dalibor Vesely and Peter Carl for the famous Master of Philosophy degree in The History and Philosophy of Architecture course at Cambridge. He then founded Lynch Architects in 1997, creating a magnificent body of work since, from private houses, through to larger scale buildings that often, if not always operate between the commercial, the civic and the public space. With a fascination for philosophy and poetry, Patrick wrote a PhD, ‘Practical Poetics’, with Peter Carl, who was by then like Patrick, teaching at The Cass in London. A version of Patrick’s PhD dissertation was later published in London by Artifice Books on Architecture in 2017, as ‘Civic Ground: Rhythmic Spatiality and the Communicative Movement between Architecture, Sculpture and Site’. Out-takes from the PhD were published alongside essays by friends and colleagues (including Peter Carl) in ‘Mimesis’, a “polemical monograph” of the work of Lynch Architects (Artifice, 2015). His M-Phil dissertation was published as ‘The Theatricality of the Baroque City: The Zwinger and Dresden’ (VDM Verlag, Germany, 2011).
Following the success of ‘Civic Ground’ and ‘Mimesis’, Patrick, via Lynch Architects, formed a publishing house, Canalside Press. This was initially established to publish the twice yearly Journal of Civic Architecture (or JOCA) - ‘a friendly home for any form of research, architecture and landscape writing, poetry, photography, art work – anything that’s not ordinarily classed as “research” anymore by the REF.’
Expect an enjoyable, all-encompassing talk about the effect of architecture books on Patrick’s life and work, and most importantly, the role of literature in his creative imagination.
“The books that are here cover philosophy, theology, urbanism and architecture. And the books I have at home are literature, poetry and art.”
How many books do you currently have in your office?
I actually know this, or did, because at one point, when we didn't have enough work in the office, some of my ex-students archived and catalogued the books. We were moving to a new office and needed to insure them. I think we’ve got roughly 5,000. That was a few years ago, and we whilst we haven't been flush for a few years because of Brexit, we’ve still managed to run out of bookshelves, so about 6,000 books in the office I think. The books that are here cover philosophy, theology, urbanism and architecture. And the books I have at home (which is probably another 5,000 I’d say, although we had a clear out recently when we moved house), are literature, poetry and art. When we used to have the studio at the top of our house, on Hoxton Street, the books just naturally migrated like that, and we found that eventually we didn't have any architecture or theory books in our living room. Art books are like poetry, they’re part of one’s private rattle bag of memories, like furniture, like friends.
Where do you store them, and how are they organised?
In the meeting room office, we have a wall of Vitsoe shelves, designed in the 1970s by Dieter Rams.
They’re organised with philosophy and theory books at the bottom, with picture books, monographs and collections, at the top – in other words, smaller books at the bottom, bigger ones above. They are also grouped by architects (I’ve a LOT of books about Alvaro Siza). There’s a group of books by Joseph Rykwert (which I got him to sign when he came here when I interviewed him for the Venice Biennale in 2012).
I think because I was writing a PhD whilst running a practice, sitting at the large table in the meeting room in the old office was a way to get away from the noise of the telephones in the main studio spaces. From this position it was easy to reach behind for a book on theology or geography or whatever. In meetings with clients (or planning consultants or other members of the design team), I often need to get down a big book, a picture book. I’m often on my feet in these meetings, moving between models and drawings; so rather than bending down to get one, I could more easily reach up for a big book. Dalibor Vesely, who taught me at Cambridge, was fond of saying that if you need to find a book, you have to put out your hand for it, and then you’ll find it. So actually that’s how they got organised.
Nothing is organised aesthetically, but actually by how I use them. That’s how I managed to write a PhD, whilst running an architectural practice, I’d just go to the library for peace and quiet and a place to think.
“Aesthetics is seen as a branch of knowledge, ultimately related to wisdom.”
What has been the most influential book throughout your time practicing as an architect?
‘The Relevance of the Beautiful’ by Hans-Georg Gadamer. It’s next to my desk now in fact. I got it off the shelf earlier, to find a footnote for an essay that is now going into issue 4 of the Journal of Civic Architecture [JOCA]. I really think this is the most important book for me. It's a collection of essays translated into English in 1986, published by Cambridge University Press. Gadamer was a student of Martin Heidegger, like Hannah Arendt. They were both a sort of interlocutor for their teacher. Arendt married a Marxist and her work shifted from the ethics and morals of Thomas Aquinas, which was her PhD, to the public realm. She wrote ‘The Human Condition’ as a way to mediate between a revolutionary fiscal position that her husband had, and a traditional one going back to the classical civilisation of Ancient Greece. Gadamer, unlike Heidegger, was a much more worldly figure. He was a professor at Heidelberg, and profoundly involved in civic society.
In the German university system, if you study the history of art, you also study philosophy. Aesthetics is seen as a branch of knowledge, ultimately related to wisdom. This is why Heidegger is a philosopher touching on poetics. When the Germans were thinking of re-building their country after the Second World War, they invited Heidegger to give a talk at Darmstadt about housing. ‘Building, Dwelling, Thinking’, was in fact written for a conference about housing. It’s accepted in German culture that a philosopher would be interested in the material and physical world. It’s quite different in English universities. Here, we have traditionally had people like A J Ayer and Wittgenstein who are engineers and mathematicians. Logic is treated like a mathematical subject or a branch of natural sciences. Whereas in Germany, aesthetics is not seen as subjective, or just about taxonomy and collecting things, or the science of conservation, but in terms of the role poetry and painting play in human civilisation in general. Gadamer wrote about many things, and perhaps his most famous book is ‘Truth and Method,’ where he talks about the difference between the two. Method is a scientific approach to reason and experimentation, but it's not the same as truth. And truth is something that can emerge primarily from discourse. Case Law, to give an English example, being a tradition that is based on reason and dialogue, rather than just on abstract logic; similarly, in Gadamer’s view, poetics is as well, and like the law and religion and sport, primarily poetics grows out of the playful characteristics of language itself. Whilst art was cast by Kant as something which was considered to be unreasonable, in distinction to science that was (erroneously) seen as something solely rational; Gadamer shows that poetics and art in general is rather something that gives you a particular and special access to truth, and thus artistic experience and artist’s knowledge do not preclude one’s access to wisdom.
“The titles themselves are so provocative, because they overturn the usual distinction between philosophy understood as something which is rigorous and analytical; and poetry, which is often seen as something which is subjective.”
When I was a student at Liverpool, I was quite frustrated at the lack of theory in the architecture school, particularly during the RIBA Part 2 course. Until very recently this was still the case I believe. Alongside colleagues there I’m trying fixing it a bit as I’m giving lecture course to the fourth years about history and theory. It’s an attempt to try and talk about the stuff that’s in ‘Mimesis’ and ‘Civic Ground’ and all sorts of other topics. It tries to make a connection between the design studio, practice management and law i.e. explicit questions of ethics, and history and theory, which is normally taught by architectural historians i.e. art historians mainly. In an attempt to try and find what Gadamer means by ‘what is beautiful’ and what is beautiful in things that are ‘relevant’ today: ethically, politically and professionally. So, the ‘Relevance of the Beautiful’ is a series of essays; the eponymous title essay has a subtitle ‘art as play, symbol and festival’; other essays in the book include ‘on the contribution of poetry in the search for truth’. I sort of know this book off by heart; philosophy and poetry, the play of art. I was footnoting from an essay titled ‘Intuition and Vividness’, which is in the appendix. The titles themselves are so provocative, because they overturn the usual distinction between philosophy understood as something which is rigorous and analytical i.e. when it attempts to be like the social sciences, or attempts rather to imitate them imitating the natural sciences; and poetry, which is often seen as something which is subjective. In fact, that’s not true and anybody who’s a creative artist, and to a greater or lesser degree, a designer or an architect, knows that imagination is reasonable, technical, philosophical, legal and professional, and also speculative, contemplative, reflective, all at once. My dissertation for the Part II course was called, ‘Can Architecture be Poetry?, which was the title of the lecture Carlo Scarpa gave when he became the professor of Decoration at the University of Venice, School of Architecture. Of course, I wrote 20,000 words saying yes! And then Cambridge forced me to answer why? 20 years later I published a book (Civic Ground, 140,000 words) not only saying how and why, but why ‘the beautiful’ is important: under what conditions it might be possible to survive and then even be resuscitated and be protected. So this book, whilst it’s a slim collection of essays, changed the way I thought about the complex nature of being an architect and the multi-faceted side to my own character. Then, realising that as a teacher of both history and theory, and of design, and as a practical person, a businessman and someone who writes and all that, that you can reconcile all those things if you have a kind of philosophical orientation which allows you to understand that beautiful things are relevant to daily life. Beauty is not just a waste of money, which is what people accuse you of constantly while you’re trying to build a beautiful project. Gadamer insists on the ethical and social character of ‘the beautiful’ – it’s a must read for all architects I think.
How do you work with books? Do you take notes, annotate, read aloud, draw…?
My English teacher at school was very influential on me. She was a Canadian who’d studied literature at Toronto, and then at Cambridge. She had 4 kids and they all went to Oxford or Cambridge. I remember her saying, after I’d apologised for writing some notes in a book, ‘no, no, no, the only book that is sacred is the Bible. In my house, the dictionary is in tatters because it gets thrown around the house. This book is broken. You shouldn’t be precious. An art book or a photography book is precious, but a reference book isn’t. You need to learn to work with it! I must confess I also draw in books.
I’ll show you my sketchbook though: I normally find myself in lectures taking notes and also drawing, and drawing on the bus, in a café, waiting for a train… reading, drawing, reading, drawing, etc. ad infinitum, etc. Last night I was at a lecture about Cardinal Newman, by a priest that is also an academic, who has just published a book about Newman’s aesthetics. These are drawings of that project (points to a model), So, these are sections that turn into perspectives. The project includes a Garden of Remembrance, which we built last year for the victims of the Grenfell fire tragedy, with a mortuary behind it, and a new coroner’s court building. It’s a particularly fraught project obviously, an experiential shock. I’ve got written here ‘to educate means to improve the soul’ and ‘the more men know, the better they are.’ When he became a Cardinal, Newman’s motto was ‘heart speaks unto heart’. The point of education is to touch people’s souls. But, when you’re designing a building where people who’s children or parents have died under particular circumstances and it’s non-denominational, non-religious, civic, municipal building, there has to to be aspects of spiritual dimension still, I believe. There’s also this whole spiritual dimension to architecture, as a vocation which you deal with every day, and also sometimes with people’s heightened emotional states. Education is not necessarily just a secular activity – an economic exchange. Despite what the current situation in the UK implies - there’s a dimension to education and spatiality where the natural world, cultural memory, the decorum of the city and the character of spaces touch people emotionally. What I’m getting at here, is that reading and drawing and attending lectures and thinking and dreaming and designing… they are all aspects of architecture, and of being fully human. It’s not like “design” starts or stops, and learning this, and trying to teach it too, are continuous aspects of being alive. Dalibor also once said in response to a student saying that they enjoyed the solitude of reading, ‘oh, you think that you are alone reading a book? I don’t think so.’ If you were being provocative, you might say that most of the problems of the world derive from people not reading enough books. The internet is wonderful, but books are something magical and more real.
Where do you find the books you collect?
At Liverpool, when I was doing the part 2, we had something called the ‘design resource room’, in effect a small library within the school of architecture, set up by a lovely tutor called Steve Haughton, alongside Dave King I think. Every year, members of staff would go and buy interesting books, mostly from the AA Bookshop I believe. That’s how I found Gaston Bachelard’s ‘Poetics of Space’ and Martin Heidegger’s collection of essays ‘Building, Dwelling, Thinking’. But theory wasn’t taught in the school. The guy who supervised my dissertation, Carl Simms, was in the English department, teaching the joint honours course in English and Philosophy (I knew him because my girlfriend when I had been an undergraduate had been an English student. I met him in the pub and I liked him). There was literally nobody in the architecture school that was interested or could teach me about the theory of architecture, which was really frustrating. But then a guy who was in fifth year when I was in 3rd year, Raymond Quek, put me on to Gadamer. Ray had gone on to Cambridge after Liverpool, to do the M-Phil course in The History and Philosophy of Architecture with Vesely, and he inspired me to do so too.
A lot of knowledge is word of mouth. In the olden days, if you liked a certain type of music you would go to the record shop and get told to listen to things. There is this kind of occult; this secret about knowledge. Especially in architecture, it’s very difficult to know what to read unless you’ve been taught by someone who reads a lot – which as we know, is rare for architects. But on the other hand, you have to reach out, you have to make the effort. It’s not that difficult because bibliophiles are like music people; they’re enthusiasts and they want to share knowledge. So, if you noticed my Instagram feed, you’ll see that I’ve been re-reading ‘Intuition and Vividness’, and posting about this recently, because Oscar Mather in the office is reading it too. So, I’ve been posting stuff because I think it is as important as references to the thought behind buildings. The problem being that architecture is largely taught as ‘go and look at that building’, but the principles behind buildings, the cultural hinterland of architects – their inspirations from literature and philosophy and religion and art, etc. - don’t tend to get taught. I think it’s useful as well as interesting to know what people you admire are reading, so I’m proselytising on the internet and making books. Bibliographies lead you onwards, I mean, but you have to be curious – like Oscar.
If you could re-discover one book, what would it be?
I think there’s two books that were a real surprise to me, things I didn’t expect, they were a particular pleasure. One is called ‘The Human Stain’, a novel by Philip Roth, which I discovered in WHSmith in Gatwick airport. We were supposed to be going to New York on the 12/09/2001 and the flight was cancelled, so we went to Crete. I didn’t have a book to read on holiday, so I bought that one – a book about America. I didn’t know much about Philip Roth; this book is really beautiful, perhaps more so because it was a surprise. He wrote about 15 books and they’re all works of genius. It was in the holiday section because he was so famous by then. It was in the top ten at WH Smith – you see, revelations can be found anywhere! Reading Philip Roth was really influential on me. I read it in my late ‘20s/early ‘30s and recognised a lot of Saul Bellow in Roth’s writing. Bellow even described him as ‘the other one’. They were both Jewish, working-class intellectuals, but not academics, and so there’s a lot of swearing, a lot of fucking, a lot of popular culture, and there’s a lot of philosophy, romance and civic rights. The work is intellectual and really pleasurable; deliberately anti-academic on the one hand, but so completely against standard macho jock culture too. It doesn't set any boundaries between very high brow, and very low brow. That was life-affirming to discover.
“Davies is effectively bringing the idea that you can mash up Greek myth with Shakespeare, set in a modern metropolis. It’s kind of post-modern.”
Similarly, there’s a really good Canadian novelist Robertson Davies, who I love, who published a book called ‘The Deptford Trilogy’. Three novels tell the story of a man’s life. Davies had been an actor, studied at Cambridge and ended up being the master of a college in Toronto University. He’d made his living as an actor, and then as a theatre impresario, and was straddling the world of academia alongside being a business manager and running a theatre. It’s a bit like having an architectural practice, you really need to sell tickets to plays you’ve written! Davies actually writes about a theatre impresario in ‘The Deptford Trilogy’, a character that is based on a guy called Henry Irving, a famous Victorian who took Shakespeare to the colonies i.e donkeys in a Roman armour going through the American Mid-West. He just tells this story about a man’s life, really normal guy…. and yet it’s really powerfully mythic. Davies is effectively bringing the idea that you can mash up Greek myth with Shakespeare, set in a modern metropolis. It’s kind of post-modern. I found a lot of post-modern books really academic and boring though; just a lot of playing games with nothing at stake But the more lyrical aspects of myth, I loved, I hadn't come across this in modern literature before though, so it was a bit like discovering a new erogenous zone reading David. F Scott Fitzgerald once said, in response to someone wishing they could be innocent again, ‘no, you don’t want to be innocent again, you just want the pleasure of losing your innocence all over again’. That seems to me to be what Robertson Davies is getting at in his work.
What book would you recommend every young, aspiring architect to read?
Apart from ‘The Relevance of the Beautiful’?! ‘The Idea of a Town’ by Joseph Rykvert, in which he demonstrates that the modernist technico-scientific engineering world view that the Romans were military engineers, and built gridded cities because of plumbing and that we should imitate that, is just not true. He demonstrates that every time the Roman army would set up camp, they would lay out a grid. That grid orientated north, south, east, west, like the streets of Rome. It was a miniature Rome because they didn't just think they’d be afflicted by barbarians, but that if they didn't worship their Gods correctly, sanctify their camp as a civic setting, then they deserved to be killed and hunted, because they were becoming uncivilised. So, that overturned everything I’d been taught at a modernist school of architecture in a modernist period of history, and I think everybody needs to know Rykwert’s book. He later became my teacher. I love all of his work. He is a major cultural figure in our field. The essential, fundamental role of myth and ritual in design is anthropological. Joseph teaches that you need to understand people’s values in order to design for them, and therefore you need, as a phenomenologist, to engage with people and participate with them as an equal. You can’t do religious architecture, or housing, unless you understand the culture which your work is oriented towards, who it is for. You need to go imaginatively beyond yourself.
“The essential, fundamental role of myth and ritual in design is anthropological.”
Reading history and anthropology forces you to engage with ‘the other’, and thus to grow as a human being: it encourages your imagination to flourish. And what might at first appear as irrational or illogical to you, is just how the human species articulates itself in different ways. You need to become an actor, an impresario and think differently, take on different roles. And that’s what Joseph’s contribution to knowledge is. When I interviewed him for the 2012 Venice Biennale, I asked him, ‘why did you write this book, when you wrote it?’ and he said, ‘you know, because people were still putting motorways through the middle of Birmingham, dis-severing the town hall from the library from the cathedral on the quest for efficiency and speed.’ We are still in this situation where road engineering is king and architecture its slave. Dubai is based on this idea. Architecture, if you can call these overblown pseudo-sculptures this, comes as a result of land left over from transport infrastructure. So you get these weird shaped buildings that you know, don’t come to the ground properly. So what is architecture? Joseph attempts to ask and to answer this question.
I’ve realised that a lot of our work has been about the urban dimension of architecture, the intimacy of how a building meets the ground, how it is grounded culturally. Another very influential book is ‘Italy Builds’, by Kidder Smith. He was an American architect who won the Rome scholarship in the 1960s, and basically travelled around Italy for the year with his wife. It’s a very simple book. Simon Henley bought it for me as a wedding present actually. It’s full of very, very, very simple line drawings, 3 or 4 lines. Small plans of a bit of Italy and his own photographs and it’s really great. A real eye opener. I guess it’s small version of another of my favourite books, Camillo Sitte’s book on ‘Vienna (The Art of Building Cities: City Building According to Its Artistic Fundamentals)’. My favourite bit in ‘Italy Builds’ concerns San Gimignano, a Tuscan hill town, with skyscrapers, made of stone! The usual reading of it is, ‘oh, it’s like Manhattan for the medieval ages and all these rich people lived in towers and hated each other’. There was a degree of that, they were defensive, families tended to feud. Even though it’s built on a hill, it’s a fortified Roman town with towers and it’s quite bleak. But, there’s a point where the cathedral intersects with the main town square and this tower is hollowed out in plan on a corner. Kidder Smith does this drawing of it and says ‘main square, main cathedral, tall towers’. If you look at this stuff on the horizon and see it as a formalist would, you don’t get the richness; the grain of the city. Crucially the photograph is where the old men hang out on a Sunday before they go for lunch, after church. They all sit there with their hats on, little ties, having a fag in the shade. It brings together solar shading and environmentalism, ritual life, the basic sociology of human beings, habit, custom, and the effect that a city made out of the natural world, an urban world seemingly carved out, the stone can have on people and society. It’s where the material quality of architecture and the juxtaposition of the totally sacred world of the interior of the church - and the totally open world of this sacred room of the city - are brought together, at one moment.
“It brings together solar shading and environmentalism, ritual life, the basic sociology of human beings, habit, custom, and the effect that a city made out of the natural world, an urban world seemingly carved out, the stone can have on people and society.”
So, Kidder Smith’s is a really good book for students; it’s not very wordy, it’s just got these fantastic little drawings, like 100 examples of this. He’s basically saying to Americans, ‘look, you don’t need to build cities based on motorcars, and if you do, they’re horrid because you lose all of these layers, all this texture..’ I’m just finishing a book with the English architect John Meunier (‘On Intricacy’), who lives in Phoenix, Arizona, which will be published by Canalside Press in February 2020. John basically says the same thing: ‘An Intricate Building…. not only responds to, but also contributes to the richness of the culture of which it is a part. It accepts and celebrates its role in a historical continuum… can be compared to serious music, literature, film, art in that it rewards multiple encounters… is rich in resonances with other phenomena and experience… may be formally complex or formally simple, but it cannot be incoherent or banal.’ I recommend it.
All photography by Tim Lucas