Leicester Engineering building: Two Architects (1964)

Ellis Woodman

Ron Parks, “Two Architects,” 1966. Digitised by Drawing Matter from the original 16mm cine film. DMC 2800.3.

Filmed in 1964, Ron Parks’ documentary on the newly completed Engineering Department at Leicester catches James Stirling and James Gowan at a moment of professional triumph and personal crisis. Their building was being applauded the world-over – Parks’ film had been commissioned by the American Institute of Architects, to mark its success in securing the lucrative Reynolds Award for the best use of aluminium – but the partnership was in its last days. Intolerable differences would soon see Gowan strike off on his own, taking the commission for the Schreiber House and two social housing projects in Greenwich while leaving Stirling to continue work on the History Faculty at Cambridge. The fact that the collaborators of seven-years standing never share a frame in Parks’ film is perhaps not entirely coincidental.  The director went on to realise other films about architecture including the celebrated I Love This Dirty Town (1969), which critiques the development of contemporary London from a position strongly informed by the writing of Jane Jacobs. Jim Stirling’s Architecture (1973) picks up the story of what one of the two Jameses did next. However, it was the other one that retained the Reynolds Award: the little sculpture in cast aluminium stood on the mantlepiece of James Gowan’s studio for the rest of his life. I remember him telling me that he had good reason to remember it as the prize money had provided the downpayment for his house.