Michael Brawne: 1925–2003
Architect, author and teacher, Michael Brawne was also an arq contributor and referee. His article ‘Research, design and Popper’ published in our second issue (1/2, pp 10–15) was an analysis of the similarity between architectural design and scientific research based on Karl Popper's hypothetico-deductive theory. It cut straight to the heart of the declared subject of this journal. Reading it again, one can almost hear Michael – with his characteristically precise enunciation (and often exquisitely drawly voice) – elucidating his argument.
The following celebration of Michael and his contribution to architecture speaks eloquently about the man and his teaching but surprisingly little about his completed buildings – especially those of the '60s and '70s. There was something very rigorous about these. Indeed, Charles Correa asserts that the houses in Hampstead are ‘among the half-dozen most important pieces of architecture’ constructed in the UK over the last 50 years.
It was in the first Hampstead house that, in 1962, there emerged the surface mounted vertical mullions that were to appear again – always subtly related to the internal spatial arrangement – in later projects. And there was his use on the upper levels of his buildings of steeply sloping Cor-Ten sheet (something that today's generation, who seem to have rediscovered this problematic material, could well learn from). In plan, his buildings often made a powerful use of the diagonal (the Cambridge influence perhaps?) and occasionally revealed his admiration for Alvar Aalto's work. This thoughtful, highly distinctive body of work extended from country cottage conversions and extensions to competition designs such as his ‘groundscraper’ high-density housing entry for the Portsdown competition.
And what of Michael's exhibition designs? Following the 1965 publication of his book, The New Museum, it was a field in London which he seemed to dominate for much of the late '60s and the '70s – with shows such as the stunning Art in Revolution at the Hayward Gallery in 1971 and the exquisite Age of Neo-Classicism at the Royal Academy in the following year. In the mid '90s, his work for ecclesiastical museums in Germany was equally elegant and well-judged. And, over the last six years, recalling his artist father, he turned to making sculpture at Bath College.
Michael Brawne is remembered here by some of his contemporaries, fellow teachers and students. The first contribution, by Bob Allies, is reproduced by permission from The Independent newspaper in which it appeared on 16 August 2003.