Traditional architecture is no longer afraid to show its perfectly proportioned face.
The real pleasure in architecture,” Robbie Kerr muses from the ADAM Architecture offices on Queen Square, in Bloomsbury, central London, “is understanding how the client lives, how their dogs are, how they wash their boots — all the rather mundane bits.”
It’s the kind of brief any homeowner might wish their architect to fulfil, and one the new guard are taking up with aplomb, while also preserving a sense of the past.
Kerr, a tousle-haired and ruddy-cheeked Old Etonian, became ADAM Architecture’s youngest director in May 2016, at the age of 29, and its first new director in 12 years. Yet it was not Eton’s splendour that inspired his desire to adapt a client’s home to the nitty-gritty of their daily routine. “It would be lovely to say that I sketched in the chapel when I was meant to be singing hymns,” he says. “But, unlike others who had sketchbooks full of buildings, I was much happier making.”
Following a string of woodwork apprenticeships in the Scottish Borders, he applied to study architecture at Edinburgh, and by 2010 he had a job with ADAM. He loves the firm’s ethos: “It encourages junior architects to explore areas of interest.”
What’s really so different about this new generation? Architecture is at a crossroads, Kerr says. “The way it has been taught for the past 40 years has reinforced the issue that the profession is unwilling to enter into a rational debate on style. There’s been a flat-out rejection of traditional architecture.”
This is changing, however. Should Hugh Grosvenor, the 25-year-old Duke of Westminster, require an architect, Kerr would happily pick up the baton. “It would be wonderful to work with Hugh,” he smiles. “Working with someone who is a similar age would be fun.”
The one he wishes he could have built is less of a building and more of a street – “the sweep from Green Park up to All Souls — woof!” And his definition of a job well done? “When someone looks at a building and says, ‘I don’t know when that was built.’”
In an interview with his father, Quinlan Terry, in 2004, Lynn Barber described the architect Francis Terry as “the most handsome young man I have ever seen”. Francis, now 47, brushes off the whole thing with a joke about how he must have been having a good hair day. Then he was in partnership with his father, Prince Charles’s favourite architect; now he has opened his own firm just a few miles down the road. “Sometimes you have to hold your nose and jump,” he says.
The split has afforded him new opportunities already — not least the challenge of designing a range of modest houses for a local developer, some as small as 940 sq ft. “These are houses on which people will spend all their money, and will grow up in.” It’s quite a contrast to the country piles that line his portfolio. So, too, is the urban work: redeveloping the centre of Twickenham, and plans for a boulevard on Euston Road, done for the social enterprise Create Streets.
Terry, who wants to bring purist architecture to the masses, started out as an artist. At Stowe — “the great house of England” — he fell in love with art, but, uninspired by the idea of art school, he decided to read architecture at Downing College, Cambridge. After graduation, he painted for three years: “My portraits were very hit-and-miss, and I found it quite a lonely thing.” Architecture called him back.
His buildings, although grand, are not clever, he insists. They are urban, yet are designed within the classical framework. “I almost want them to be dumb,” he says. “You can forget ‘Does it look good?’ — architecture is about trying to make buildings look beautiful.”
He reasons that some of our greatest architects, such as Vanbrugh, were not architects at all. “If you know too much about the technicalities, you end up making a building that is easy to build, rather than one that looks good.”
Naturally, his ambition is to do a large public building. He points to a sketch for Hyde Park Barracks on his desk and grins. “That’s my dream commission.”