Stirling, James

Stirling, James
   b. 1926, Glasgow; d. 1992, London
   James Stirling, internationally recognized and awarded many design commissions abroad, was arguably the leading British architect of his generation. Born in Glasgow, he moved with his family to Liverpool at an early age. After serving in the army during the Second World War, he studied architecture at Liverpool University. On graduation, he worked in the office of Lyons, Israel and Ellis, Architects in London, from 1953–56. In 1956 Stirling teamed up with James Gowan to form the Stirling & Gowan Partnership. Notable early buildings were blocks of flats at Ham Common and various small-scale housing projects. The reputation of the practice was established with the design of the Leicester University Engineering Building (1959–63). This building utilized an uncompromising industrial aesthetic, with the various functions of the programme split up and separately expressed.
   During these years, Stirling evolved a style heavily indebted to Le Corbusier, but incorporating elements inspired by the northern industrial aesthetic of the nineteenth century. The Stirling Gowan Partnership was dissolved in 1963. In 1971, Stirling took into partnership Michael Wilford, a former assistant, and the practice continued under the title of James Stirling, Michael Wilford and Associates.
   Stirling’s work first attracted controversy with his design for the History Faculty, Cambridge, 1967. The building’s users were soon complaining about roof leaks and excessive solar heat gain through the dramatically ‘cascading’ glass roof. In 1977, Stirling designed the Staatsgalerie and Workshop Theatre in Stuttgart, possibly his best-known work. This building, in an urban setting, shows the full range of Stirling’s ability to re-invent a traditional building type, melding a collection of eclectic elements into a harmonious whole. Stirling’s ‘Turner Museum’ extension to the Tate Gallery, London in 1980 continues the playful eclectic approach to composition, subtly complementing the existing Gallery and its surroundings (see Tate(s)).
   Stirling’s work attracted further controversy with his design for low-cost housing at Southgate, Runcorn New Town (1967–77). Houses were grouped to form blocks around landscaped open spaces, emulating the scale of the English Georgian square. The project was greatly admired in the architectural press, but the tenants were not so happy. Unfortunately, the combination of deck access planning and low-income families with social problems led to insoluble management problems. The scheme was eventually demolished and replaced by more conventional low-rise housing, as preferred by the tenants.
   Stirling’s later work was marked by the incorporation of robust forms and shapes derived from traditional building. His work was thereby rendered more accessible to the lay public. In 1980, Stirling was awarded the RIBA’s Royal Gold Medal for Architecture, and in 1981 he received the Pritzker Architecture Prize. He was also knighted for his services to architecture.
   Further reading
    Arnell, P. and Bickford, E. (1993) James Buildings and Projects, London: Rizzoli International Publications (Whitaker UK).

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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