Chapter 0 – Concepts, covers, notes; the lost preface
At left is a mock up of my design for the front cover of the book, done within days of it being conceived. I initially envisaged a much more sober, almost academic, book, with a monochrome cover to match. The photo of Burne House was taken by me. Though much altered, this basic concept clearly informed the final version. A rear cover was also created (above); its text was re-used elsewhere.
Chapter titles were originally to have had a span of dates appended to each to clarify the chronology. This is how I finally set them out after many, many iterations:
The Power of Process
The architecture of Michael Pearson
Preface – a note from the author
2 Inheritance 1904-1945
3 Life 1933-1974
4 Context 1945-1958
5 British works I 1958-1972
6 Burne House telecommunications centre 1968-1977
7 International works 1974-1983
8 British works II 1983-
9 Pearson today
List of projects and information on sources
And this is the preface, itself intended to set the scene and give the reader a bit of background. It consciously adopted a slightly lighter tone. Note the date, reflecting completion of the manuscript, before design began:
Preface – a note from the author
“There are some things I’ve done I’d like to discuss.” Those were Michael Pearson’s words to me over dinner before going on to suggest what became this project, and they both excited and worried me. Excited me, because I felt that recording what he had achieved was long overdue and I hoped I could help, and worried me because of what it might mean for both of us in the coming months.
But right away, a possible title came to mind and certain ideas started to form… It was rather daunting, but as Churchill said, “Don’t argue the matter. The difficulties will argue for themselves.”
They did, over the many months of collaboration which followed, and the result is the book you hold in your hands, which aims to explore and illuminate Michael’s work and put it into some perspective. Michael asked me for an outsider’s view and that’s what I have tried to provide. Of course, being friends for over a decade made that a test but I hope I have achieved what critic Alan Powers, in wise words of advice to me, described as a degree of detachment, whilst acknowledging my liking for the man and his works.
That the front cover shows the radical and prescient Burne House telecommunications centre is no co-incidence; it is the building which caught my eye over twenty years ago and led to my meeting Michael and, as I have been pleasantly surprised to discover, it is the building which he believes has central importance in his oeuvre. For that reason it also occupies the largest portion of this book.
Driven principally by the linear continuity of the Pearson family practice, I have elected to follow a generally chronological structure. Whilst a full history of that firm is awaited, I do set out something of the inheritance which provided much of the context for Michael and his early works. A simple approach to his biographical details allows certain aspects of his life to be considered in more depth where these have particular relevance to his architecture.
After a brief examination of the practice as it stood in the years following World War II, subsequent chapters explore selected works by Michael, grouped to match three broad periods of his professional life and centered around the most detailed account ever published of Burne House, a building which took almost ten years to complete from first involvement to final handover and which stands as his greatest achievement.
This approach treats discretely aspects which in reality overlapped, such as teaching and practice, but it does focus attention on the architecture. Relevant links to other facets of his story are thus made clear as needed.
The text quotes extensively from interviews and conversations with Michael conducted by phone and in person, the latter sometimes on location as we explored his buildings. These last provide a rare opportunity to hear an architect experience, recall and review his own work with candour and humour. Each quotation is dated via footnotes, in which the abbreviation MP is used for convenience. Editing is indicated by […], and the same convention has been followed with emails and letters from Michael as well as quotations from other sources.
Where dimensions are cited, Imperial measurements are given first with metric equivalents in brackets for the early British projects, with international and later British works mostly described in metric only.
Photographs of built works are mostly contemporary with the buildings concerned, as are drawings. More information on the nature and status of material relating to Michael’s career can be found in the List of projects and information on sources at the back of the book.
Michael Pearson’s friendship and support these last years have been a source of inspiration and elucidation; I hope this book will provide a little of the same for readers.
The two quotations had footnotes to explain their sources. The first came from the conversation between Michael and me on 7 August 2007 which began the whole project. The second was Churchill's note to the Chief of Combined Operations, 30 May 1942, entitled Piers for use on beaches; he was giving impetus to the scheme that would yield the famous Mulberry floating harbours to support the Allied landings at Normandy two years later. Our little project was not quite on the same scale, but this was my immediate reaction.