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I WAS TOLD IT WAS ‘MORALLY WRONG’ TO BE INTERESTED IN TRADITIONAL DESIGN

Hugh Petter graduated from the Foundation in 1990. A recognised authority on classical and traditional architecture, Hugh’s fascination with traditional design has led to a distinguished career as both an architect and academician.

Hugh is one of five directors of Adam Architecture, one of the leading practitioners of traditional architecture in Europe. He also serves as Vice-Chairman of The Georgian Goup, as a member of the RIBA Planning Group; of INTBAU’s International College of Traditional Practitioners; and the Fine Arts Faculty of the British School at Rome; the Council of Advisors for the Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America in New York, as well as lecturing at the Academy of Urbanism.

We spoke to him about how his partiality towards the traditional would both challenge, and enrich his artistic evolution.

Hugh Petter 

Which one of our education programmes did you take part in and when?

The first Summer School in Civil Architecture in 1990, based at Magdalen College Oxford, The British School at Rome, and the Villa Lante, Bagnaia, near Viterbo in Italy.

I was part sponsored by Portsmouth School of Architecture where I finished my post-graduate Diploma in 1990. At that time the head of school was Prof Geoffrey Broadbent who saw his job as to provide his students with an understanding of a broad range of approaches to architectural design before encouraging each student to develop as an individual designer. Debate amongst year groups should then be focussed upon quality of design, not promoting one style above another. As a concept it was excellent, but the reality was that a number of the tutors thought my interest in traditional design was unhealthy, or even morally wrong. I was moderated from a distinction down to a borderline fail in the final internal exam, before being moderated up again to a distinction by my external examiner. It was a roller coaster!     

 

How did your time at the Foundation influence you?

The 1990 Summer School was a life changing experience. Up until that point I had felt very isolated. Suddenly I was amongst a group of 25 international students and young architects all of whom had shared interests, and we were taught by the most extraordinary line-up of tutors of the highest distinction from across the world. It was intoxicating, and helped set me on a path that has guided my whole career thereafter. I have remained firm friends with many of my cohort, and indeed the tutors.

 

After finishing the course, what path did you career take?

Also in 1990, I won a Rome Scholarship in Architecture, and so after the summer school went immediately back to the British School at Rome to study the architecture and urban planning of that city in the years after Italian Unification in 1870. A year later I won a second Rome Scholarship to continue this research, and was also asked to teach on the Italian leg of the Summer School, which I helped to set up. That was hugely enjoyable, and I was thrilled later that year to be invited to help set up the Foundation Course in Architecture and the Building Arts at the Prince of Wales Institute of Architecture in the summer of 1992. 

I worked as a senior tutor at POWIA until 1998 and, working with Brian Hanson, Paul Marchant and Clary Salandy, developed the curriculum for the Foundation Course. It was a real pleasure to teach students things which I had all too often had to teach myself, and indeed to extend my own education through the course. Like the summer schools, we only employed visiting tutors, all of whom were distinguished in their particular field of expertise. We endeavoured to give students a broad range of practical and intellectual skills; to expose them where possible to live projects in their work, and to assemble tutors from a broad range of disciplines to promote an appreciation of craftsmanship and beautiful design; mutual respect; learning from one another, and collaborative working. 

I also met my future wife, Chloe Forrester, who was the first academic administrator at POWIA.  We have been married now for 21 years and have two lovely children: Harry (16) and Charlotte (15).   

I left POWIA in 1998 to focus on my professional career as an architect having recently become a director of my practice, ADAM Architecture.

 

What involvement with the Foundation have you had since?

In 2003, I was delighted to work with Ben Bolgar (my room-mate from the 1990 Summer School, and now a Senior Director at the Prince's Foundation) for The Duchy of Cornwall. I prepared a pattern book for architectural and urban form Newquay on the north Cornish coast, in anticipation of a major urban extension on land owned by The Duchy on the edge of the town. Leon Krier, (a friend from the first Summer School), and I worked together with the Foundation for an Enquiry by Design consultation event at Newquay before he produced a conceptual masterplan. Thereafter I have worked in concert with Ben and Hank Dittmar (former Director of the Foundation) as the master-planners and coordinating architect for Nansledan, Newquay, which began on site in 2012. With some 4,000 new homes anticipated, at a build out rate of 100 a year, it is unlikely I will live to see it finished, but it has been and remains very exciting to be part of such an inspirational project.

Aside from Newquay I have visited the Foundation regularly over the years to teach on the summer schools and to talk to the graduate Fellows.     

Many people whom I have met through the Foundation have become firm friends and on occasion I have had the good fortune to work with some of them too.

 

Tell us about your involvement as a PFBC Trustee.

Having had such a profound influence upon my own life, I was delighted to be asked in 2015 to become a trustee of the Foundation and to have an opportunity to put something back into the Charity.

Over the past 15 months I have very much enjoyed getting to know the excellent team of people who currently make up the staff of the Foundation and learning more about each area of the charity’s activities. The launch of the BIMBY Toolkit at the end of 2015 was the start of a new and exciting chapter. Whilst I claim no credit in its creation, it is in my opinion an exceedingly powerful and worthwhile tool, which will help empower local communities to control more effectively both the nature and quality of development in their area.

I have enjoyed working closely too with my fellow trustees to consolidate the work of the Foundation in areas where it can add tangible value and to help to put it on a solid footing for the future.  There is a good deal more work to do – not least reaching out and reconnecting with all those who, like me, have had their lives touched by the Foundation having attended one of its courses. 

 

In what other ways do you reconnect with Foundation Alumni?

My interest in the crafts, fostered during my time as Senior Tutor of the Foundation Course, led me to join the Art Workers Guild, where a number of Foundation alumni and tutors are “brothers.” I was asked to become a trustee in 2003 and took over as chairman from 2006 - 2009. Working closely with Luke Hughes who was chairman before me, we used some money from a legacy to renovate the building in Queen Sq. We built a website to promote the work of the members more actively and appointed a new full time secretary.  The income for the charity went up by over 300% and membership is now growing at a healthy rate of about 10% per annum. We also built a dedicated website to promote craft apprenticeship, listing all the courses available at different institutions and the sources of funding which are available, together with a list of established craftsmen who are prepared to take on an apprentice.

The AWG work led to my being asked to join the Carpenters’ Company and have served as a governor of their excellent Building Crafts College in Stratford in East London. The BCC enjoys close relations with the Foundation.

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