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The 1960s, a living heritage: Q&A with John Puttick

Detail was founded in the 1960s. What did this decade leave us behind in terms of architecture?
For me, the architecture of the 1960s is very much associated with the first major project we won after I had opened John Puttick Associates – the refurbishment of Preston Bus Station. The building is a very well known example of Brutalist architecture and being intimately involved with it for several years allowed me to reflect on buildings of the period. The bus station – like many 1960s buildings – is an incredibly bold structure, experimental in many ways – as a piece of infrastructure, in its forms, the innovative use of concrete and GRP. Architecture of that time seems to be marked by an optimism and willingness to try new things. Today we are probably more considerate in the way we design – there is more concern for history and context – but I think we can learn lessons from the confidence of architecture of that period and be brave enough to try new things.

When did you first come across Detail, and what do you associate with the magazine?
Like many architects I first encountered Detail when I was a student – at the University of Nottingham and then the Bartlett, both in the UK. In both cases the library had a full set of the magazine and initially it was a very handy resource to use to research details for the tricky 1:20 building section that always seemed to be part of the project requirements. Over time I came to realise that Detail is an incredible resource – both as a student and then in practice. Its a bit like having an encylopedia of architecture to hand. I value the magazine because it is literally in detail – it gets into what buildings are about and how they are made in great depth. Graphically it is also very clean and bright which makes it enjoyable to read. I also love the Detail Edition books – I have the one on the Renzo Piano Building Workshop on my desk and look at it all the time for inspiration.

Where do you think architecture will stand in 60 years time? What issues will architects have to deal with? What materials and construction techniques will they be employing and what kinds of buildings will they be designing?
Buildings, the wider built environment and its relationship with society and the world is only becoming more complex. I think architects are very creative and open-minded people with great skills in problem-solving – and so there will continue to be an important role for them to play. Looking ahead 60 years, if we extrapolate from current trends I would anticipate wood becoming the major structural material in buildings – surpassing steel and concrete – which will change how buildings are built and look, as well as have an impact on the wider ecology.  It also seems likely that the retrofit of existing structures will play a bigger role – not as preservation, but as radical refurbishments introducing new uses while preserving embodied carbon. The recent pandemic has also revealed weaknesses in the large single-use building – office buildings in particular – so I would expect to see increased multi-functionality in buildings which corresponds with current trends in urbanism. If I have one wish it would be to see the end of the private car which would completely transform the city.

But of course nobody can really say where architecture will be 60 years from now. There will be new developments in technology and society that are completely unexpected and will – I hope – inspire us to design buildings in a way that we simply cannot anticipate today.

John Puttick founded John Puttick Associates in 2014 with the competition winning entry to refurbish the iconic Preston Bus Station.  The Brutalist landmark re-opened to the public in 2018 and was selected by both the BBC and The Observer as one of the architectural highlights of the year. The project has won National and Regional RIBA awards. The success of the Bus Station has led to work on a number of other civic and community buildings including a museum remodelling in Hertfordshire, the refurbishment and extension of a Grade II* Listed Charles Barry-designed church in Brighton and a series of new build youth centres across the UK. John Puttick Associates has also completed projects in the US and China. Born in the UK, John studied architecture at the University of Nottingham and the Bartlett, UCL where he subsequently taught a Diploma unit. He has lived and worked in London, New York and Beijing and a book of his drawings is held in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Q&A with John Puttick, Photo: John Puttick Associates
Q&A with John Puttick, Photo: Rory Gardiner
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