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The aim was to get to the essence of the British town and to teach lessons that could be learnt and

Posted on 20 August 2010

The aim was to get to the essence of the British town and to teach lessons that could be learnt and applied by contemporary architects and planners.The culmination of this investigation was Cullen’s instructive and seminal book Townscape, first published in 1961. This determination to see the ordinary afresh with an inquisitive eye was an abiding passion with Cullen. One of the earliest manifestations was the infant Cullen’s attempt to walk upstairs backwards by the use of a mirror. A hazardous activity but, as Cullen observed, the usual suddenly became fresh, unusual and visible for the first time.Cullen had begun his townscape studies in earnest in 1949 when he joined the staff of the AR. The ideas were developed in close collaboration with Hastings, who had a finely developed appreciation of the urban qualities of Italian hill-towns, which he wrote about enthusiastically under the challenging pseudonym Ivor de Wofle.Cullen and Hastings also collaborated on the making of the AR’s basement bar, The Bride of Denmark.

This, besides being an attempt at the creation of an ideal English pub, was also a demonstration of the principles of townscape – it is an ideal English town in miniature. The pub possesses alcoves that give a sense of enclosure, passages that offer vistas (distorted and extended by the clever use of mirrors) and which end in surprises, a genteel saloon bar and the rougher workers’ quarter represented by the public bar – one a dark and glittering gin palace with exotic paint finishes (which Hde C made his young editors apply under the expert guidance of seasoned pub painters), and the other scrubbed and beery. All this survives, although long abandoned, beneath the feet of those scurrying past the AR’s old offices in Queen Anne’s Gate. It is a great shame that this monument to a great moment in English taste is not saved for the nation.Cullen left the AR in 1959 – a wise move since prolonged exposure to H de C.

tended to have an unsettling effect on men made of even the sternest stuff. This intellectual detachment paid off for it was during the next decade or so that Cullen produced a series of articles in the AR which first laid down the framework for Townscape and which then developed its ideas. These articles had a profound influence on the way towns were perceived and, gradually, on the way more sensitive planners and architects attempted to remake town centres in the architecturally troubled decade of the 1960s.Cullen continued to write and act as an influential planning consultant throughout the 1970s but it was not until 1983 when he started an architectural practice with the young David Price that Cullen really began to turn his own theories to practical use. There followed a series of important planning studies which showed the principles of townscape at work. The scope was vast, from Docklands in London to Edinburgh, Glasgow and even Oslo, where Cullen was commissioned in 1984 to create a ceremonial route to link the palace with the harbour.Before joining the staff at the AR, Cullen had spent the war years working for the Colonial Service in the West Indies, where he designed the first building of his to be built – a highly Modernist school on St Vincent Apparently it survives. The Modernism of this structure was no doubt due to the young Cullen’s pre-war employment with Berthold Lubetkin and Tecton.

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