Burton, Richard (9 of 10). National  Life Story Collection: Architects' Lives

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  • Recording date

    2014-02-01, 2014-02-08, 2014-02-09, 2014-02-15, 2014-02-16, 2015-09-10

  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home, London

  • Interviewees

    Burton, Richard, 1933-2017 (speaker,  male)

  • Interviewers

    Franklin, Geraint (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 9: [Session five: 16 February 2014] Description of studio and garden. Retirement from ABK in 2003 after ill health. Practice continued by PA and PK; dissolved 2013. Continuation of Irish practice under ABK name. [00:04:11] RB and MB bought chalet in Champéry, Switzerland in 1971. Restoration of chalet an educational project for family. [00:06:39] Description of RB’s project to document inhabitants of Champéry through sketch portraits and conversations, to be published in book form. Mentions conversations with station master and man who built own house. Forthcoming book launch. [00:17:40] RB known in Champéry as ‘l’artiste’. Mentions exhibition ‘la balade de Richard’, sponsored by Tourist Office. Description of RB’s drawings and paintings of area, framed in studio. In Second World War people crossed through valley between France and Switzerland. [00:25:45] Description of chalet; layout of interconnected flats; its original use as farmhouse. Villagers’ involvement in farming in summer and tourism in winter. Family project to restore chalet. RB and MB spend spring there. [00:34:35] Design and construction of RB’s house in Kentish Town. Project started in 1986 after National Gallery episode. Account of acquisition of site from long garden of adjacent house. Built in stages, with studio completed in 1990. Construction supervised by RB. House largely on single level, around courtyard. Description of house, its layout and construction. Wooden furniture and fittings design by RB’s sons Bim and Mark. Linking conservatory recalls Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘House on the Mesa’. High levels of insulation [00:45:35 brief interruption]. Upgrading of building regulations to improve energy conservation; challenge of improving energy performance of existing buildings. Remarks on design of studio and upper gallery. Popularity of double-height living spaces. Studio roof designed to minimise shadow cast upon main house. [00:54:32] Only one bedroom on first floor; adjoining geodesic dome. [00:57:26] Construction of Annexe on adjoining site, intended for RB’s family. Site jointly acquired with neighbour, Eric Reynolds. Description of layout. Explanation of geodesic domes. [01:01:46] Account of MB’s father [Jupp Dernbach-Mayen] [JDM], an artist. Born [1908] in Germany, the son of a stonemason. JDM sent to art school by employer; later painted scenery in Berlin Staatstheater. Story of JDM’s flight from Nazi Germany to Ibiza. MB’s mother Miette Dernbach [MD] [daughter of the naturalist Marcel Hardy]. MB born prematurely in England. JDM in Demark at outbreak of Second World War; return to England and internment in camp at Huyton. [01:07:02 brief interruption in recording] JDM later service in Pioneer Corps and nervous breakdown. MB’s family lived in High Wycombe; returned to London after War. MB’s education in Roman Catholic school in Cavendish Square incorporating [Mother and Child by] Jacob Epstein; and secondary school in Mill Hill. MB’s family lived at Cavendish Avenue in St Johns Wood [01:11:11 brief pause in recording] MB’s contact with RB’s family before meeting RB. RB and MB’s meeting at party in Cavendish Avenue; both students. MB worked as secretary in publishing firm. JDM withheld permission for marriage of RB to MB for year; RB then completing thesis at AA. Their marriage [in 1956] and honeymoon in France. RB and MB’s mutual interest in arts and acquaintances with artists. MB’s pregnancy and illness during trip to Iran. [01:18:18] Birth of first son Mark [in 1957]. Family lived in RB’s father’s house in St Johns Wood, then flat at grandmother’s house nearby. Birth of Bim [David, b.1958], John [b.1960], and Katy [b. 1962]. Pressures of combining family life with starting up architectural practice. Family reading sessions. [01:23:04] RB and MB’s decision to stay at home in Kentish town. Description of four children: their education, careers and families. Mark trained as craftsman with John Makepeace; later move to Shropshire; work on interior design for disabled people. Bim a designer-maker, also head of model making at Bartlett School. John studied at London School of Economics, works for Eric Reynolds, a specialist in the regeneration of markets. Remarks on economic benefits of markets. RB’s close contact with children. Katy studied Chinese art and history at SOAS [School of Oriental and African Studies], marriage and son. Divorce from husband and move into Annexe. [01:35:54] A ‘diverse and creative family’. RB’s interest in education of children and grandchildren. [01:39:17] RB’s consultation of MB in his work. Division of work in household. [01:42:13] Description of paintings and drawings in RB’s studio. Explanation of blank wall, and decision to paint certain brick walls. Description of objects and paintings in living room, kitchen and study. [01:58:33] Description of Bill [William] Pye water sculpture in garden; story of ‘Ali Baba’ jar, gift of garden designer James Hope. Sculpture by Bernard McGuigan, partner of RB’s daughter, in annexe. [02:05:32] Remarks on ability to visualise spaces, and relationship with drawing. [02:10:48] Defines imagination as ability to make connections between observations and design ideas . Example of ‘stander’ table designed for a hospital waiting room. [02:14:33] Close relationship with paternal aunt, [Christabel Bielenberg née Burton] [CB], described by RB as head of family. When she died, RB became head of family. CB’s farmhouse in County Carlow. Husband Peter Bielenberg; his role in [Stauffenberg] plot to kill Hitler. Mentions CB’s book ‘the Past is Myself’. Their life in pre-war Berlin; CB’s rescue of husband from Ravensbrück concentration camp. Description of harvest at their farm, and journey from Dublin. [02:28:08] RB’s relationship with CB based on storytelling, an Irish tradition. Story of storytelling pub in County Clare; family story of gambling priest. Ability of RB’s children to tell stories. RB’s reluctance to write family story.

  • Description

    Life story interview with Richard Burton (1933-2017), architect.

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