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Architecture in tension: an examination of the position of the architect in the private and public sectors, focusing on the training and careers of Sir Basil Spence (1907-1976) and Sir Donald Gibson (1908-1991)

By Sarah Helen Walford


In the early 1900s tensions began to appear within the architectural profession,\ud as private practitioners struggled to deal with the implications of professional\ud colleagues moving into public sector employment. Sir Basil Spence and Sir\ud Donald Gibson began their architectural training in the mid-1920s and, as\ud tensions between the sectors intensified, Spence entered private practice and\ud Gibson chose to enter the public sector. Each became an exemplar of his\ud chosen sector of the profession and yet both have, until recently, escaped\ud critical attention. The tensions between the public and private sectors of the\ud profession have been acknowledged within the historiography, but not received\ud detailed analysis.\ud This thesis advances the current historiography by presenting an examination\ud of the division between the sectors, focusing on the relationship between the\ud RIBA and the public sector union AASTA and assessing the influence of\ud AASTA on Gibson's Coventry City Architect's Department.\ud Through an examination of archival material, contemporary published material,\ud and buildings, this thesis builds on the work of the Sir Basil Spence Archive\ud Project, adding detailed accounts of his early life, architectural training, and\ud RIBA presidency, presenting new information and correcting certain aspects of\ud the accepted historiography. It likewise presents new information on Gibson's\ud early life and training and his central role in achieving improved status and\ud representation for the public sector. An analysis of selected projects provides a\ud comparative study of their contrasting approaches to architecture: the\ud technically informed, collaborative team-work of Gibson and the individual\ud artistry of Spence.\ud Both men played pivotal roles in reforming the RIBA and in changing public and\ud professional perceptions of the architect, nevertheless, the long lineage and\ud complex nature of tensions within the profession meant that the public/private\ud division was never be bridged and issues of status and representation\ud remained essentially immutable

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