RMJM’s rich cultural heritage now extends to every continent on the planet covering developments as varied as hospitals, museums, hotels and some of the world’s most recognizable skyscrapers. However, the practice founded by Robert Matthew and Stirrat Johnson-Marshal first gained recognition in the early years for their functional modern style, a style which would later become synonymous with the company. Below we look at some of the projects that remain inextricably linked to the fabric of RMJM and which have now become modern treasures, buildings with an architectural value which continue to increase as time passes. While the beauty of many modern buildings tends to be fleeting, these show the steadfast nature of great architecture.
The Royal Commonwealth Pool by RMJM
The Royal Commonwealth Pool
The Royal Commonwealth Pool, one of the most distinguished buildings in Edinburgh (itself no mean feat), is something of a landmark building for RMJM and remains as important to the city now as the day it opened in 1970 by HRM Princess Anne. The enormous footprint of the building masks an unexpectedly complex spatial quality once inside which was clear to RIBA who recognised the achievement with an award in 1970. The clean lines and stunning simplicity of the building lend it a timelessness and the move to grant it listed status in 1996 as an “outstanding piece of architecture” was welcomed by the citizens of Edinburgh. Heralded for their integrated approach to architecture and engineering (the pools were painstakingly excavated below ground level into a subsoil of stiff clay), the Royal Commonwealth Pool remains a symbol of what great architecture can be: world class facilities (or Olympic in this case) that stand to serve the needs of the community every day of the year.
University of Sterling (RMJM)
University of Stirling
The University of Stirling has much in common with the Royal Commonwealth Pool both in terms of structure and design and the way it has become something of a pillar of the local community. The low-rise modernist campus rests within the greenery and seems to sit tranquilly within the landscape. In fact, as Miles Glendinning noted in his biography of Robert Matthew, the building was originally conceived as ‘a loosely structured shed’ which is unsurprising given the environment it was built and the temporary nature of constructs across many British universities at the time. Mathew, again, was thinking further ahead and had designs on making something that could be adapted for continuing use, a building that would be seen as a microcosm of the university itself, housing teaching, research and accommodation. Alistair Fair commented: “It is a supreme example of RMJM’s considered, unfussy approach, an example of a Modernism founded on social purpose rather than the wish to make a flashy statement, and a demonstration that speed, economy and pragmatism can nonetheless generate uplifting architecture.” The building was listed Category A in 2009.
New Zealand House (RMJM)
New Zealand House
One of the jewels in RMJM’s London crown remains the imposing New Zealand House, situated a stone’s throw from Piccadilly Circus. As is often the way with great architecture, New Zealand House was met with opposition upon its announcement that would see it become the first major office tower in Central London. However, as the years passed since its unveiling in 1963, London has found itself home to a number of skyscrapers that blotch its historic skyline and New Zealand quickly became a building celebrated by the wider public. A large degree of its success, in comparison to the modern monoliths that have since flooded the city, is undoubtedly down to the fact that Robert Matthews was an architect who looked forward rather than up. He saw the value, the timelessness of merging culture (in this case New Zealand’s indigenous one) with forward thinking design that sits in stark contrast to London’s more recent ‘anything-goes’ attitude. It was no surprise that the building was given listed status in 1995 with particular praise coming for the attention RMJM paid to the internal detail of the structure with many of the ceilings made of New Zealand timbers and the number of outside spaces (terraces, internal gardens, courtyards) it manages to incorporate. The Architects Journal commented: “Every so often a building is complete which can serve as a yardstick by which we measure our architectural standards and conceptions. Such a building is New Zealand House.”