Jamie Fobert

Jamie Fobert Architects was formed in 1996 and has been awarded the Manser Medal and the RIBA and English Heritage ‘Award for a building in an historic context’. His projects include Kettle’s Yard Gallery, Cambridge; the Charleston Trust; and most recently the Tate St Ives. This work has involved placing contemporary buildings within an historic setting.

This talk reflected on his approach to architecture, how context influences the work of an architect, and how his work is affected by the work of contemporary artists.

The St Ives Trust Autumn Talks made a noteworthy start with architect Jamie Fobert as the first speaker. The talks have been instigated by the St Ives Trust to raise a discussion toward a better designed future for the town. In the first series of talks architects and urban designers have been invited to discuss the context of the town and give a critical view at this pivotal point in the development of St Ives. In his opening remarks Trust Chairman, Rex Henry stated that, the talks are intended to promote a wider discussion that may develop towards a town plan to which we should all be author.

This utopian idea stated, Jamie Fobert stepped up to the platform and gave an inspired and informative talk to the packed Council Chamber. He established that the talk was not a presentation on his current project for the Tate St Ives extension, nor as an architect did he want to tell the audience how the town should develop but rather give an insight into how as an architect he worked to make contemporary buildings appropriate to a historic context.

Video: Jamie talks to a packed Guildhall Chamber

The talk was enlightening, in depth and inspiring, Jamie Fobert began by talking about the qualities of light and space that depict atmosphere in the interiors of Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi as these paintings illustrate a depth and emotion that cannot be represented in architectural drawings. He explained that architecture is light, space and atmosphere but the architect does not draw these and one of the difficulties that architects face is to capture these qualities. Jamie Fobert explained through his projects how the architect synthesises an understanding of the site and the client to build in sensitive and revered locations. He showed an architecture that is not pastiche but gives clarity between the historic and contemporary, buildings that are complimentary to and distinct from the past.

Using the work of sculptor Chillida, he explained that the making of form is the hardest thing an architect is asked to do but provoked the audience by stating that the vernacular forms of the old town; the subtle irregularities from the improvised and ad hoc arrangements of the old town are sculptural and beautiful – but that was St Ives before the arrival of the mundane and ubiquitous Victorian terraces.

Jamie Fobert held the attention of an appreciative audience as he talked and gave insight into the disparity between the description of a building that may sound undesirable but the reality that can be wonderful, illustrating this idea with the ‘orange’ barns at Charleston.

It was a thoughtful talk and generously gave an insight into how architects work and left the audience with some inspiration to regard again our history, think about the present and hope for the future.


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