Roland Paoletti Memorial

Thursday 30 January 2014

The great and good of architecture were out in force at the NLA last night to honour the life and legacy of Roland Paoletti – the driving force behind the Jubilee Line Extension.

Paoletti – who died last November – had a major impact on the capital, said NLA chairman Peter Murray, London becoming ‘more aware of the delights of good contemporary architecture’ through his work on the line. Although he doubted Paoletti’s strategy at the time of the first exhibition on the extension stations at the Architecture Foundation, said architectural author Ken Powell, the British-born Paoletti convinced him he was wrong, and that the marriage of architecture and engineering would help drive regeneration in east London and Docklands. ‘He made the JLE the world-renowned showpiece it is’, said Powell. Cabe’s Paul Finch said Paoletti’s work represented not what was possible but something that was symbolic of an attitude to public life. The JLE supremo told at least three architects that their stations were his favourites, Finch added, but he also believed that if an architect had not done a building type before, that should be no barrier to entry if the client had the track record. ‘He blew that away. It’s not necessarily the architect who provides the experience.’

The memorial also included representations from some of the architects involved in the station designs, including Westminster station designer Sir Michael Hopkins, who like Paoletti shared a passion for Lucca, where they both had houses. One of the key moves at Westminster was Paoletti’s support for Hopkins’ idea to leave the station box ‘quite raw’, instead investing in the passenger environment and escalators. Former MacCormac Jamieson Prichard man Ian Logan told how Southwark was in essence a homage to Charles Holden, along with references to shipping and boats. Paoletti would often call at 8.30 in the morning to talk about the ‘wee station’ (he spent time in Scotland), but also to talk about the house Logan designed in Wapping that he called home. London Bridge architect Chris Williamson was grateful to Paoletti for giving his practice, Weston Williamson, their first break, even if he described it as the station ‘no-one else wanted to do’, but Williamson hoped his stewardship of the JLE would positively influence the design quality of Crossrail and HS2. 

Other highlights of the evening included Foster and Partners’ David Nelson, describing the JLE as being ‘like jazz’, with Paoletti bravely letting the architects ‘leave the hole’ at Canary Wharf. ‘We said we’ve created all this space – we think it will be wonderful. All he said was ‘yes’.’ Will Alsop said that although ‘we all loved him, he was a difficult bugger’. He wanted to leave the entire station open but had to resort to simply making it dark blue to attain something of a Piranesian quality, despite a LU committee woman responding that the colour choice would only make passengers think they were on the Victoria line. Alsop’s former partner John Lyall added they only realised they had won that battle – against Paoletti too - to create the blue mosaic panels when they saw Michaela Strachan on TV affixing the first – on ‘Blue Peter’. Paoletti helped ‘toughen them up’, said Lyall. ‘He taught us to stand up and be counted.’ He also ‘made’ Wilkinson Eyre, said Jim Eyre, recounting the time Paoletti put them in their place after Stratford. ‘He said ‘I made you’. And he was right’.  Finally, Jo van Heynigen, who created West Ham station – the last station to be commissioned and the first to open, said Paoletti was a driving force for good in the capital, and for the architects in their collaboration – and sometimes struggles – with the engineers. ‘He supported us’, she said. ‘And we supported him.’

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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