“I don't really like the buildings my dad designs. They're all so boring - made of glass and steel and that's it. I'd prefer it if this was a normal house like the one over the road. When I'm in the mood I say, ‘Dad, tell me about architecture.’ There's not a lot to it. You've just got to get a piece of paper and a pencil. He wants me to grow up to be an architect, but I don't. It's boring. I want to be in something like the police force, something exciting.”
So spoke a young Jay Foster, son of Norman, back in 1996. As well as being decidedly unfazed by the totemic success of his father, Jay it seems has no intention of following in his professional footsteps. But there are many other architects’ sons who have taken the opposite view. Why? Is there something about the role of architect that inspires filial emulation from their offspring? Is an architect’s son (or daughter) more likely to follow in their parents’ footsteps than a lawyer, a doctor or a policeman?
Probably not. Any vocation by its very nature must be deeply personal undertaking and requires a level of commitment that genealogy alone is unlikely to provide. All intense professional careers must inevitably cast an aura over family life but there is little evidence to support a claim that this impact is particularly intensified in architecture. In fact, if any profession bears the hallmarks of dynastic succession then it is not architecture but politics - the Kennedys, Bushes and even Millibands of the world are testament to that.
Nevertheless, the idea that architecture emits some kind of magnetic, hallucinogenic draw upon its progeny is undoubtedly seductive. It is a suspicion invariably strengthened by the fact that for much of the lay general public, architecture remains a profession shrouded in mystery and anonymity. Obeisant sons being secretly indoctrinated into a Masonic architectural circle certainly appeals to an outlandish pulp-fictional narrative.
And of course the hereditary theory is backed up by lots of anecdotal evidence. During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance there was a strong cultural tradition of craftsmanship being passed on from father to son. So whether it is fate or coincidence, we take a look at some of the more famous examples of sons following their fathers into architecture below...
Edwin and Robert Lutyens
Edwin Lutyens was one of the most influential English architects of the early 20th century, spearheading a modern brand of monumental, vernacular classicism that spread from the City of London to New Delhi. Robert Lutyens built less but did give us the sleek Art Deco facade of the Pantheon M&S on the eastern half of London’s Oxford Street. Poetically, Dad had already built an even bigger retail block on the western half, now gregariously occupied by Primark.
George Dance the Elder and Younger
This urbane Palladian duo pretty much had the City of London sewn up between them. Dad served as the City’s chief surveyor for much of the mid-18th century and was thereby able to award himself plum commissions such as Mansion House and St. Leonard’s Church Shoreditch. Son was even more prolific and designed the neo-Gothic porch on the City’s Guildhall as well as the masterplan featuring the crescent where Bloomsbury’s Building Centre sits.
Eliel and Eero Saarinen
Of this Finnish-American pair, it is son Eero who is by far the better known. His graceful and dynamic Modernism redefined aviation in the 1960s and gave us magnificent terminals at JFK and Washington Dulles. Unfortunately it also gave us London’s American Embassy. Few realise that his father was also an architect, whose early works were heavily influenced by the English Arts and Crafts movement.
Albert Speer and Albert Speer Jnr.
When poor Albert Speer Jnr. unveiled his Olympic masterplan proposals for the Beijing 2008 Games, it was perhaps inevitable that his axial and monumental style of urbanism was unfavourably compared to that of his father’s. The fact that technically Speer Jnr. is a town planner and not an architect made little difference. Despite having Hitler as his boss, Speer Snr. was actually a remarkably gifted and talented young architect. However, history will forever taint his spectacular neo-classical designs with the pungent pall of fascism.
Sir George Gilbert Scott, Giles Gilbert Scott and Richard Gilbert Scott
The Scotts are the greatest architect dynasty Britain has ever produced. Head of the family was Sir George Gilbert Scott, a titan of the Victorian age who was dexterous enough to produce romantic Gothic (St. Pancras Stn.) or palatial classicsm (Foreign Office) depending on his client's wishes. His grandson Giles Gilbert Scott also left an astonishing body of work which includes Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, Battersea Power Station, Tate Modern, Waterloo Bridge and the iconic red K2 telephone box. His son Richard Gilbert Scott designed Modernist and post-modern additions to London’s Guildhall in the 1970s and 1990s respectively. There were others too, including Art Deco Elizabeth Scott, probably England’s first prominent female architect. Incredibly, the Scotts have been active in every style and generation of British architecture since the early 19th century.
Jacques V and Ange-Jacques Gabriel
The Gabriels were integral to French 18th century classical architecture. Father Jaques was a disciple of French Baroque icon Jules Hardouin-Mansart and embellished Hardouin-Mansart’s Versailles with lavish Rococo interiors. Later, his son Ange-Jaques applied sumptuous neo-classicism to his designs for Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon and Paris’s magnificent Place de la Concorde.
Richard and John Seifert
Richard Seifert changed London’s skyline more than any architect since Wren. With almost 600 buildings under his belt in London alone, including iconic landmarks such as Centre Point and the former NatWest Tower, he transformed post-war urban Britain and virtually single-handedly introduced the commercial tower block into the British architectural lexicon. His son John took over his vast practice in 1984 and ran it from offices in Bloomsbury up until its closure last year.