Ken Shuttleworth remembers a friend, colleague and single-minded architect
Working with Jan at Foster Associates on the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank was one of the best experiences of my life. He proved to me he was an architect of incredible integrity with extreme principles. In 1979 we worked together in the team that produced the competition-winning scheme.
Jan’s thoughtful demeanour was such a contrast to the massive optimism of the rest of us.
It was a world before computers and we all worked in pencil, pen and ink. But Jan was an exceptional draughtsman who stood apart from us all. He added mapping pens, paint, parts of photographs, collage and coloured inks to his repertoire to produce wonderful images.
Jan drew many of the key images for the competition entry, which had suspension structures at discrete levels. After the project was won, the scheme evolved and Jan worked with the idea of the “chevron” scheme, which extended the concept of the suspension structures to all levels. It was an absolutely brilliant step forward that led to a flurry of activity.
One of the highlights was a visit to meet Concorde’s structural design team. Here Jan was the happiest and most animated I ever saw him. He thought all his dreams had come true and showed a real affinity with the aircraft engineers. He was rather like a child in a sweet shop.
The chevron scheme was not well received by the bank, and even though we thought it was fantastic, we needed to keep designing. We all quickly moved on to the next version – all, that was, except Jan.
He never seemed to recover from that rejection. Jan’s thoughtfulness changed to the point of him being very solemn. He lost heart and moved into the background and then away from the project.
Through this experience Jan, to me, demonstrated that he was a person of total integrity. He had great self-belief, which maybe was not always practical but always admirable. He had a single-minded approach to architecture which involved using components, rejecting wet trades and expressing the construction elements.
He was intolerant of compromise, which is the mark of a truly creative mind. Jan demonstrated that he would rather walk away than produce something even slightly less than the perfect solution. It is a lesson for us all. I shall miss him and his wonderful work and my thoughts are with his family.
Ken Shuttleworth is founder of Make Architects