Self-described ‘classic modernist’ James Gorst has two favourite buildings. The first is the crisp and austere Villa Tugendhat by Mies Van de Rohe, a seminal modernist building by a seminal modernist master; so far, so expected. The second, the Tempietto in San Pietro de Montorio in Rome by the high Renaissance, 15th/16th century architect Bramante, is a more surprising contender. What do these buildings have in common? ‘They are both such fascinating expressions of what architecture can be,’ says Gorst, who believes that buildings are essentially ‘inhabited sculptures’.
Having worked for National Theatre mastermind Sir Denys Lasdun and John Outram, Gorst set up on his own in 1981. He has recently completed private houses in London and Oxfordshire, as well as a 35,000 square foot dwelling clad in locally quarried ashlar blocks of Jurassic ironstone. There are hints of Lasdun throughout Gorst’s portfolio, in the clean, crisp lines, and the austere aesthetic of his designs.
While Gorst works within the 20th-century modernist tradition, he has adapted and relaxed the aesthetic over the years. He describes his style as ‘luxurious but austere, with a highly crafted quality to the interiors.’ A commission always starts with a conversation about where the building’s going to be and what sort of budget the client is considering. Then he will go away and think, allowing his mind to float freely with a pencil in hand. ‘Most architects are full of dreams of exciting houses,’ says Gorst.