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Honoris Causa Richard England
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Honoris Causa – Richard England Acceptance Speech

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Allow me to start off by extending my grateful thanks to the Rector of the University Professor Alfred J Vella and to the Senate and Council for having generously conferred upon me this prestigious Degree of Doctor of Engineering (Honoris Causa). My thanks also go to Professor Alex Torpiano, Dean of the Faculty for the Built Environment, a most esteemed and valued colleague for his sponsorship and indeed over generous oration. May I say that as a designer of several sacred spaces, I am also humbled to be standing here in this superb ambiance, a masterly edifice of sacrality created by architect Francesco Buonamici. No other accolades received from Universities in other countries and peers overseas, have given me more satisfaction and pleasure than this honour bestowed upon me by my homeland and more so, by my very own alma mater.

I must admit that I stand here because of what I have inherited and assimilated throughout my life and in the process of my architectural education from the rich environmental and architectural dowry of my native land; a formidable heritage which has been a major influence on the whole of my architectural formation. Is it indeed not a truism, as William Blake states, that “we become what we behold”? Over and above this rich environmental mnemonic heirloom, one also however needs a rich intellectual overlay. I was fortunate enough to obtain this from a number of personalities who I was privileged to have met and who I consider to have been invaluable teachers and mentors. These include such eminent personalities as Gio Ponti, Basil Spence and Victor Pasmore. Each meeting with these personalities was a definitive masterclass from which I always emerged enriched and intellectually enhanced. What a privilege to have personal sagacious tutorage from these extraordinary people! One other person who was also fundamental in the formation of my life and whole thinking process, who cannot remain unmentioned, was the late Professor Peter Serracino Inglott, a close, intimate and much cherished friend, who, with his measureless cultural baggage and prodigious knowledge, was always a constant beacon of cognizance and enlightenment. Allow me one other expression of gratitude on a personal level. Deep and special thanks go to my wife and muse Myriam for years of constant support, encouragement and love. 

Now some considerations on architecture, which by the way, I consider more of a vocation than a profession. It was Winston Churchill who said that “we shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us”. No other words demonstrate so clearly the onus that lies on architects’ shoulders, even more so in today’s turbulent world of speculative greed, misery and war. As architects we must remember that what we build is mood-manipulative, for, architecture influences the mental, emotional and physical state of our whole being. What we perceive informs what we believe and society is influenced and fashioned by its surroundings. Architecture, once a road to enlightenment, has today, regretfully, degenerated into a route to speculation. If we were to analyse today’s world, it is obvious that we live in a mythless era, focused solely on materialistic and commercial gain. All is measured in monetary terms. We live in an age where we know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Perhaps it is worth bearing in mind that when the last tree is cut and the last river runs dry, we cannot eat our money. Life also seems to be characterised by a malaise of indifference, not only one between human beings themselves, but also that of man’s indifferent behaviour towards the planet and its ecology. In this age of celebration with prodigious developments in science, medicine, information and communication, there is also however, a sense of loss. We have lost the true values of the spirit and consequently, the relationship between our species as fellow brethren. In a world which is spiritually and morally bankrupt, we have murdered wonder and consequently left ourselves and our planet bare, inert and barren of love. Ours is a culture numbed by consumerism and the worship of power. It may therefore be useful to bear in mind that though we still have much to learn, we perhaps, also, have more to remember.

Globalisation is gradually taking over the whole of the planet. If this means that the world is becoming more connected through economic growth and faster communication, then, this is a positive development. If on the other hand, the world turns into a global village and globalisation drapes its stolid unifying mantle over all and sundry, eradicating the unique spirit and character of particular ambiances, then regretfully, this would result in a dementia of the spirit of place of countries with a consequential loss of all individual, mnemonic baggage. If this were to happen, it will then be the particular original identity of place that will assume paramount importance, not only in emotional and soul-searching terms, but also in monetary value …let this be a warning for Malta with the sword of Damocles of high-rise mania presently hovering over our isle.

While architects of today must definitely think globally, they must also act locally. We need to ask what has happened to architecture today as a social art? Surely, it is time for us to re-establish an altruistic social consciousness for an architecture that caters for a holistic totality of human requirements. It is therefore necessary for architecture to rethink itself and not only focus on projects of mammon, speculative greed and monetary gain and profit, but more so, on the more humane requirements of the marginalised, poor, homeless, migrants, together with the millions of todays’ roaming refugees. While it is the architect’s duty to solve all functional aspects of a building, the reinstatement of poetry, myth and magic, in order to again re-awaken and re-instate in man, spirituality, ecstasy and rapture, remains a
paramount requirement. Alain de Botton in his book ‘The Architecture of Happiness’ emphasises that “the failure of architects to create congenial environments, mirrors the contemporary inability to find happiness in our lives”.

It is necessary to remember that we are all leaves of the same tree, and that tree is humanity. Stewardship of the earth is an essential philosophy to be followed, for the planet remains our common inheritance, an inheritance which must be beneficial to all of mankind. It is paramount for us to learn to value, not only what we own, but also what we share. Yet, sharing can only come about through love and reconciliation. The words of Teilhard de Chardin are worth recalling “someday, when we have mastered the winds, the tides and gravity we will harness the energies of love, then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire”. It seems that what is required now is a completely new methodology in man’s thinking and behavioural patterns. 

Booker prize author Ben Okri, reminds us that “love is the greatest weapon” perhaps the supreme tool for reconciliation, as does also Pope Francis, surely today’s most inspirational beacon of hope, with his loving, compassionate attitude, who constantly preaches that love is the most vitally needed attribute to unthread and unravel our contemporary, knotted and estranged world. 

Regretfully, our own surrounding Middle Sea basin is also plagued by hate, war and strife; conflicts stemming not only from the gluttonous greed for profit and power, but also from the misconceived creed of religious differences. It remains imperative that difference in beliefs is never translated into diffidence and this again, can only be achieved through love and reconciliation.

It is difficult to comprehend why religious conflicts come about, since the word ‘religion’ comes from the Latin word ‘relegare’ meaning to bind and bond, and also that no religion preaches violence or hate. With all this in mind, I have recently humbly conceived a project for our island; a sanctuary of peace, fashioned to foster love and reconciliation between the three Monotheistic Faiths all sharing the same Abrahamic roots. The concept, which I have termed ‘A Triangle of Peace’, incorporates the design of three sacred spaces, a Mosque, Synagogue and Christian Chapel, joined by a central communal meeting space conceived as a bridge of dialogue and reconciliation. In religion, two wars still rage – the first a literary and theological battle between believers and non-believers and a far more devastating warmongering conflict between believers themselves; all ironically lifting their disparate voices to the same God. Is it not tragic that religion, which should primarily be a hospital for souls, is turned into an arena of war? The Triangle of Peace project is conceived as a shelter and oasis of peace, reaching out for reconciliation between these three faiths. 

While only a micro effort towards creating a handshake of love and brotherhood, I sincerely hope that this project will one day see the light of day, for I remain a staunch believer in the words of Jorge Luis Borges that the job of the architect is “to weave dreams”. If the Triangle of Peace is but a micro gesture for reconciliation, other movements and ideals, on a far more macro and global scale, are required to further the cause of achieving a non-violent and peaceful world. It falls on the shoulders of the young and generations still to come, to carve the roadmap of hope. I firmly believe that they will go for it, for it is now a vital and essential necessity for the very survival of our species. Ben Okri’s words again provide encouragement “we are at a precious moment in times’ ovulation, with our spirits right, we can enchant the future with the might of love”. This will be achieved by vigilantly carrying the flag of love and reconciliation to hopefully change the destiny of mankind. However, it will not be an easy task, for we must remember that “those who dance are always considered insane by those who do not hear the music”.

Richard England
2nd December 2016



Address by Prof.A.Torpiano

The earliest recollection that I have about my decision to become an architect is an essay that I wrote asan eleven-year old, inspired by my discovery, in a children’s newspaper, of an architect called Basil Spence.Later, this architect would become Sir Basil Spence, would come to live in Malta, and would have a house designed for him by today’s graduand – (but I am anticipating things). I am quite sure that, at that age, I did not know the names of any other contemporary architects, but, I still remember the one building that I had read about, Coventry Cathedral, with great awe and admiration.

The other memory I do have, as background to this decision, is of my father driving us around one Sunday afternoon, as many families then did, climbing up the hill from Pwales Valley into a sleepy village I barely knew, and then, turning right, suddenly coming to a stop in front of this unbelievable construction, still raw, grey and rough, but whose exciting quality was, to me, a moment of enlightenment. This building was the Church of St. Joseph of Manikata. I can still remember the excitement at the discovery of this church, which was yet to be finished - the embracing curved walls, the gaps, or pauses, between the walls, the simplicity and, at the same time, the great power of the interior volume. I remember walking around the exterior, taking in the different views of its massing; and then, been driven away, looking back at it as it melted into the countryside. I had never seen or experienced anything like that. For me it was magic.

I have recently read that Victor Pasmore had a similar experience in 1967, on his first visit to Malta. Who knows, if Victor Pasmore had been younger when he came across Manikata, he might have become an architect rather than an artist.

This is what architecture can do; it is not just a pretty façade in a photograph, but a deeply satisfying experience of discovery of space, form, light and texture. My brother, who had already started his studies of architecture, knew that the architect of that unbelievably different building was somebody called Richard England. I only had a vague impression.

Our paths would, however, meet in subsequent years. As a senior student, I grabbed the opportunity to experience the construction site by accompanying Perit Albert Borg Costanzi, then Richard England’s partner, on his daily site visits; this gradually brought me in contact with their office, where I discovered that, in spite of his busy work schedule, Richard England would find time to follow what this diffident young student could, or perhaps couldn’t, do – as he would, I later discovered, follow all the young students or architects who spent time in his office.

I subsequently worked with him on other ventures, not least when he, and three other architects, formed a partnership to undertake commissions abroad, first in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and subsequently, in the early 80s, in Baghdad. Not many people appreciate the importance of that particular commission. Here was this architect, from the tiny island of Malta, receiving a direct commission, from the Iraqi architect Rifat Chadirji, who was in charge of the rehabilitation of Baghdad, to work together with other world-famous architects, including Carlfried Mutschler, Arthur Erikson, Sheppard Robson, Ricardo Bofill, Robert Venturi, and Arup Associates, to prepare plans for the Bab Al-Sheikh district of Baghdad. Richard England received this call in recognition of his ability to understand vernacular traditions, and to propose solutions which, although compatible with these traditions, would not rigidly adhere to traditional forms. This was Chadirjee’s explanation of why he selected Richard England, and in his words, Richard England turned out design solutions “of high quality”. This was before the Iraqi-Kuwaiti War of 1990, and the subsequent invasion in 2003. I therefore do not know whether anything remains of the Bab Al-Sheikh Project, and in particular of Richard’s Zone 4.

Between 1987 and 1989, we again worked together, when he was appointed as Dean of the Faculty of Architecture and Civil Engineering, with the brief of re-launching a faculty badly damaged by the political travails of the previous decade. I was then a young Head of one of the two Departments set up in the new Faculty, fresh from my PhD studies in Bath.

Over the years that I have known him, I have learnt a number of important lessons from Richard. The first is the importance of quality, and attention to detail. This comes through in all he does, from his drawings to his poems, from his buildings to his publications, his house, and the music he loves. Quality and detail

are what is sorely lacking in so much of our urban environment, and what we do within it; this is what undermines the appearance of his beloved Malta and Gozo, as he, regularly and passionately, has warned us.

The second lesson is the need for courage. An architect’s work is never hidden, as an unsuccessful book remains shut, or an unsuccessful painting painted over, or a poor piece of music remains un-played. An architect’s work is inevitably public, the good work as well as the less good. The impact of an architect’s work is there, impossible to hide (except by wholesale demolition!). And the public comments on one’s work are often facile, and unbelievably crude, whether merited or unmerited; we have all experienced the “enlightened” critique that compared Renzo Piano’s new Parliament façade to a cheese-grater? This criticism, particularly from holier-than-thou media and bloggers, can break lesser spirits, unless there is the courage to persist with one’s convictions, until time makes the real test of quality and greatness.

In addition, an architect’s creation, once finished, often becomes a helpless victim to the whims of subsequent owners. No words are changed in a successful novel once published, no notes tweaked in a good piece of music, no colours added to a good painting. And yet, nothing stops an owner from making alterations, building extensions, changing openings and adding floors, in spite of the quality of the architecture. Even in the case of what we glibly refer to as “scheduled buildings”, nothing much prevents an owner from gutting the interior, whilst retaining the exterior façade; this is even perceived as a good way of preserving an important piece of architecture! Just imagine the analogy: one conceives of preserving a good book by keeping the cover and throwing away the contents! It takes great courage for an architect to continue to produce what he believes in, in the context of such “amendments” being inflicted on his creations.

Speaking of scheduled buildings, I would add that Richard England is also the only local architect whose works have been “scheduled”, whilst he is still professionally active! Arguably, a double-edged honour? 

The third important lesson is that of mentorship and friendship. I consider myself lucky because, when I was younger, and, in truth, all through my career, I always found Richard England available, with his advice and his encouragement. And I know for a fact that I am not the only one to benefit of this mentorship. Young students continue to knock at his studio’s door, and he continues to open it to them, to discuss their projects, to answer their questions, to give them direction when they so ask, to guide their aspirations. His way with students and young architects is a rare gift, which I have tried very hard to emulate in my work at the University.

And the strength of his friendships is confirmed not only by the number of people who came to celebrate this event today, but by the many architects, architectural critics, and artists all over the world, who admire his work, and covet his friendship. The many books written on his works, by people like the late Charles Knevitt, or Chris Abel, Edwin Heathcote, Daniel Libeskind and Juhani Pallasma, testify to this. 

Richard England’s buildings have been published in leading international architectural journals. His works have received innumerable awards around the world, including ten International Academy of Architecture Awards and two Commonwealth Association of Architects Regional Awards. He was awarded the Gold Medal of the City of Toulouse in 1985, the International Committee of Architectural Critics Silver Medal in 1987, the 1988 Georgia USSR Biennale Laureate Prize, the IFRAA-AIA Award for Religious Architecture in 1991, International Prize at the III Architectural Biennale of Costa Rica in 1996, and the Gold Medal of the Belgrade Architectural Triennale in 2000. In 1999, he was appointed as Hon. Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. He was awarded the Grand Prix of the International Academy of Architecture in 2006 and 2015, and the Annual Award of the Academy in 2012. In 2016, he was one of the winners of the European Architectural Awards. He has worked and lectured in the USA, the United Kingdom, the exYugoslavia, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Italy, Argentina, Poland, Bulgaria, Russia and Kazakhstan.

This professional recognition by peers was accompanied by academic recognition at a number of Universities all over the world. He has received a number of Honoris Causa doctorates, including from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, the Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of New York, U.S.A., the University of Sofia in Bulgaria, and the Spiru Haret University in Romania. In 1995, he received an Honoris Causa Professorship from the University of the Republic of Georgia; and he is also Hon. Visiting Fellow at the University of Bath, United Kingdom, and a Professor, Academician and Vice-President of the International Academy of Architecture. He has been invited to lecture in North and South America, the United Kingdom, Europe, the Middle and Far East, and the ex-USSR.

At this stage, one is tempted to quote the words “a prophet is not without honour save in his own country”. In truth, Malta has acknowledged him. The Government of Malta honoured him in 1993, when he was appointed Officer of the Order of Merit. It has to be acknowledged, however, that the University of Malta, his own Alma Mater, did take its time to recognise the most important alumnus in this discipline. However, I have to reassure Richard that this year is a very special one for our Faculty, and his Honoris Causa is an appropriate way of celebrating it. On the 25th June 1915, a Government Notice, No. 149, was published in the Malta Government Gazette No. 5729, announcing a new Statute for the University of Malta. This Statute is of particular relevance to us, because through its enactment, the Faculty of Literature, the Faculty of Science, and the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture were created, born out of the previous Faculty of Literature and Science. The graduations that we have been celebrating during the past two weeks mark the climax of academic year 2015-2016, which represents 100 years from the first course of studies, leading to the degree of Bachelor of Engineering and Architecture, offered, in 1915-1916, by the newly created Faculty. What better way to mark this centenary, than by this celebration?

Over the last 100 years, the Faculty has gone through a number of mutations - ups as well as downs - including the reconstitution as the Faculty of Architecture and Civil Engineering in 1988, with Prof. Richard England as Dean. More recently, in 2009, it morphed into the Faculty for the Built Environment, (and for this, I am to blame). During the graduation ceremonies of the past week, we celebrated the first graduates of Master in Architecture and Master in Engineering in our Faculty, following the extensive degree  programme re-structuring initiated seven years ago. This is therefore a mile-stone year for us, and today is a very special moment for the Faculty; with a very special way of marking it.

I would like to end by a quotation from Richard England himself, which I read in the latest book he has published, Sanctuaries of the Soul, since I think it helps us understand who he is: 

“Many roads lead to God, I have chosen Architecture” 

It is with great pride that, as Dean of a Faculty with this centennial tradition, I am sponsoring the award of the highest academic recognition that the University of Malta can offer, the Doctorate of Engineering (Honoris Causa), to Professor Richard England. In spite of all the things that are said about “periti”, we also have our great stars, and he is certainly the brightest. 



Conferment of the Degree of Doctor
of Engineering (Honoris Causa) to
Richard England


Citation


WHEREAS THE UNIVERSITY RECOGNIZES

 The significant contribution made by

 Richard England 


to the art and discipline of architecture in Malta, as well at international level,

 through his architectural creations in Malta and abroad, but also through his prolific writing and publications, and lectures, particularly in the field of architecture and art, but also poetry and photography;

 through his role as the foremost architectural ambasador of Malta, to all the corners of the world, making a small island state such as Malta proud that it can also contribute, in this discipline, at the highest levels of achievement;

 and, not least, through his continuing engagement with young architectural talents, not only as past Dean of the Faculty, but by maintaining his doors always open, and offering continuing mentorship, to different generations of young prospective architects 

THE UNIVERSITY ACCLAIMS HIM 

A meritorious candidate for the Degree of Doctor of Engineering (Honoris Causa) of this Alma Mater.

 

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Last Updated: 14 December 2016

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