The Two Jameses
27. April 2021
Two Architects is a 1966 documentary by Ron Parks that features James Stirling and James Gowan explaining their iconic, award-winning Leicester University Engineering Building. Digitized by Drawing Matter, the 18-minute film is now available online for anyone to watch.
The documentary was commissioned by the American Institute of Architects on the occasion of the building winning the R.S. Reynolds Memorial Award in 1965. "Honoring a significant work of architecture in which aluminum has been an important contributing factor," the award carried a prize of $25,000 — a hefty sum that would be over $200,000 in today's dollars. Yet by the time of the award the partnership of Stirling and Gowan was over: the two architects split in 1963, around the time the Engineering Building was completed.
As explained by Ellis Woodman, author of Modernity and Reinvention: The Architecture of James Gowan, on Drawing Matter's website, "the fact that the collaborators of seven-years standing never share a frame in Parks’ film is perhaps not entirely coincidental." Even if Parks had to film the former partners separately, he framed them in a way — Gowan looking to the right and Stirling to the left — that gives the impression they are facing each other across a drafting table. With this in mind, the film is a revealing snapshot of two architects discussing their most famous — and last — joint creation.