"I THINK Howe is working very reliably," wrote Walter Gropius from Boston to his architectural partner, Maxwell Fry, in October 1937. Jack Howe, then aged 26, was the architect responsible for making Gropius's design for Impington Village College, near Cambridge, buildable within a tight budget.
Before leaving to take up his professorship at Harvard, Gropius had produced a scheme which was well over budget, and Howe had to redesign almost every part of it to save money. Although Gropius retained a strong interest in the job, Howe admitted to deliberately starving him of information to prevent him from interfering too much, but the result was true to the spirit of the original design. The quietly assured building gained a world-wide reputation.
Jack Howe was a butcher's son from Enfield and educated at Enfield Grammar School, where he was a proficient pole-vaulter. Having successfully drawn out a small house for the builder- undertaker next door, he decided to take up a career in architecture and studied at the Regent Street Polytechnic in London, where there was a strong emphasis on practical matters as well as good design tuition from L. Thornton White.
Describing himself as "a Corb-worshipper at one time", Howe worked first for Joseph Emberton, "a slave driver", and put on record that all Emberton's buildings, most of them recognised classics of 1930s modernism, were designed by various assistants in his office. Wanting to move on, he applied to Maxwell Fry in 1934, when Gropius had just arrived in England.
As well as Impington, Howe worked on the Westminster Electricity Showroom in Regent Street, which included a photo mural by Laszl Moholy-Nagy, Gropius's Bauhaus colleague, described by Howe as "that lovely madman". He also designed a modern room for an exhibition at Heal's in 1936 under his own name.
Impington was completed as war broke out, and Howe went to work as drawing office manager for Holland, Hannen and Cubitts for Royal Ordnance Factories at Wrexham and Ranskill. In 1944, he joined the Arcon practice as an associate partner and worked on the famous Mark 4 prefabricated house exhibited that summer in London, of which 41,000 examples were subsequently produced.
In 1949, Howe was commissioned by Henry Morris, the charismatic Director of Education for Cambridgeshire and the driving force behind the Village Colleges to develop a brief for a College of Further Education on a site in Trumpington Road. This was very fully researched and, although the building was never built because of funding cuts, the brief was adopted by the Ministry of Education.
Later, Morris was commissioned by the Nuffield Foundation to produce a book on education and architecture, and asked Howe to write the section on architecture, which he did, as well as assembling many photographs. Morris …