Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

A Life in Education and Architecture: Mary Beaumont Medd: Books

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

A Life in Education and Architecture: Mary Beaumont Medd: Books

Article excerpt

A Life in Education and Architecture: Mary Beaumont Medd. By Catherine Burke. Ashgate, 292pp, Pounds 55.00. ISBN 9780754679592 and 9781409471905 (e-book). Published 14 January 2013

This is a generous, well-crafted review of the life of Bradford-born public sector architect Mary Medd (nee Crowley, 1907-2005). As a means of gaining insight into how to design schools, Catherine Burke's book beautifully illuminates her subject's profound impact on the thinking and processes involved.

Medd's humility as a collaborator and educator alongside her husband David (with whom she shared both credo and craft) allowed her to "stoop to conquer" and influence peers and educational professionals alike. She believed that good architecture emerged only from serious attention to "process" - that is, from detailed attention to defining the enquiry (learning transformation) and not just the solution (beautifully designed schools).

Her conviction was that only a deep understanding of education could result in transformative and pedagogically informed architecture. Instead of defining herself as an educational planner first and a designer second, her approach made her a champion of their convergence. For Medd, the two practices had to be considered together and their separation represented a false dichotomy.

Burke, a historian of education, shows mastery of her subject here and delivers it through a light, accessible style. Over the years, she has demonstrated an expansive enthusiasm for innovation in teaching and for the design of formal and informal learning spaces. Medd becomes Burke's touchstone - her avatar, even - in enabling the articulation and extension of her thinking and brilliance in this field of enquiry.

The Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho once observed: "I'm modern because I make the difficult seem easy, and so I can communicate with the whole world." This statement nicely captures Medd's philosophy and practice of architectural accessibility - and Burke's project here.

Moreover, as Burke implies, it is possible that Medd would see growing obscurantism in architecture as mere cant and a form of pseudo- intellectual indulgence. What she wanted to enable was interdisciplinary collaboration that could be understood by the wider community, not only the architectural elite. …

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