Published  05/06/2007


The news in mid-May that Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, had won the highly prestigious Gulbenkian Prize for the extension to its existing gallery came through just as Sir Colin St John Wilson RA, its architect was dying in London, aged 85. He may not have been aware of this final accolade, a triumph of his masterly talent as architect. (See Reminiscence here above; May.) While the Pallant Gallery's learning of the Award must have been tinged with sadness at the loss of 'Sandy' Wilson, his collection is a superb expansion of the Gallery's previous exhibits.

The Pallant , described by the Gulbenkian judges as 'a jewel of a gallery', which combined a 'vibrant relationship between old and new'. (see previous coverage by Studio International), beat off Kew Palace, London, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow and the Weston Park Museum in Sheffield, a strong field. The £8.6 million scheme at Pallant, was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Arts Council (England) and Chichester District Council. An Endowment Fund, which already has a major donation, will receive the £100,000 Prize Award, which will substantially increase funds available to go towards annual maintenance costs.

For Wilson, this final accolade from the Gulbenkian underpins his high reputation as designer of the British Library, and that of his wife and partner M-J Long of Long and Kentish, architects. Many believe Wilson's career should also have been crowned - by a Royal Gold Medal for Architecture - and indeed a Pritzker Award. Such are the mysteries of the corridors of power. The Royal Institute of British Architects must now rue their failure to honour this great talent in time, and the Pritzker (this year's winner is Lord Rogers) are a law unto themselves. In architecture, there seems no such thing as a posthumous honour. But Wilson's influence on two whole generations of British and American architects speaks for itself. As Viennese professor Hans Hollein exclaimed of the British Library, when he was shown round by Wilson, 'this is a masterwork'. Fair recognition indeed, from one who was himself a Pritzker winner.

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