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· Roddy Langmuir

TED - An Incredible Force of Nature

Words by Roddy Langmuir said at Ted Cullinan's memorial event at the RIBA on 22nd November 2019

TED was an incredible force of nature. As a fellow lover of the outdoors, we went on many expeditions. Ted loved landscapes that fought back – like his lifelong project to tame the beautifully brutal moorland at Gib Torr in the Peak District; or to wrestle with the icy wind that peeled your face raw slapping through Atlantic shores on a windsurfer; or actually choosing to ski in the Cairngorms (it was on my doorstep as a kid) - he once drove north all day to sleep-freeze in Ryvoen bothy with his young family.

So I was going to talk about the times I was with Ted when he nearly died before last Monday… times when I’d been instrumental in almost killing him. He had a reputation for accidents… so I was only opening up new doors for him in this regard…

  • I would have told you about flying 60 feet in an open-top Land Rover off a sand dune in the emptiness of the Tenere desert…
  • Or a near drowning incident when his canoe sank from beneath him when we were illegally circumnavigating the island of Rawa in the South China sea… and finally washed up on a cove encircled by cliffs…
  • …and then I would have told you about him falling backwards gripping a rope in his hands as he climbed these same cliffs as I hauled him up a on a length of hastily commandeered washing line… He was 72.
  • …or I might have told you about a fabled office trip by boat to the West of Ireland to see the beehive monk cells on Skellig Michael – each pendulum swing of the boat bringing a great wash of fresh vomit from one half of the office on one side of the boat, onto the other, on the other. Some of you were present…

But instead of telling you about his legendary physical resilience - I was putting together the drawings by Ted that you’ve all seen, and thinking that they say so much more about his character… brimming with optimism, they create imagined settings that tell stories – and as the viewer you are invited to imagine the narrative that goes along with the illustrations… they celebrate the sun and the wind, people connected with nature, streets celebrate transport – cars are often topless to show the whole family;

Petershill House, City of London, proposal for MEPC

Tama Forest National Park Study

People are also topless and often naked… they are always specific individual characters; the heros are the cycle couriers, the windsurfers, the hot air balloonists, and the builders. Ted also drew buildings from the outset made of specific materials because he saw no point in abstract composition, and he saw no point in drawing at all without imagining a full cast of actors, a social context and a bigger idea about the purpose of every project. Ted’s vision was comprehensive and utterly consistent throughout his entire working life - regardless of what ‘ism’ came and went.

Lagny School, France, proposal

Barge Arm Development, Historic Gloucester Docks

Like so many of you, I’ve had so many great times with Ted - I joined the office in the late eighties aged 27 when he was my age now…  he was never a ‘boss’ but an instant friend. He enjoyed banter and sparring through design conversations – and when patience failed he would end by declaring that such-and-such would ‘get it in the end if they just did it his way’ – and of course on the whole they did it, and then got it. His intelligence was to make complex things simple and powerful, yet still allow a very specific expressive architecture to emerge.

Ted is Dead, but he’s influenced so many of us, so profoundly, that he lives on regardless. We all share a bit of his magic dust and are duty bound to pass it on.