My V&A: Sir Terry Farrell

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Terry Farrell: The great thing about the V&A is its all-embracing variety. I think it’s incredibly difficult to choose your favourites of anything, so I trend to make it easy for myself by doing it fairly quickly. My main criteria was just things I like.

Lutyens is without doubt one of my favourite architects, and is one of the great architects of the world, never mind great British architects. I can’t think of anybody in the 20th century who was a British architect [and] who was his equal. He was very serious, but he played a lot, and this figure, this amusing head, is very typical of his whimsical, almost childlike sense of humour. I think it was done by others to amuse him, which, I think is particularly fun, and he had this object, I think, in his own office in London. I think it was made by staff in India as a gift to him, and I think he was very pleased [with it] and brought it back. There are not many architects who would have a caricature of [themselves]. It is clever because it is partly architectural and it is partly him. This is based on a part of the building he designed in Delhi, but it is made into a pith helmet, and he always wore a pith helmet when he was in India. He wore glasses like these, and he always had a pipe. He had a certain freedom from convention in many ways, but on the other hand he was very much of his time, which was full of convention. He valued craftsmanship in construction. He was very inventive; I think his war memorials are extraordinarily inventive in shape and form.

The chair is such a universal object and so capable of different interpretations – cultural, technical… I have always admired Chinese design. There is a level of intelligence as well as craftsmanship… Who invented the chair I am not sure, but they (the Chinese) certainly perfected the chair long before anyone else. I particularly like the folding chair because it requires a particular dexterity in design and manufacture that is just extraordinary. You make a folding thing, and because of the constraints of folding, it can look clunky – you have got to make bigger joints. You’ve got to think about two things at once: you have got to think about comfort and design, and you have also got to think about a thing that folds. Yet they (the Chinese) have made something sublime that is clearly not a normal chair and is a folding chair, but is all the better for it, which is quite an achievement. If I only had once chair, on my desert island discs, as it were, I’d have this Chinese folding chair.

For me, the 19th century in Britain was a great creative period. Bruges has a particular appeal because he comes somewhat towards the Pugin and the Medieval, but hugely reinterpreted. There’s a kind of beautiful ugliness in his work, and I think the washstand is beautifully ugly.  I think art has often played a game between the shock of the ugly and the beautiful. The 1950s American car, with all that chrome and the fins… at one look it’s an ugly object – that’s not the way to design a car – but you have to admire its vigour and its panache and its commitment to a style. I think a lot of Modern work is going to be found ugly in due course… We look back at the 80s shoulder pads on women, and… [actually] they are coming back in again, aren’t they? – ten years later they seemed ugly, didn’t they?

For me, the 60s were a tremendous release. It was a threshold and a new beginning – an empowerment of youth in a different kind of way, and music was by far the most accessible thing that you could go out and buy and that filled your life. At the time it was seen as not only a wonderful cover, but it also had this feeling of collectiveness, like the whole world was there. Collecting them all said that The Beatles and London and Britain were now the centre of the universe. I was part of it; I was in there with in it, and I felt that the record cover captured the spirit of it. I think it’s a cover that is meant to be multi-layered. You clearly look at the central figures, but I do think it’s a cover that you would want to actually explore and look to see who’s there – I think that’s the intention of it. To my mind, there were people who wearing things that weren’t quite as outrageous as this, but they were wearing velvet and bright colours. It was very odd because the moustaches were quite retro. A lot of it was retro, it was referring to tradition. Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is a wonderfully whimsical and very English kind of title, and you wouldn’t get a branding consultant advising you to have that as your record cover. I think that to be artistic is to look at the rules in order to know which way not to go.    


Sir Terry Farrell is one of the most important and influential architects of recent times, and is also among postmodern architecture's cheif exponents. In this film, Farrell talks us through the V&A objects that are particularly dear to him. As you will see, he has a taste for the innovative, humorous and elaborate.

Farrell has a taste for the innovative, humorous and elaborate...