Peter Chamberlin

Peter ‘Joe’ Chamberlin

Peter Hugh Girard Chamberlin was born on 31st March 1919 to Eleanor Penelope Chamberlin. According to Who’s Who, Chamberlin was her maiden name and no father is mentioned. She died soon after he was born and he was raised by great aunts (in an age when there were such creatures as great aunts).

He went to Bedford School and then from 1938 he went to 1940 Pembroke College Oxford where he read politics, philosophy and economics.

During the Second World War he was a conscientious objector and he spent the war years first as a farm worker in Wales, then in civil defence in London. He married Jean Bingham in 1940.

Since he was bored by this work, his wife signed him up for an architectural course at the Kingston School of Art which included a School of Architecture. He qualified as an architect in 1948 and stayed on there, becoming deputy chief of staff. He and Eric Brown, the head of the department, designed the seaside section of the Festival of Britain in 1951.

Chamberlin seems to have been the dominant personality in the partnership of Chamberlin Powell & Bon. He was called “Joe” rather than Peter. He drove large black cars. He loved the theatre and the cinema (He went to see “Singing In The Rain” over 30 times). His recreations according to Who’s Who were travel, reading and enjoying the arts.

It is said to be due to him that the The Barbican is much heavier and more monumental than the Golden Lane Estate in construction, and that he was influenced in this by the later work of Le Courbusier, such as the Unité d’Habitation in Marseilles. He was certainly dedicated to the architectural principles of trying to always produce the best architecture.

Chamberlin certainly seems to have been the most ‘decorated’ of the three partners. He was the natural senior partner and public face of the practice. He was awarded the RIBA Distinction in Town Planning in 1963. He was made a CBE in 1974 and elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1975. He was a member of the Ancient Monuments Board for England from 1966 and the Governor of the Thames Polytechnic from 1971.

Chamberlin died before the Barbican estate was completed. He was taken ill at the temple at Abu Simbel in Egypt and never recovered. He died on 23rd May, 1978 while gardening at his home on an island in the Thames at Sonning.