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Richard Follett

B.Arch. 1965
London, UK

So we’re just interested in knowing why you decided to become an architect.

Well, I would say from an early age, I was always fairly good at Math and always fairly good in Science. And it was always thought in the family that I should become an engineer. And all during my young school years and early teenage years, this was uppermost in my mind. And I can remember going to grade 12 in Montreal High, and filling out an application form for McGill, and filling it out for Engineering. It was probably going to be Civil Engineering. And it was a little later in the summer after the application was in, and in fact, I think even my marks were in, that I started to talk to people about what architects did. And they told me that architects worked more with people than engineers, and they worked more with people’s requirements for designing a building. And it sounded very attractive, so I filled out a new application for Architecture, not knowing very much more, really, between Architecture and Civil Engineering, but still thinking that it probably was a good idea. The application was accepted and that’s how it all got started. I got swept along by the waves!

[1:15:15]

What was that- around what time- what year did you actually go into McGill?

I went into McGill in second year.

In second year. Okay.

Which would have been about 1960 or so.

And now let’s talk about some of your memories at McGill. Some of the professors, perhaps who that you recall taught you or tried to teach you, and also any of the courses, or any of the influences that you had while you were at McGill.

I don’t remember a lot about second year because we didn’t have very much on the board. We had a number of courses that we had to take in Engineering and I can remember some Math subjects that were a little difficult I thought at the time involving Calculus and I think we were all anxious to get on to more architectural subjects. So third year with Stu Wilson was the year that really hit us. And I suppose it would be true to say that because we were naïve and inept in many ways, the tough regime was quite stressful. And we learned because we had to teach ourselves or we had to learn from each other. But we never did learn very much from him, not directly. He just imposed a regime where we had to stay up all night if we could manage it and get projects finished.

[2:25:04]

Was that also the year that we used to have to build a balloon-frame housing and so forth, little model houses?

Exactly that, exactly that. And I can remember going out in the fall or the autumn of that first term in third year and going out and hunting down French Canadian houses and making drawings and taking photographs and producing not a working drawing but a scale drawing of a French Canadian house and from that, we went on to this project with an addition to an existing house for YMCA accommodation involving balloon-frame construction. It was quite interesting. It was quite good.

[3:04:29]

Do you remember specifically any of Stuart Wilson’s, maybe this is a stretch, his, you know, we used to have the design crits, do you remember any criticism or any comments him making about either your work or somebody else’ s work?

Well, he was often quite tough. He was often quite tough and I think the best thing he could say about anybody would be that they ought to become perhaps a landscape architect. And that was the best thing he could say about anything, or about anybody, I’m sorry. Usually, the person was recommended to join Dentistry.

[3:34:14]

Well, actually, you are very kind. What about Peter Collins? Was he teaching you or did he have any influence on your sort of thoughts about architecture?

Well, he did, he did. We did take History of Architecture from him. And he was I guess a very erudite fellow. He talked in, I thought, in convoluted ways, but I didn’t really realize that until a little later. At first, I was extremely impressed and a little bit chagrinned by the fact that I didn’t understand all that he said. But later on, I felt that the way he wrote in particular, and to some extent the way he spoke, was often wrapped up with so many sub-paragraphs and sub-phrases and so on that you could hardly follow him. But he was a very interesting guy. And I think he was probably a very perceptive fellow. It took a fair amount of hard work to keep up with his course. It involved taking rough notes and then rewriting them. And I can remember trying to not rewrite them, take them well enough during class to just hand them in. Sometimes that worked and sometimes it didn’t.

[4:41:03]

But you found the gimmick for success in his course, because that’s exactly what a lot of people did. They took rough notes and redid them. And then, of course, those notes are very valuable come exam time.

Oh, exactly.

A lot of people just made rough notes and sort of…

…and let it go at that.

Do you remember a course called Architectural Practice? It was given by I think either Balharrie or Valentine or…

Yes. Well there was one chap who flew a plane.

That was Balharrie.

From Ottawa, I think it was. And he was a fascinating guy because we all loved to listen to his stories about flying his plane. And the other stuff that he had to tell us was interesting enough but I mean it didn’t hold a candle to the sort of the extracurricular sidelines that he’d go into.

[5:26:23]

It’s interesting because one of the courses, which probably should have been significant in our lives at that stage, none of us paid much attention to. I mean our only interest was in architecture and business was something that we didn’t even think about.

That’s true.

And how important. Actually, in retrospect, we probably would have insisted on a little bit more in that area. What about, I’m thinking of John. Did John Bland teach you at all?

He did, and I’m trying to remember now, because we did have him I think in about fourth year. And to be perfectly honest, I can’t remember what the subject was.

I think, if my memory serves me well, he taught Canadian History…

Oh yes, indeed.

…Architecture, yeah. And some of the papers that we used to do in the summer, we’d take buildings and write a paper on it. And I remember doing mine on the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City. It was a building done by the architect Price. And he kept all these. Eventually, he was able to write his own history because all he had to do is have the abridged version of all of his acolytes.

Sounds like a good idea! No, I can remember that. And of course, he was one of the advisors in sixth year to, along with the other professors, for the various fellows there doing their projects.

Their theses.

And their theses. I didn’t have him personally. In fact, I think I had Norbert Schoenauer most of the time and Jonas Lehrman for part of the time with a little bit of help every now and then from John Bland.

[6:55:11]

Was this on your thesis you mean?

Yes, yes, in sixth year.

What did you do, what did you choose for your thesis?

That was a housing project. And it was placed on an island called Peyton Island.

Peyton Island.

In- just North of Montreal. I think they call it Rivière des Mille-Îles.

Oh year, Thousand Islands, yeah.

Just on the Southern side of Île Jésus.

Yeah, okay.

It wasn’t far from Cartierville and the Cartierville Bridge and Belmont Park. And a very pretty island and it was nicely suited for housing. And so that was my project.

[7:27:28]

And I’m just trying to think of other memories of McGill. You graduated in, what, 1966, 1967?

’65.

‘65. Have you kept in touch with any of the classmates that you might have been friends with then?

Only a little bit. Dave Bryden comes to mind, but not a lot of the other fellows. I mean I’ve talked to on occasion to Sid Markel and there were- Bob Skanes followed me by a year but I talked to him once or twice. But I know that some of the fellows- Dave Caulfield is still in Ottawa, of course, and working there. Doug Steen I think is still in Moncton-way, or in New Brunswick. Harry Katzin I guess is in Toronto. Some of the other chaps in far-flung places, I imagine.

[8:12:12]

That’s generally the response we get because most people go about their own and the only time they get together with anybody is the odd class reunion. It would seem that way, anyhow. And I guess architects don’t necessarily socialize too much with architects. Doctors, now I’m getting off of the beaten path, but I can be out of the boat too a little, doctors fraternize with doctors and socialize because they’re not really in competition, whereas architects are, in many ways, in competition with one another. I don’t know, maybe that’s a weak excuse.

No I think you’re right. I think you’re quite right. They socialize very little with other architects and I think, to some extent, the same thing happened at McGill.

Yeah. And I think architects, generally, are more sensitive and some of them are difficult to get along with. I mean they always say in practice, two architects is probably more difficult than a normal marriage because architects, if they are any good, have to be overly sensitive, right? I’m just trying to think, do you remember any of the Sketching Schools that you were at? I mean, every now and again, people come up with anecdotes. But I guess as the years go by, the anecdotes seem to go by as well!

You’re probably right. I can remember one in Kingston, Ontario and another one in Granby, North of, if I remember correctly, North of Quebec City. And they were both interesting. I never did see Stu Wilson paint, but apparently, he would just take his drawing and dunk it quickly into the water and squish it out, let it drip for a bit, and then throw paint all over and in twenty minutes, it was done. These were for his watercolours. But, no, we all trekked out and did our little sketches. It was okay. It was a nice break, it was a nice break.

[9:52:19]

Talk a little bit about your days since graduating from McGill.

Well, following graduation, I, like a lot of other young fellows, came here to London to work for a little while and absorb the sites and the culture. And that lasted about a year. Returned to Montreal, worked in Montreal for another few years, went to Ottawa. And then in 1980, I went, of all places, to Saudi Arabia for four years and worked for a large American engineering company there along with a few architects and a lot of engineers. It was quite interesting, a bit tough, partly because it was a very bureaucratic place; it was even more bureaucratic than it would be in Ottawa working for the government. But that came to an end in 1984, at which point I came here again to London and started a new phase where I would buy a house, renovate a house and sell it. And the idea was that I could be fairly independent by being my own client. And it worked out reasonably well until about 1992, at which point the recession here in this country and I suppose in other countries, took hold and brought all of that to an end. From 1992 to about 1996 or so, I worked for various clients, again in house renovation, and then got quite interested in the idea of opening up a franchise in another field. So now I find myself in printing, of all things. And I like to tell people that before I was in graphic arts and construction and now I’m in graphic arts and printing, the connection being graphic arts. But, be that as it may, I have a small shop with about four employees and I’m chugging around quite hard, finding clients and building up a small printing firm. It’s all been very interesting, a little bit stressful, a lot of hard work, I must say. But it’s coming along slowly. So as long as I can keep the banker happy, then hopefully, there will be light at the end of the tunnel.

[11:55:06]

And yourself, and I guess the only thing I can say, because I’m sitting here under these circumstances, it’s certainly one of the more beautiful places to live in the world. I mean it would be one thing if you were sitting in, I don’t know, Saint-Henri in Montreal trying to run this business. Living where you are today, it certainly is a big plus.

Well, that’s true, you’re quite right and maybe it’s something that we take for granted but- England is very pretty in many ways. In behind a lot of fences that run along roads, are some very nice parks and open land. And in a lot of cases, this kind of open space is available. And so there’s a lot to discover. And although it’s a congested place in many ways, especially on the roads, it’s been very interesting to discover all kinds of little towns and little byways and parks and open ground and there are always lots of walks available, so this is a plus side to living in a- on a congested island.

Well thanks very much and good luck on your new career!

Thank you very much!

[12:53:05]