Remembering Andreas Papadakis

REMEMBERING ANDREAS PAPADAKIS

“When you finish working for me,” Andreas said one day as we walked back along Queensway, “you will never work like this again.” He was the founder, proprietor and editor-in-chief of one of the most unique publishing houses of the moment; he had recently launched a new influential art magazine; his books ran from groundbreaking architectural monographs to beautifully produced surveys of the decorative arts; he had turned AD into the leading architectural magazine, as provocative as it was both prescient and relevant; his best-seller, Charles Jencks’ The Language of Post-Modern Architecture was about to be reprinted again; and the Tate Gallery had invited him to bring together the architects, critics and theorists who were shaping the future landscape of our cities and revolutionising the nature of architectural thinking in a series of major symposia. That it would finish seemed impossible; that there would never be anything like it ever again was a sad truth I realised only after it did indeed finish.

Andreas outside Academy Editions, Holland St.

When I think of Andreas Papadakis I see him standing behind his expansive carved oak desk surrounded by the turrets of manuscripts, correspondence and pictures which were the foundations of his empire. To his right was a bank of large glass-topped light boxes set in specially matching hand-crafted oak cases that managed to evoke the Arts and Crafts era with a vague hint of Gothic Revival. Below were the boxes and piles of artwork. These were just part of an eclectic range of titles, some awaiting final approval, some a minor adjustment, others sudden salvation from the limbo of the bottom shelf. A sudden flick of the switch would ignite a battery of radiance. Passive transparencies would be dealt as if with a croupier’s benevolence and their images withdrawn with an equally deft slight of hand. It was over this crucible of illumination, where the technology of instant enlightenment was encased in the structure of a tradition, that his books, projects, theories, movements – visions! – were born with all the redolence of a “Let there be light!”

Charles Jencks arrives with manuscripts at 42 Leinster Gardens

This was a publishing house run in the grand old maverick British tradition, by its owner, whose personality, inspiration and whims were responsible for every aspect of its gloriously unique individuality. Academy Editions, as Andreas liked to announce to new staff, had a house style, one that wouldn’t be found on any software, and that style was his.

This was the late 1980s, at the very height of his success, when everything was still on that cusp of change, when computer technology had not swallowed the whole publishing process into its miniaturised chip world of LCD screen alchemy. In this hands-on world the handmade was still venerated. The rituals of traditional publishing, with the concrete tangibility of each stage, were very much in evidence at 42 Leinster Gardens and seemed to somehow fit with the spirit and ethos of the Post-Modern moment in architecture and design, which Andreas did so much to define as much as champion and inspire. There was still something magical in the fact that each page of a book or magazine was laid out by hand on a sheet of white card, each imprinted with the blue lines of Academy’s standard grid.  There was a reverence in the way Andreas swept back the veil of tracing paper wrapped round each spread. There was something in the fact that each page had been aligned by eye, that a scalpel had been wielded to slice the bromide text, that each strip had been waxed and stuck down by hand. The rooms of the peeling, stuccoed, wedding-cake Victorian terrace above were littered with boards, blades, waxers and the incised debris of discarded sheets; the walls, papered with great sheets of proofs, the graduated rainbows of colour charts and the senior editor, Frank Russell’s hand-coloured prints of the architectural gods who graced the back covers of the new Art & Design.  Venturi, Stern, Hollein, Krier, Big Jim – even the beard of the latest President of the RIBA was not spared the tint of a Post-Modern wash – beamed down as if in benediction over the dusty dummies and forgotten ozalides, almost with a hint of impish satisfaction that their time had finally come.

A House for Today exhibition at Sotheby’s, 1986

A House for Today – Hugh Cumming (editor) and Aldo Sampieri (designer)

The harmonies of tradition were not concepts restricted to the theorising of AD articles, they were a living code that Andreas espoused to all would be house designers. For the early issues of Art & Design, a regular column by Leon Krier, which came to rest precariously alongside an interview with Katharine Hamnett, some rediscovered drawings by Beatrix Potter or the latest catwalk shots of the spring/summer collections, would be accompanied by his own sketches outlining the precise proportions and alignment of text and image, even down to the position and point size of the caption and his particular choice of a serif font. Staff were instructed never to deviate from the master plan of the layout, even when reality dared to rear its ugly head. There was no question in this battlefield of design that the medium was just as much the message.

The latest PCs were Amstrads, but they didn’t figure at Academy. Editorial staff made do with a Smith Corolla portable which was soon commandeered for the front desk. But Andreas embraced the advantages of innovations in computer technology. If they weren’t desktop, designers could certainly experiment with the new opportunities in condensing and enlarging print which were revolutionising the look of layout.  What would now be considered cumbersome computers in the basement were the domain of Academy typesetters. These were far from antiquated and, with some imaginative chip enhancement, made the ease of in-house production immediate.  It was not unknown for a more persistent author to attempt to circumvent all editorial authority by paying unannounced visits to the bowels of the building.

Andreas’s office was on the first floor of a Victorian terrace just off the Bayswater Road.  The location and character couldn’t have been more significant.  His desk overlooked the avenues and squares of a vanished age. Just a few doors down were the coach party tourist hotels, and, up stone steps, behind the pillars of the peeling facades, were the last bedsits of a transient world of post war émigrés, students and artists.  There was a totally unique cosmopolitan feel to the surrounding streets where Chinese, Indian and Greek restaurants merged with French patisseries and Anzac pubs.

The nearby avenue of Queensway was an extension to Andreas’ office. There was a characteristic generosity and flair to the way in which he would sometimes stroll down with editorial staff or whisk off a visiting architect in his attendant Range Rover. The world was here in the sheer wealth of cuisine and Andreas loved to hold impromptu meetings at his favourite Chinese.

It was round the corner at Khan’s in Westbourne Grove that he introduced Denise Scott Brown to that unique culinary hybrid that is a West London vegetarian thali. When a visiting lecturer, who had been detailed to find contributors for Andreas’s Journal of the Philosophy of the Visual Arts, apprehensively inquired over the plum sauce and crispy duck who exactly was now going to do all the work, without any hesitation Andreas announced, “You are!”

That “you” was inescapable.  It was both a compliment and an order, a mischievous mixture of flattery and cajolement. It was part of his rare and undeniable gift for being able to persuade anyone anywhere to do almost anything.  It was reserved for architects, academics and staff alike. It got things done, it made the impossible possible. It did indeed mean you!

Academy office outing

A stoical and optimistic second hand seediness hung in the air of the streets then. It was in the passé continental cafes that were dwarfed by the soon-to-be-refloated architectural Titanic of Queensway, the rotting department store that was to become a beacon of Thatcherite revitalisation, the Whiteley’s Centre.  Gracious terraces often ended with a blunt severity that stood as a kind of visual illustration of the architectural thinking of the moment. From Andreas’s window decaying ornament and grandeur tottered over the lego-like blocks and signature balconies of Lubetkin’s legendary Modernist housing estate. And beyond, in the distance, was the concrete scythe of the Westway and the Babel of Modernism, Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower, dwarfing the huddled Victorian terraces of West Indian ghettos, the street markets of the Portobello and the Goldborne Road and the dying days of a rambling West London bohemia. To the right was the stately tree- lined boulevard of the Bayswater Road; by a silent bandstand and the implacable gaze of Queen Victoria’s statue, the persistently regal Kensington Palace to which Andreas had delivered by taxi first copy of Charles Jencks’ The Prince and The Architects, the first and only book to instantly capture the controversy in context. Close by were the rich incense and the murals of the Orthodox chapel Andreas did so much to help preserve and in which his funeral service was held. It was amongst this melting pot of influences, this strange and unique confrontation of style, tradition and innovation that Andreas flourished.

Alexandra selling books with Andreas the Bookseller at the Academy Bookshop

Just a stroll away across the park, just a stone’s throw from the department stores of Kensington High Street, bang in the middle of a quarter of London where artists, writers, performers and students had created an unofficial  intelligentsia, Andreas had opened his first bookshop. He chose the books and people dropped in because he had. He was surrounded by boutiques made big, where Biba and Bustop saw entrepreneurs, not corporations, put fashion in high street windows, however fleetingly.

The Academy Bookshop in Holland Street

Off the nearby streets of Notting Hill Gate were similar bookshops, owned and run by one off characters sharing the same mixture of culture, paternalism and streetwise business acumen. You went to them for their personality, not what you could find everywhere else. Then, everywhere else didn’t count.

Andreas’ desk dominated his office. It was strategically placed before the blocked- off grate of a marble fireplace. Where the fire would have raged, his chair rested like a throne. Above and behind was a Victorian mosaic of Christ, looking as if he was delivering a blessing, which Andreas had saved from destruction in a nearby church on the Bayswater Road when it was converted into a block of flats. It was more than an ornament. It was a symbol of his outlook, his inquisitiveness, his genuine appreciation and fondness for what others had forgotten, passed over, or just not seen, and yes, almost destroyed. There was a sense that in all his books, those by Victor Arwas on decorative art, on Art Nouveau and Deco, those on Mucha, on the architects and artists he had discovered or rediscovered, in the spirit of the Classicism that at heart he loved, in the Post-Modernism that was re-inventing so much of the neglected and disparaged past which he advocated, that he was appreciating and rescuing something.

Andreas in his office at 42 Leinster Gardens

On Andreas’s desk was his phone, with the receiver that he scooped out of its cradle to summon the world to his court.  Above on the mantelpiece was his large brick of a mobile – despite his respect for tradition, he always liked to have modernity in his grasp. Once, when he found out Roy Lichtenstein was visiting, he rang him, snatched a passing editor and insisted on an instant interview.  It remains seminal. On the same phone David Hockney agreed to create a one-off print for the special tribute issue of Art & Design to coincide with his retrospective at the Tate. Only Andreas would have dared,  on discovering that it was black and white, to send his editor back with a demand that it be redone in at least “a colour”( for the sake of convenience, “red”), and, when that was politely ignored, send him back again offering the compromise of a “brick red.”

Andreas had a unique way with people. They always tantalised him, particularly if they were creative, if they could do something. It didn’t matter who you were, or what you could do, Andreas was always appreciative, and he could find a use for it.  It was his own enthusiasm for the disparate items he had simply noticed in architect’s studios and homes, for example, that enabled him with such confidence and foresight  to instruct his staff to build an issue of Art & Design on what he decided on the spur of the moment should be called The Post-Modern Object.

Terry Farrell’s design for Academy HQ at 42 Leinster Gardens

His blend of patronage and admiration for creativity moved him to install an Architect’s Dining Room at Academy,  designed by Terry Farrell, in which he placed the sketches and visions that so many of the architects he championed had given him, alongside a pantheon of architectural greats from history. It was with a typical sense of panache that he also asked Farrell to coat the entire front of Leinster Gardens in a special design of uniquely concocted colours ensuring that his offices shone as a Post-Modern beacon amidst the surrounding sedate uniformity. It was with his characteristic sense of enterprise that he didn’t just open The Art Shop at The Royal College of Art, but commissioned James Gowan to design it. These were all original one- off designs that sadly are no longer.  They were only possible because of Andreas’ close working relationship and abiding friendships with many architects. They are part of the unwritten story of modern architecture.

The London Art Bookshop at the Royal Academy, designed by James Gowan in 1986

Before his desk, arranged as if in a semi-circle, was a row of matching carved oak chairs. There was a hard insistence to the way they felt when you tried to lean back in them. They were not intended for relaxation. Depending on who was sitting there the atmosphere could drift in this strange arena from office to club, to salon, and back again. He valued and respected the hard uncompromising truth of what he pronounced in his characteristic deep bass as “theory!” It was here that he enjoyed instigating and provoking debate. He liked listening to ideas, adopting and adapting them, then exploiting them. At times the huddle of editors and authors could look almost conspiratorial; at others, there was a symposium feel when the gods were in town, and Krier, Pelli or Eisenmann breakfasted over brioche. In the same seats Patrick Heron remembered arriving at Faber to paint T.S. Elliot, Melvyn Bragg interviewed Richard Rogers, Charles Jencks fought over who and what exactly would be in his What is Post-Modernism?  This was a time when Andreas would jump in a taxi to see Meier because he was staying in a hotel down the road, when he met Warhol in Bond Street and spent the afternoon wondering how exactly he could preserve for posterity a ring that Warhol had drawn on his editor’s finger. It was here that Andreas, Charles Jencks and the art critic Peter Fuller wrestled with what to call an issue on the Avant-Garde. The Avant-Garde was defunct; there was no “Avant” about it. But how to say that? How to epitomise that?  It was easy… And so “The Post-Avant-Garde” was born.

When Rob Krier caught up with editorial staff at Andreas’ memorial service, he mentioned a housing project he had been working on a couple of years ago. Andreas had come over to see him and insisted on going straight out and looking at it. “It wasn’t finished. No one had seen it,” said Krier. “He asked more questions than the client!”

And that was Andreas to the end. He looked when others were blind. He created a debate when there wasn’t one.  For all his importance and influence – and world architecture owes him a great debt – he was an inspired publisher who was at heart extremely paternal.

© Hugh Cumming, 2008

Frankfurt Book Fair with Gretha Arwas, Sheila de Vallée, Victor Arwas, Andreas, Louisa Denman & Stanley