Our second century

In 1916, Assistant Director Eugenie Strong and architect Ernest Cormier briefly took up residence in the current BSR. We know a little about these early days in the building, which was by no means as complete as it is now. The east wing was missing (and not completed until the 1930s).

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Plan of the BSR with missing east wing (Courtesy of the BSR Archives)

One of the studios was the common room, and housed Thomas Ashby’s [Director 1906-25] Piranesi prints in a special cabinet. Part of the Director’s flat was the temporary kitchen. Ashby himself was at the Italian front as a volunteer ambulance driver; most of the thirty-seven men associated with the BSR, including its Italian staff, were also caught up in the war.

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The former common room – today one of our artists’ studios (courtesy of the BSR Photographic Archive)

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Thomas Ashby’s Piranesi prints on display in the common room (courtesy of the BSR Photographic Archive)

But the building was ours, for all that it was incomplete, and its first two residents were remarkable figures. Strong — an ebullient socialite, an expert on Roman art, polymathic, and profoundly international with contacts across Europe — is relatively well known. Her immense collection of commercial photographs of art and sculpture from several periods remains an untapped part of the BSR archive; and work on her large collection of postcards merits external funding.

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Eugenie Strong (Courtesy of the BSR Photographic Archive)

Ernest Cormier stands for another aspect of the BSR. He was a Canadian architect, and designed not only the central buildings of McGill University but also Canada’s Supreme Court in Ottawa. Our Commonwealth roots and our commitment to architecture, and to excellence, come together in the figure of Cormier.

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Supreme Court of Ottawa, designed by Ernest Cormier – the first student to take up residence at the BSR in 1916 (Photo: Wikipedia)

It is fitting to remember Cormier as we also think this year of our departed and much-missed friend, Francesco Garofalo, who himself spent several years in Canada and who gave so much to the BSR. Francesco and his wife and fellow architect Sharon Miura worked on the extension of the BSR at the beginning of this century, including the Sainsbury Lecture Theatre, where his posthumous book of essays was presented earlier this month.

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Speakers at the launch of Whatever happened to Italian Architecture? (Photo: Antonio Palmieri)

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Architect Sharon Miura who managed the BSR’s Sustainable Building Project with her late husband Francesco Garofalo (Photo: Antonio Palmieri)

A century on from its beginnings, the BSR’s building has never been in better shape. Thanks to my predecessor’s extension, and the recent Sustainable Building Project refurbishment programme — which Sharon Miura project-managed, with architects Studio Amati, engineers ARUP, and building contractor LO.MA — our artists are now showing their work in a temperature- and humidity-controlled gallery, our Library periodicals are in a fully refurbished basement, and we are constantly driving down energy costs.

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Work on the east wing roof during the Sustainable Building Project (Photo: Natalie Arrowsmith)

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Christopher Smith inspects the building work (Photo: Antonio Palmieri)

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The refurbished artists’ studios (Photo: Antonio Palmieri)

To celebrate this, we were proud and honoured to receive a visit from our President, HRH Princess Alexandra, who launched the next phase of our Second Century Campaign. We are working to create a stable and sustainable basis for our future. We hope that as many of our members as possible will visit us next year and that all our existing friends, and many new ones, will help us continue the traditions of internationalism and excellence which have characterised the first century of the BSR and will serve us well in our second.

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HRH Princess Alexandra visiting the BSR to launch the Second Century Campaign (Photo: Thomas Toti)

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HRH Princess Alexandra with members of the Sustainable Building Project team and BSR staff and residents (Photo: Thomas Toti)

Christopher Smith (Director)

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