It is both the glory and the tragedy of architecture that it requires a client – with means – to make it a reality. Without money, and a commission, an architectural design must remain on paper. As such, of course, it can be both beautiful and inspiring – Piranesi, J.M. Gandy, Sant’Elia – but for architecture truly to attain its end, to exemplify firmness, commodity, and delight, to offer texture and colour in the use of materials as well as mass and space, it must be built. Some of us may wish, therefore, that the late Zaha Hadid had never advanced beyond her early, extraordinary drawings. But how sad to have shown great talent and built extraordinarily well, and then to be denied the opportunity ever to practise again. That was the tragedy of the architect Arthur Gordon Shoosmith (1888–1974), who designed in India one of the most remarkable of 20th-century churches – anywhere.
Shoosmith designed one other building in Delhi, the Lady Hardinge Serai, a simple hostel for travellers. Then, in 1931, with capital and church complete, he returned home, to a country in the grip of the Depression and profoundly uninterested in the architectural achievements of the British in India. He never built again, eventually becoming a planning inspector. Shoosmith’s perspective of St Martin’s was, however, exhibited at the Royal Academy. ‘It is superb,’ Byron told him. And Christopher Hussey wrote in Country Life that, ‘Had this church been the work of a French or German architect, Europe would be flabbergasted by the magnificently simple and direct design. But since it is the work of an Englishman, it will probably never be heard of abroad.’ Hussey was wrong. It is now 40 years since, in the Architectural Review, I first tried to rescue Shoosmith (and Medd) from the obscurity resulting from post-imperial guilt and prejudice, and since then the astonishing power and originality of his garrison church has been increasingly recognised and applauded. Its small congregation carries on, recently having undertaken a major restoration of the building (replacing the original recessed lime-mortar joints with flush pointing in grey cement).