T h o m G o r s t
BACKGROUND, CHILDHOOD AND THE ROYAL NAVY
I was born in 1952 into a seafaring family. My father was a master mariner working on the tankers that imported molasses into Britain. We lived on the Wirral, near to the Mersey docks.
I was educated at Birkenhead School, and left in 1969 after a dismal display at A levels. I was evidently not cut out for university.
I won a place to Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth and I started four years in the Navy, specialising in seamanship, navigation and gunnery. After a year as an officer cadet, I spent a year as a midshipman, then two years as a sub lieutenant. I served on a range of ships including a number of frigates, a minesweeper, an aircraft carrier and a submarine. I left the Navy in 1973.
At my Dartmouth passing out parade in 1972. I am in the second row on the right, standing next to the officer in light colour uniform. I think about three people in the photo became admirals.
Only one became me
Captain Tom Gorst
ARCHITECTURE AND ART EDUCATION
Despite the A levels I was given a place on the architecture degree at Kingston Polytechnic.
I was in my natural habitat and was particularly inspired by the history lectures by the legendary Bastiaan Valkenburg; so much so that when I graduated with a first class degree in 1977, I went straight on to Sussex University to take a Master’s degree in the History and Theory of Art under Norbert Lynton and David Mellor. My final thesis on the Amsterdam School housing was published in the Architectural Association Quarterly.
With Bastiaan Valkenburg and ‘Team Olympico’, Torcello, 1976
Instead of leaving architecture to develop my emerging interests in art theory and performance art, I elected to return to complete my architectural education at Kingston. I qualified as an architect in 1982.
Performance art group Birkenhead Dada. L to R: Keverne Smith, Ginger Baker, Mandy Smith, me.
I aligned myself with the political left in the 1980s, and was (and remain) committed to the notion that architecture is a public art. I therefore positioned myself in public practice, and in 1983 I joined the Greater London Council (GLC), working on the Coin Street Design Team. This was a cause celebre of community participation in design, which brought us into direct conflict with Margaret Thatcher’s government. As a direct result of what we were doing at the GLC, she abolished it in 1986, and I moved to the London Borough of Southwark where, as Assistant Borough Architect, I led another high profile housing project at Cherry Gardens in Bermondsey.
Part of the Cherry Garden housing scheme beside the Thames in Bermondsey.
I was project architect.
During this time I also worked as an architectural journalist, both freelancing, and on the editorial teams of the Architects Journal and Architectural Design. As a result of this publication record I was offered my first full time lectureship in architecture at Bath University in 1989.
LECTURING IN ARCHITECTURE
I was able to develop my interest in architectural history as a lecturer, and presented lecture courses in this area, as well as running design studios.
During this time I published two books: The Buildings Around Us in 1995, and Bath: An Architectural Guide in 1997.
In 1998-1999 I was offered a one year sabbatical from Bath to go to Bulawayo in Zimbabwe and help set up the country’s first school of architecture.
From 2002 to 2004 I was made Professor of Architecture and Head of the Birmingham School of Architecture and Landscape. This was an impossible job to do, and as a result of lack of support and ineffective leadership from the then faculty, I resigned. Still, I am proud that I succeeded in provoking the move of the school into the art faculty where it now thrives.
I still work part time as a professor of architecture, and teach the history and theory of art and architecture.
I have lectured on architectural history on cruise ships, including on the Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth.
From 2006 to 2011 I took a doctorate at the Glasgow School of Art, investigating the aesthetic content of modern maritime ruins.
During the preparation of the PhD (and heavily influenced by the Glasgow School of Art’s support of research through practice), I established my own art practice. My work addresses decay on maritime and industrial surfaces.
May 2011: With supervisor Dr Bruce Peter outside the Glasgow School of Art after successfully defending the thesis. Photo by Stanley Mathews
I live in Bath with Teresa Iquo whom I married in 1983. We have a daughter, Hannah.
We also live in Honfleur in Normandy, where I have a small studio.