R-Furneaux-Jordan-1949-croppedAA Personalities: Robert Furneaux Jordan

The critic, journalist and broadcaster, Robert Furneaux Jordan (1905-78), is one of the most intriguing figures of the post-war AA. Remembered primarily as the architectural correspondent for The Observer and author of such classics as Victorian Architecture (1966) and A Concise History of European Architecture (1969), it was nevertheless during Jordan’s short, dynamic stint as AA Principal between 1949 and 1951, that the AA’s International profile as a progressive, modernist school was cemented. Interestingly enough, he also holds the distinction of being the only head of the AA school to have had a successful career as a novelist –writing a series of lurid, satirical crime novels, unbeknownst to the majority of his colleagues and students, under the pseudonym of ‘Robert Player’.

Jordan trained at the AA in the late 1920s and lectured on history and design from 1934 until his retirement in 1963. He was a committed socialist and acted as joint editor of Comparative Broadcasts (1938-40), published with Jack Pritchard. He was also secretary to the Cambridge Peace Aims Group and responsible for the World Radicalism manifesto in 1939 and the Charter of the Rights and Duties of Man in 1940.

On his appointment as AA Principal in February 1949 Jordan called for a revolution in architectural education, stressing a need to move ‘away from the drawing board towards the science and technique of building’ (inaugural address, 1949). Correspondingly, site work was encouraged and students were found positions on a variety of construction sites including the Royal Festival Hall and Brynmawr Rubber Factory. Jordan was instrumental in persuading Alvar Aalto, Ernesto Rogers, and Enrico Peressutti to teach short courses at the AA and also managed to secure the current Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, and Frank Lloyd Wright to present the prizes at the 1949 and 1950 graduation ceremonies, respectively. Well-liked and respected by his students, it appears, however, that the pressure of the role was too much for Jordan and he resigned in June 1951, suffering a severe overstrain. His breakdown, a symptom of a longstanding, recurrent illness, was possibly exacerbated by the recent death of his brother, the journalist Philip Jordan.

Jordan’s first detective novel, The Ingenious Mr Stone, or, the Documents in the Langdon-Miles Case was published by Victor Gollancz in 1945, whilst he was teaching at the AA. After his retirement Jordan made something of a come-back with four novels including such titles as The Homicidal Colonel (1970) and Let’s Talk of Graves, of Worms, of Epitaphs… (1975) -the latter, a dark, satirical tale of the passage of a Victorian clergyman from archdeaconry to the papacy, embracing poisoning, lust and intrigue.

Edward Bottoms, AA Archivist