Michael Sutton
A long life briefly

In helping to assemble this book which includes most of my work over the past sixty years, I’m left with one overriding emotion – gratitude. For so many things – people (family, friends, clients), so many circumstances (luck, if you will) – that have helped and guided me through a long and happy life.
In a way luck started from birth (2.6.1928). Unlucky to be born stone deaf but lucky to have loving parents, Bill and Dolly, who had the determination and means to give my sister Ann (also deaf) and myself the best possible education; which meant the family moving from South Africa to England just before the outbreak of the Second World War because that was where the best schools for the deaf were.
And then there was Monica Martin, who came as I turned 2 to be governess, teacher, surrogate mother, whose guiding hand was there for us till her death at 90. She told me that, still in a pram, I was more interested in houses than the people in them. If so, I’m somewhat reformed.
Spring Hill School, Northampton was run by Mr Ince-Jones, a wonderful teacher, but judged by myself and other boys somewhat of a sadist. Ann went to Dene Hollow School, Sussex and then on to Swanley College to graduate in horticulture and landscaping.
My father re-joined the RAF and my mother drove an ambulance during the London Blitz. We all came together on school holidays and in spite of food rationing and bombers overhead, we had a wonderful time wherever my father was stationed with his squadron – Kent, Surrey, Newcastle, Scotland, Devonshire. The castles, grand country houses, delightful villages, gothic cathedrals we visited stirred my interest in architecture.
Back in South Africa after the war, after a struggle at matriculating (because of the required Afrikaans) I was finally accepted at Witwatersrand University. My father had died after our return, his business having gone broke in his absence. Gratefully, my uncle Sir George Albu paid the varsity bills.
Even before university I had been working for Steffen Ahrends, who has remained a big influence on my work. He was a product of the famous Bauhaus and had to flee Nazi Germany before the war. His insistence on honest materials, basic simplicity, and good proportions based on human scale, remained with me.
Wits University (1951 to 1956) was a great experience. The help and kindness of fellow students, lecturers and Professor Fassler made it possible for me to graduate easily.
In 1956 I shared a flat with Tom Russell, then a film and music critic on The Star. Since then and off-and-on for neigh on 60 years, he has remained my best friend, companion – and architectural critic. We built or renovated at least 7 houses together.
In 1961 Tom persuaded me to start on my own – up till then I had only occasional small commissions from friends. My practice had its ups and downs like all businesses. First partner was John Griffiths whom I knew in Steffen’s office. Then came David Walker who was a great help in running the office, organizing and supervising building work thus leaving me time for design work. His command of the office allowed me to travel overseas often, including 6 months in India and Nepal in 1971 and many months at a time in Greece.
In the sixties, after a failed two-year marriage, I belatedly enjoyed sowing a few wild oats. It was the time of the hippy - flower power - Timothy Leary - joss sticks - “joints” - yoga. I joined three Spanish friends in India in spite of only a 72 hour transit visa and an airport sign “No Dogs and South Africans allowed”. Then I went on my own following a sadhu on foot, train or bus from Kashmir to Rajasthan, sleeping in caves, shrines, on station platforms. Tragedy struck when my very dear Spanish friend ended his life in Delhi.
I came to Greece because Tom, as a journalist, had had enough of apartheid politics in South Africa and had emigrated. His criticism of the junta in Greece landed him in trouble. He fled to Cyprus taking his caique yacht with him. When he decided to sell it I jumped at the chance. “Sofia” became my new love. A year later – drama! The day after we sailed out of Kyrenia harbour every boat there was sunk by the invading Turks. That was in July 1974. Luck, again.
I spent more and more time on “Sofia” exploring the islands of Greece, fascinated and inspired by their beautiful architecture. Then came one commission after another to design houses for wonderful Greek clients. The office in South Africa closed when David with his family emigrated to Australia.
In 2000 Tom and I returned to the new South Africa. We built a lovely house in Stanford which we enjoyed but we missed Greece. Five years later we moved back.
My architectural philosophy (or whatever you call it) is best stated by Sri Lankan architect, Geoffrey Bawa: “I have always enjoyed seeing buildings but seldom enjoyed explanations about them – as I feel, with others, that architecture cannot be totally explained but must be experienced.”
I cannot conclude without thanking my old friends and “serial” clients Costas and Penny Apostolidis for their kindness, generosity and perseverance in making this book possible.

Michael Sutton
Poros, January 2015