In Memory of Professor Blundell Jones, by his PhD students
"As a group of researchers from the Centre for East-West Studies in Architecture and Landscape, we share a collective sadness for the sudden death of our mentor, Peter. Beyond this sadness, we are writing together to appreciate what he has inspired in each of us. Whilst many of us are apart and dispersed around the world, our memories are collected here to bring together a commemoration of Professor Peter Blundell Jones."
Professor Hyon-Sob Kim
Around the time when I was finalising my PhD thesis on Alvar Aalto in 2005 – of course this topic was recommended by Peter in relation to his continuing interest in the so-called ‘organic’ tendency in modern architecture – I asked Peter to apply for a research grant for East Asian influence on European modernism (Japanophile Aalto!) so that I could continue researching in Sheffield. Luckily our application for an AHRC (Arts & Humanities Research Council) grant was successful and it allowed me to work as his post-doctoral research assistant for two years between March 2006 and February 2008. I could become one of the early members to formulate the East-West research group.
Peter and I investigated various European modernists in terms of the proposed topic, as well as delving into the Japanese architect Tetsuro Yoshida as a key go-between, and published several papers. In addition, we had tried to compile one volume of book on the topic, including the other PhD graduates/candidates’ chapters. Alas, this book project, still effective till a few months ago, couldn’t be completed owing to the sudden death of Peter, my Liebe Meister and good friend at the same time. I deeply mourn his unexpected passing away. Nevertheless, my learning from Peter – sincerity in research and meticulous teaching for students – will be everlasting. I always try to inspire my students in Korea University as he did for me in Sheffield.
I met Peter for the first time in the winter of 2000 while on a brief visit to the UK. This meeting led to my PhD study under his supervision from 2003 to 2008. I have always appreciated the inspiration he gave me with his humanitarian view on architecture. I fondly remember an occasion in the summer of 2005 when I was completing my fieldwork in Sanjiang on the Dong people. During one of my regular meetings with Peter, he read a narrative song that I collected in my fieldwork and had translated for him. It told the story of a young couple from the Dong community, who were married and then suddenly separated by the passing of the young wife. The young husband was so sad that he traced the spirit of his wife with their two children through the Dong’s ‘Wind and Rain’ Bridge. Peter was very emotional, and I saw tears in his eyes. After that experience, I gradually understood the power of culture and humanity on architecture.
Since then I have been inspired and encouraged to further study the Dong’s vernacular and modern architecture. The most prominent influence he had on me was teaching me to go beyond in my research. His life was a blessing, and his memory a treasure. He is loved beyond words and missed beyond measure. God’s paradise must be beautiful. May the Lord bless him!
During a supervision in 2014, Professor Peter and I were discussing rituals in buildings. He mentioned he was writing something on his mother, after her passing. He said writing this is a way remembering someone, it recalls the memory of this person, and gives people the feeling that this person is still alive in their mind. He said it is good for someone to know there is someplace he or she can go after the death, so people will not be afraid. People hate and fear the feelings of nothingness death brings But through rituals in architecture and writing, people may relieve these feelings and offer a proper farewell to the deceased. As Prof. Peter said, there is someplace the deceased can go. And this place exists through our memorial activities.
Yet for me his continuity lies neither in ritual nor in writing, because he will be remembered in my heart, as a great and beloved mentor of my research and my life. It is a departure, not an end because, whilst a life does end at this time, his thinking still speaks profoundly to me and enlightens me to go forward.
Under PBJ’s supervision for my Masters and later PhD, I constantly sought to understand how modernity in the built environment from the 19th century onwards affected East-Asia. PBJ’s thorough analysis of Europeans modernists and his attitude to the architecture of other cultures inspired me to question conventional modernist historiography. PBJ invigorated and prompted me to deeply contemplate from my first meeting with him when he was very excited about a Qing dynasty Taipei City map that I had brought. He was extremely curious about the community hall pictured and its relation to society at that time, pressing me on the definition and functions of 'halls' in Chinese, and comparing this to the English history of halls. His even-handed attitude in understanding buildings and rituals of different cultures, focusing on what those structures meant to their society, struck me then and now as very respectful. His humanity often impressed me. I recall PBJ at his house in Padley Mill explaining that his round dining table followed the Chinese metaphor of 'roundness', representing reunion; his dining place was for the family to eat and reunite together I felt touched that he used this concept; to me it showed the love he has for his family and his belief in ritual.
Having graduated, I always miss my supervisor meetings with PBJ; he refreshed and agitated my thoughts using his distinct point of view. His spirit of eternal insight has opened my mind and I’ll continue to respect this spirit for the rest of my life. Hence, for me PBJ is always there, and I’d still like to thank him for being always supportive, and for bringing me his valuable conflicting thoughts, a treasure for my research career.
I started studying under PBJ's supervision in the summer 2006, on the topic of Chinese thresholds. I was inspired many times during the East-West group seminars and by pleasant discussions in meetings with him, which helped me to re-think details that are truly common sense to Chinese people. The seminars have provided many possible ways of interpreting and perceiving Chinese culture and architecture in general. Peter was unstinting to share all his research sources and abundant experiences of writing and editing papers, and historic drawings. Every meeting with him was so pleasant yet challenging. His eyes glinted while he was explaining how the ancient Chinese built their orders of world based on their agriculture connecting to the order of stars moving, and how their building activities were organised according to these orders.
With all my respect to the wisdom of PBJ, I also appreciate his generosity of sharing his life and career experiences, which encouraged me to fight in hard times and to which I continue to be indebted to. He made my research possible at every step. Without him, my thesis would not be and I cannot think of any other possible way. R.I.P. Professor PBJ.
I met Professor PBJ in the end of August 2007 when I was a visiting scholar to the University of Sheffield. I was totally blank at that time, as I knew nothing about any topic covered by the East-West group. Peter brought me to the seminars of the research group. He always had plenty of questions not only on traditional Chinese architecture, the builders, and the users, but also on the culture and rituals behind the architecture. Each question felt to me like a beacon of light, which led us to find answers and our research objectives.
In October of 2010, I was lucky enough to become Professor PBJ’s PhD student on Chinese traditional carpenters. Peter was not a sinologist; he had a limited grasp of Chinese language. Yet for Peter this was not a deficit as others might expect: on the contrary, he studied these East-West issues in a different way, focusing on the anthropology and sociology of buildings, bringing forth the universality of humanity and the particular issues of the East and West. He gave me much advice on how to understand the characteristics of carpenters: their oral education, their thinking, their special mnemonics and signs, and their local rituals. This all gave my research a special understanding on how the approach of the carpenter and architect differed and how this difference illuminates the transition from traditional to modern construction techniques. His thoughts will continue to lead me to develop my research further.
Peter’s original expertise was the case studies approach in researching on western modernism. Unlike the approach that sought for grand theories, Peter used this approach to reveal the diversity and complexity firstly in western and later eastern modernism, many cases of which were incomprehensible with the conventional theory of western modernism. Accordingly, his supervision of my research about modern architectural culture in Thailand in the mid-nineteenth century ensured the research’s multi-disciplinary approach and its role as a pioneering and foundational research to keep broadening the knowledge related to this topic by welcoming chances for future research to add and comment on it.
He was an architectural scholar of wisdom who truly believed in the ways architecture affects human’s social life and vice versa. Being a supportive and open-minded supervisor, a dedicated teacher, a prolific architectural historian who was also an architect with credentials, Peter confirmed the relevance of architectural history to architectural design and education.
Peter and I met the first time at the 14th floor, the Arts Tower, like most of his PhD students did. It was 2005. The following four and a half years of questioning, debating, chatting, and proof-reading (of course done by kind Peter) in his office, surrounded by his books, the models of Sheffield, slides, a projector and a small white-painted square on the wall, have become the sower of my academic career. For my meetings, Peter never supervised or guided, rather it was more like jousting. I had to fully prepare for rounds of arguments. At some times it was devastating and escapism-tempted but it felt inescapable in PhD research.
Our shared interests and knowledge in novels or dramas that reveal rituals, daily practices and social activities were also implacable. ‘Yes Minister’, ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ and other media enriched my perspective and research. In return, I hope Peter enjoyed ‘Der Traum der Roten Kammer’. Peter and I, my family, and the colleagues in East-West group, had photographs taken in front of the Arts Tower in 2011 after I had shaken the hand of the Chancellor. It was sunny and bright, so was Peter. I shall remember him always as he was that day.
Professor Peter Blundell Jones has been my academic lead and life mentor from the year 2013. I first met him in an undergraduate lecture (Urban (Hi) stories) in October 2012 when I just start my MA in Sheffield School of Architecture. Peter was my MA thesis supervisor and I still remember the first meeting on a sunny morning in his office, his smiles, his books, his words, his looks at my proposal, his strong recommendations to revise my proposal.
Peter was so happy to see that my final work was shortlisted into national final four of the RIBA Awards. I remember he took me to an exhibition about architectural photography in an upstairs RIBA gallery, but I forgot most of his words except a deep impression on his insight into camera, the everyday built environment from his eyes.
Peter became my PhD first supervisor after I struggled with my first year of research and adjusted my topic later. I was so lucky to become the final PhD student under his supervision during his semi-retirement. I was so lucky to be his assistant in his Humanity module to undergraduate students until his last ending lecture. I was so lucky to assist him on his final two books. I was so lucky to be with him in international conferences outside school. I was so lucky to organise the latest East-West seminars, the last one of which he presented his new book with such passion and joy.
‘Many thanks for arranging it all so well and being master of ceremonies. The standard of presentations was pretty good. I would be happy for you to do another one.’ I never believe that was the last email Peter sent to me, but I will ‘do another one’. I will remember Peter with much love and more passion into architecture and I will ‘go far’ as you said in my reference letter, as I said in my last email to you on your funeral day.
From bottom to top: Gangyi Tan, Derong Kong, Hui-Ju Chang and her partner, Diego Gonzalez, Chomchon Fusinpaiboon, Gangyi Tan's partner and his daughter, Jianyu Chen and her son, Bing Jiang. Top: PBJ, Chrissie and Jan Woudstra