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Made up for Mies

Justine Sambrook

John Donat photomontages

John Donat is revered for his humane, photojournalistic approach to architectural photography but when he accepted a commission from Peter Palumbo in 1968 he was required to embrace a different technique.

The property developer required a series of images to support his controversial proposal to build an office block designed by Mies van der Rohe on Mansion House Square. Donat used photomontage, fittingly a method Mies himself had employed to visualise his designs for a Berlin skyscraper in 1921, to show the unbuilt glass and steel tower in situ and worked painstakingly to achieve a high degree of realism. Despite the scheme’s eventual rejection, Palumbo declared Donat’s work a “brilliant presentation, which could not have been bettered”.

The project earned Donat a reputation as a skilled practitioner of montage photography and he was later appointed to similarly represent the competition entries for London’s National Gallery extension. These included the design by ABK which famously attracted Prince Charles’ ire. Donat, with characteristic humour, composed a satirical business card describing himself as 'By Royal Dis-Appointment / Monstrous Carbuncles and Giant Stumps a Speciality'.