Peter Moro was born in Heidelberg, Germany in 1911, and trained at the Technical University of Berlin-Charlottenburg. He was asked to leave university because of his Jewish ancestry, and continued his studies in Zurich.
‘He took his diploma in 1936 and came to England in the same year, having been promised a job by Walter Gropius who then claimed to remember nothing about it. Moro had 10 marks in his pocket, his English was limited to phrases he had heard in the movies and he could not understand feet and inches at all. Instead, he worked for Berthold Lubetkin and the Tecton Partnership for two years.’
During the second world war Moro was interned as an “enemy alien” on the Isle of White, along with thousands of other German and Italian citizens who were thought to be a danger to the UK.
After his release he began working on the Royal Festival Hall under Robert Matthew, along with Leslie Martin and Edwin Williams. The project was completed in 1951 to great acclaim, and in 1988 it became the first post-war building to be listed as Grade I on the nation’s heritage register.
‘In 1952, Peter Moro and Partners was formed, and carried out a variety of public sector projects until its dissolution in 1984. These included Fairlawn Primary School, Lewisham, 1957, of which Ian Nairn wrote in his guide, Modern Buildings in London, (1964), “some buildings get in this book through architectural elegance, more – not enough – through being humane and friendly places to be in. A very few are both, and this is one of them.”‘
Moro’s practice also designed theatres including The Playhouse, Nottingham, the theatre at Hull University, the Theatre Royal, Plymouth and three theatres at the Academy of Performing Arts, Hong Kong.
‘Moro rejected criticisms of modern architecture, but in a way his whole output was a critique of what he called “the banality of functionalism”, which, as he repeatedly demonstrated, could be overcome by the imaginative and technically skilful transformation of the ordinary.’
– Excerpts from an obituary in the Independent
The rise of Hitler and increasingly restrictive environment in Nazi Germany caused hundreds of thousands of people to flee. The German annexation of Austria in March 1938 and increase in personal attacks on Jews followed by the nationwide pogrom Kristallnacht (Night of the Broken Glass) in November and seizure of Jewish property caused around 36,000 Jews to leave Germany and Austria in 1938 and 77,000 in 1939.
On top of Jewish emigration, many academics, artists, authors and musicians whose work was labelled as ‘degenerate’ left for Europe or the United States as persecution increased throughout the decade. Degenerate was a term used to describe nearly all modern art, which was severely restricted.
Throughout the 1930s a large number of Jews were seeking sanctuary in the UK due to persecution in Germany, but the immigration policies relating to them were very restrictive. In November 1938 the Kristallnacht pogrom convinced Chamberlain to ease the admission policy, but even then refugees were only allowed entry on temporary visas. The British cabinet agreed that they would try to secure a home in the UK for Jews expelled from Germany who had achieved success in a number of fields including art.