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Leonard Manasseh (1916-2017):
A reflection by Peter Ahrends

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It is with great sadness that we announce the death of AA Graduate, former Tutor and Past President Leonard Manasseh, who passed away at the age of 100 on 5 March 2017.

Leonard Manasseh: Architect, Teacher, Friend

In writing this personal appreciation of Leonard's work at the Architectural Association, I go back in time to September 1951 when I first arrived in London to make a late-teens life for myself. Somewhat overwhelmed by the size and spread of the city I was lifted by the density and strength of the South Bank's Festival of Britain: a campus of modern architecture marking and celebrating Labour's visionary post-war achievements.  London's fabric still showed residual scars of war, food rationing was still in place and, by comparison with today's level of general affluence, this now seems like another world, but one in which a strong sense of hope for a different social future prevailed.

For me this intense set of initial impressions formed an optimistic prelude to our first year course at the AA directed by Leonard (who'd designed one of the Festival buildings) with his charge of eighteen-year-olds occupying a spacious studio lying above the library, overlooking Bedford Square. But in all of this, what of Leonard?

Two things come to mind. First was Leonard's tangible but quiet passion about the art of architecture. Then, not unrelatedly, there was his relationship with others. For he was 'there' for one, and spoke in a way that suggested that we-are-all-equally-humans. Thoughtful, straight, respectfully confident, and obviously English, the timbre of his voice also spoke about togetherness. Fittingly, these characteristics and his warm presence came through to us, persuasively and tenderly, as our youthful understandings grew.

For the final project of the year we were let loose on the design of a single detached small family house. I had designed a glassy rectangular box whose single-storey length was intersected by a dividing wall; an extended vertical plane that rose above the flat roof. A statement, or what? In the crit that followed I was pleased to find that Leonard was positive about my scheme. But then, pausing awhile, he added: 'But there's an unresolved duality?’ Ever since, in my life's work at ABK, the more theoretical aspect of that question has remained, unanswered...

For the subject of Leonard's Christmas card last year he painted two red flowers, side by side, sending warmth and brightness in the winter's solstice. I enjoyed this painterly move presenting us with a couplet, rhyming in its togetherness.

Peter Ahrends, 22 March 2017

Peter Ahrends (AADipl 1956) was a student of Leonard Manasseh's at the AA, along with Richard Burton (AADipl(Hons) 1956) and Paul Koralek (AADipl 1956), who together founded Ahrends Burton and Koralek (now ABK) in 1961.

Image: Leonard Manasseh in 1964 (AA Photo Library)


 

Martyn Haxworth (1937–2016):
an AA memoir by Christopher Woodward

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The seventy new arrivals to the first year at the AA in1957 were accommodated on the first floor of the Morwell Street block. In a simulacrum of an architect’s office, on either side of a central corridor were rows of trestle tables, each supporting a double-elephant size drawing board and hardwood t-square. Drawing was clearly going to be important. Students were placed in alphabetical order, starting at the door, running to the end of the room, then returning on the other side, to the door. Those with names early in the alphabet (MH) found themselves across the corridor from those later (‘CW’), and from this accident what were to become life-long friendships sparked and matured.

The new students were a mixed bunch, some younger and straight from school, others, like Martyn, had done their National Service or had just taken up their studies again after the end of the world war in 1945. As we worked through the first year curriculum, drawing exercises led to a first attempt at design, a changing pavilion for a swimming pool. We were taught how to set up 2- and 3-point perspectives (magic!). When asked to illustrate our projects, many of us produced thin pen drawings and carefully coloured these in with water colour. Martyn’s experience at school with a charismatic art teacher came in handy: his perspectives were sketchy, scratchy, and coloured with broad strokes of gouache.

In the second to fourth years (no ‘gap year’ then) we worked through the curriculum devised by James Gowan, John Killick and Peter Smithson: design studies of each successive year of the three were based on the village, town and city. 

At the beginning of the fifth, final, year Martyn returned, newly married to Jenny. In the search for a Diploma project, conversations in the holiday had also led ML, CW and Jim Hodges to consider doing a group project together, and they hit on ‘working up’ a characteristic housing area of the recently-published Master Plan prepared by the LCC in 1961 for a new town at Hook in Hampshire. Group work, though treated suspiciously by the school because it made marking individual students a problem, was quite fashionable, and the result, assessed by a panel including Oliver Cox and Alison Smithson, was well-received. The group was tutored throughout by Alan Colquhoun who, while saying little, impressed on us the importance of thinking very hard: he left us with one of what became the most memorable of his aphorisms: “I think you’ll find I’m right”. Cedric Price occasionally dropped by and Year Master Robert Maxwell provided pastoral care. Glamourous visitors to the studio included Louis Kahn who stopped to chat with Martyn and asked what a brick wanted to be (but at that time he probably asked everyone that).

Having been head-hunted during the final term, on the day after this ended, MH and CW and others started work for the team that Colin Buchanan was leading to prepare the report that became ‘Traffic in Towns’ for the Minister of Transport. We became civil servants, signed the Official Secrets Act, and studied the effect of constrained and un-constrained traffic growth on access London’s Fitzrovia. The press misread this as a plan to cover London in 16-lane motorways, something our studies on the fourth year had clearly equipped us for. The report changed little: soon after its publication, in 1963, the minister, Ernest Marples lost his job, as did we.

From 1965, Martyn worked for Associated Architects and Consultants, Bill Allen (former Principal of the AA School) with Peter Rich and Birkin Haward, the three making a team designing and building a large housing scheme at Harlow New Town.

In 1965 he set up a practice with George Kasabov (AA 1954–59 ) and together they developed, designed and built a row of spacious three-storey houses on a site overlooking Highgate Cemetery. The Haxworth family established themselves at the end of the terrace, finding themselves sharing a garden wall with Leonard Manasseh (AA 1935–).

The partnership with Kasabov lasted until 1970 when Martyn set up a new practice with JCW Hodges (‘Jim’, one of the Hook Housing trio) who had left the Central Electricity Board, his sponsors for his AA studies. Jim brought several CEGB jobs with him, and the practice was also supported by rapid surveys for NHS hospitals. In 1974 the practice was secure and large enough to allow the partners to buy and develop a small freehold plot in West Smithfield in the City of London. They developed this their office housing the practice’s staff of about ten. They were joined in 1980 by Penelope Martin-Jones who arrived from Ahrends Burton and Koralek (AA). Clients continued to be the CEGB and NHS until the practice was dissolved in 1987 when the Haxworths moved to their last family home in Charlbury in Oxfordshire, while Martyn continued to practise on his own from West Smithfield until 2004 when he worked from home. In 2014 he became too ill to continue working. At his death in 2016 he had just completed a small ‘gatehouse’ – a two-room studio that he was never able to use.

Martyn had kept all his student work and meticulously catalogued it, together with the typed briefs to which we worked, and the reports of reviews that Year Masters made. I last saw him on a visit to Charlbury in 2014 to discuss who might be interested in housing this portfolio. He agreed that the AA would be its most suitable home where it now joins the 10,000 other drawings in the AA Archives.

Martyn Leslie Haxworth, architect, born 3 September month 1937; died 26 September 2016.

Click on the following link to be directed to the online AA Archive where you can see some of
Haxworth's work


 

Richard Burton OBE (1933-2017)

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(Richard St John Vladimir Burton, architect, born 3 November 1933; died 29 January 2017)

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of AA Alumnus and Honorary Member Richard Burton CBE at the age of 83 on 29th January. Richard was instrumental in helping The Architectural Association's Woodland Campus, Hooke Park, become part of the AA in 2002 and then advising on its development as the campus and teaching activities grew. He studied at the AA from 1951 to 1956, and went on to co-found Ahrends Burton and Koralek (ABK) with Peter Ahrends and Paul Koralek, who he met at the AA as fellow students.

Richard was born in Kensington and lived in London for most of his life. His mother was an actress and director and his father also worked in the theatre industry. Their marriage was short and Richard spent a lot of time with his grandmother as a child, Christabel Burton. Richard attended Bryanston School in Dorset where he was able to discover his passion and talent for art and architecture. It was his mother’s new husband, Gerald Barry who suggested he attended the AA School to further his career, which he joined in 1951.

Richard began his career working for London County Council and Powell and Moya, going on to design the Princess Margaret hospital in Swindon and extensions to Brasenose College in Oxford, before founding AKB in 1961. The work of ABK exemplified the optimism of the post-war era, and Richard’s key projects included the Berkeley Library in Trinity College, Dublin, as well as the House of Trees built for the Makepeace School (now used as the Refectory building at Hooke Park). He pioneered energy efficiency projects and forefronted the design of the British Embassy in Moscow, completed in 2000. In 1984 Ahrends Burton and Koralek won the competition for a new extension to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, famously dismissed by Price Charles as a ‘monstrous carbuncle’, which lost them the project and created a long-lasting conflict between Price Charles and ABK despite shared environmental views. The National Gallery extension was commissioned to Venturi Scott-Brown.

Richard believed in the power of architecture transforming people’s lives and enriching society. For him, architecture was a real form of art. He was involved with a RIBA Energy initiative in the 70’s and worked with hospitals attempting to create buildings which would benefit the patients in recovery, often using the nature around the buildings to enhance his designs. Swindon Hospital is an example of this unique holistic design, and which became an international model for environmentally friendly buildings for healthcare. Richard was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Architects, an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and was made an Honorary Member of the AA in 2011.

Richard is survived by his wife Mireille along with their daughter and three sons. In recent years, Mireille and Richard opened to the public on Open House weekends their house in Kentish Town, which he had designed and built using materials recycled or left-over from other constructions, and Richard enjoyed the considerable interest this generated amongst neighbours, students and other visitors. A book launch and exhibition dedicated to the house were held at the AA in 2015.


 

Roderick Ham (1925-2017)

We are saddened to announce the death of the British architect, Roderick Thomas Mathieson Ham, who was born on September 1925 and passed away at the beginning of this year at the age of 91.

Rod Ham was principally known for his work on theatres, often working with the architect George Finch, in particular the designs for Derby Playhouse, the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich and the Thorndike Theatre in Leatherhead. He served in the British army during WWII as a Second Lieutenant.


 

Inette Austin-Smith (1924-2017)

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One of our most illustrious Alumni, Inette Austin-Smith, co-founder of the international practice Austin-Smith Lord, very sadly passed away 11 January 2017.

Inge Lotte Edith Austin-Smith (nee Griessmann) was born in Germany on 23 January 1924. She attended Downhurst School, Hendon, prior to studying Fine Arts at the University of Reading for one year. She subsequently joined the AA School of Architecture, where she trained from 1942-47. At the time she joined the AA, the school was evacuated to Mount House in Barnet, London. By 1944, while Griessmann was in her second year at the AA, the school recorded a demographic of more female students than male for the first time in its history, she being part of the 50 strong female population. Whilst at the AA, she received Mentions for her boathouse and library designs in 1943, and further Mentions for her landscape, texture and heating studies in 1944. Her fifth year project 'Flats, West Norwood', with S.E. Mullins, was awarded a Pass with Distinction. She joined the Forces whilst in her third year at the AA, and returned to join the 4th year in 1945 (see AAJ, December 1945-January 1946, p. 41). Following graduation she became naturalised on 22 February 1947 and changed her name to Inette Grierson by deed poll on 31 October 1947. After leaving the AA she worked for Middlesex County Council on schools and then for Norman & Dawbarn, in charge of the housing estate for paraplegics at Watford. In January 1948 she married John Michael Austin-Smith (1918-1999) who she had met in the fifth year at the AA, and changed her name to Inette Austin-Smith. In 1950, they set up in private practice – the practice was known as J.M. Austin-Smith and Partner, renamed Austin-Smith/Salmon/Lord in 1963 when Peter Lord and Geoffrey Salmon were made partners and then Austin-Smith/Lord in 1969 when Salmon left. Inette and Michael retired from practice in 1981. She remained a Members of the AA and a trustee at the Cornwall Architectural Trust for the rest of her life.

Inette donated her entire 5 years of AA work (1942-48) and that of her husband (AA 1936-47, AA President 1961-2) to the AA Archives in 2011 and she recorded an extensive set of oral histories for the AAXX100 project, which she was a patron of.


 

Habib Fida Ali (1935-Jan 7 2017)

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One of Pakistan’s most distinguished architects, who received many awards for his work, sadly passed away 7 January 2017. Habib Fida Ali’s work includes the design and construction of a number of important buildings as well as with the conservation and renovation of Mohatta Palace. He received a lifetime achievement awards from the Institute of Architects in Pakistan. The vast range of his work has been recorded and collected in The Architecture of Habib Fida by Hasan-ud-Din Khan.

In 1956 Frida Ali was the first Pakistani student to be admitted to the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. He graduated in 1962 and became an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects (ARIBA). On his return to Pakistan in 1963, Habib joined briefly William Perry's architectural practice in Karachi, before setting up his own practice in 1965. He worked on a number of corporate projects, public buildings and private houses. Amongst his most renowned projects were the Lahore University of Management Sciences, the Kohsaar Restaurant in Hill Park (which no longer exists), and he collaborated on the Jumeirah Beach Residence in Dubai. Habib Fida Ali served as president of the Institute of Architects of Pakistan’s Karachi chapter and as council member of the Union of International Architects (Region IV).


 

Lady Susan Lasdun (1929-2017)

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We are saddened to announce the passing away of Lady Susan Lasdun.

Susan was the widow of the eminent British architect Sir Denys Lasdun, who studied at the AA and later served as a member of the AA Council. She had studied at Camberwell Art School, and went on to write and work on the interiors of some of Sir Denys’ buildings.

After Denys died in 2001, Susan continued to have a relationship with the AA, becoming an Honorary Member in 2002, and frequently attending lectures, especially when researching her several books which included Making Victorians, The English Park and Victorians At Home. She is survived by two sons and a daughter.


 

Gillian Harris (1927-2016)

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It is with great sorrow to announce the death of Gillian Harris, former student and member of the AA. Gillian passed away on 28 September 2016, leaving her two children and husband, John R Harris, who also formed part of AA alumnus.

She studied architecture and interior design at our school between the years of 1945-1949, where she presumably met her future husband. Upon graduation, Gillian Harris remained a long standing member of the AA, staying up to date with all our news.


 

John Brian Emerson (1928 – 2016)

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Brian was born in Belfast in July 1928 and was educated at Fane Street Elementary School and then Methodist College. Leaving school, he joined the staff of Smyth Cowser in College Gardens where he served his time as an Articled Apprentice before qualifying in 1949 and becoming an Associate of the R.I.B.A. in 1951.

 

He then moved to London and spent time with Easton & Robertson in Bedford Square before travelling to Dublin to spend a year with Robinson, Keefe and Devane. During this time he joined the Architectural Association where he remained a member for the rest of his life. He returned to Smyth Cowser in Belfast in 1953 before becoming a partner in 1955.

 

A courtship then began with Joan Robinson, a young secretary at the R.S.U.A. They were married in 1957 and had two sons, John and David.

 

Through the 50s, 60s and 70s Smyth Cowser and Partners thrived on many commissions including The Nurses home at BCH, Belfast Bank Premises, Methodist College, Lisanelly Barracks Omagh, Lisburn and Newtownards Swimming Pools.

 

In 1979 Smyth Cowser and Partners was closed and Brian Emerson Associates was formed. Very much a family concern, Joan returned to secretarial duties and David joined after his studies in England. This smaller practice blossomed over the years with Brian able to return to the drawing board. Specialising in one off houses, extensions, listed buildings along with commissions retained from the past. Major works included redevelopment of Banbridge Hospital (now demolished), Lisburn Enterprise Organisation and Newry Fire Station.

 

The Practice moved in 1998 to David’s home in Kilmood and Brian retired although always on the end of the phone for advice.

  

Brian’s other love in life was Motor Cars in all forms, from buying and selling, to competing with some success in races, rallies and trials. In his later years he built several vintage cars from scratch and competed in them all over Britain and Ireland. The working drawings of these cars are also works of art.

 Brian will be remembered fondly by his family and friends for his consistent support, generous nature and sense of fun and it is a comfort that he lived his life to the full up until his short illness.


 

Andrew Walker (1942 – 2016)

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It is with great sadness that I report the death of our former colleague and dear friend Andrew Walker. Andrew passed away suddenly on Sunday 30th October 2016 at his home in York, North Yorkshire where he had moved to a number of years ago.

A former student of the AA (1959 – 1962), Andrew was Head of Technical Studies for nearly thirty years, overseeing the progress and assessment of hundreds of technical projects at the rear of 36 Bedford Square. The location was by necessity as Andrew undertook this role from his wheelchair. Over the many years, Andrew and his team of TS staff and various administrative co-ordinators made the only accessible part of the AA buildings at that time the hub of academic activity and a warm and welcoming environment for technical tutorials, guidance and support. A tireless champion of inclusive design, Andrew created and launched the one-day-day-release course in Environmental Access in the early 1990s, the first course of its kind in the UK. The course welcomed many candidates at a time when access and the built environment were very much on the periphery of social conscience. Andrew never fore-fronted the rights of the disabled; for him this simply highlighted a minority status. With his energy and determination he sought to educate those who were ‘non-disabled’, the real minority in his mind.

After retirement, Andrew moved to Deal in Kent but retained ‘The Cottage’ in Regents Square which had been his London home for 44 years. In 2008 Andrew made the decision to return to his ‘northern roots’. Publically, Andrew was moving to York, the city where Constantine the Great was declared Emperor of Rome! Privately, Andrew was returning to a place where he felt most at home. But wherever he was, Andrew retained a deep interest in the AA School and especially in the work and progress of our students.

I was one of the administrators fortunate to work for and with Andrew for a number of years. With friends and colleagues, past and present, I remember a time of hard work but mostly a time of great fun and lots of laughter with Andrew, who had the sunniest outlook on the darkest, longest and busiest of days. Thank you Andrew from all of us for your friendship, kindness, the wonderful times and fantastic memories.

Belinda Flaherty

7th November 2016


 

Robert Andrew Walker BArch, RIBA (ret),
FNZIA, ACIArb, GradDipl Cons (AA) 1944 - 2016

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The AA is sad to report of the death of AA alumnus Robert Walker (BArch, RIBA (ret), FNZIA, ACIArb, GradDipl Cons (AA)). Robert Walker was an alumnus of the post-graduate Diploma in Building Conservation course at the AA, receiving the Diploma in 2004. He developed an enduring interest in historic buildings over a long career working in the practice founded by Sir Frederick Gibberd, which included many pioneering conservation projects, as well as iconic modernist designs. 

Rob Walker was born in New Zealand in 1944 and educated at St Paul’s College and Auckland University, graduating in 1968 and registering as an architect in 1971. Two years later he joined Frederick Gibberd’s practice in London, and qualified for UK registration at Kingston University in 1976. He was then made an Associate, becoming a partner in 1982.  He eventually took over the running of the practice and was responsible for Gibberds joining together with a number of other leading UK architectural and engineering firms to found their own mutual insurance association: this innovative arrangement, providing Professional Indemnity Insurance in a risk-averse consortium, has proved to be highly successful. He also oversaw the introduction of a formal Quality Management System, and Fredrick Gibberd Partnership became one of the first architectural practices to receive accreditation under ISO 9001. As the industry moved into the digital age, Rob steered the practice through the various challenges, which he faced with his customary good humour and no-nonsense approach. 

Rob worked on many successful projects including the Riverdale development in Lewisham, which featured the restoration of an early 19th century water-powered corn mill, and a large development for the Crown Estate on Oxford Street, which incorporated the surviving portions of a scheme by Bannister Fletcher. He specialised in directing and co-ordinating projects during their detailed design development, and through the tendering and construction phases of commissions; he was also responsible for the administration of a range of contract types in a variety of procurement routes.

Rob had a detailed knowledge of construction law, and was a member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. He was made a Fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Architects in 1993. He was a member of the Association of Consultant Architects and a member of the Court of the Worshipful Company of Chartered Architects, one of the Livery Companies of the City of London.  

After his retirement he pursued various interests including the restoration of various Eighteenth century farm buildings in France, and to the production of oil from the many olive groves which he brought back into cultivation.  He is survived by his wife, Marilyn, whom he met at the practice, and their two sons, Robert and Alexander.


 

Peter Blundell
Jones AADipl MA(Cantab) 1949 -2016

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The AA is sad to learn that AA alumnus and former AA lecturer Blundell Jones has died, following a battle with cancer. Blundell Jones trained as an architect at the AA before holding academic positions at the University of Cambridge, London South Bank University, and the AA. A supervisor of many dissertation projects and PhDs, he chaired the judging panel for the RIBA President’s Medal for student dissertations between 2006 and 2011. At the time of his death Jones was professor of architecture at the University of Sheffield, where he had worked since 1994. Architects, academics and journalists have paid tribute to Peter Blundell Jones, and an obituary was published in Architect’s Journal.

Image: J Till P Blundell Jones book signing 2005. Courtesy of Valerie Bennett, AA Photo Library.


 

Pascal Schöning HonAADipl 1939-2016

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We learnt over the weekend with great sadness of the death of Pascal Schöning. Pascal taught at the AA from 1983 through to 2008 in Diploma Unit 3. This was a much loved Unit for many generations of pupils; whether what he was teaching was architecture, was a much wider question for external examiners and for rigid professionals. Pascal himself relished the fact that his students’ final work rarely contained a building. But behind his façade of indifference to much architectural production, he was in fact an acute critic of architecture which seemed to flow in his blood. His answer to the question of what flowed in his blood was that he was descended from Karl Friedrich Schinkel and had been brought up in one of his villas. Over the years, increasingly his teaching and his interests focused upon film. Initially, this was born of an absorption in the Nouvelle Vague of French cinema starting in the late 50’s. The cinema of Jean Luc Goddard, in particular Le Mépris, captured him.

Pascal was born in Germany during World War II and his childhood memories fixed on the bombing of Hanover and Berlin. The flickering light of the bombing was his enduring memory. By twenty he was studying architecture in Berlin but certainly that did not take up too much of his time. The claims of theatre, the visual arts, film and politics absorbed him. In 1983, given the exhaustion and defeat of the challenge to the state, and the partial repression of its Nazi past, he moved to the AA to teach. Over the next years he taught both at the AA as well as at the Bartlett and East London Polytechnic as it was then. He had a talent for finding and releasing students’ projects. His pedagogy was based on permitting an extended collective discussion to take place from which individual students would take away what they gained and transform it towards drawing and video. In later years this teaching led him to what he conceived as Cinematic Architecture, an architecture more concerned with space and events than with physical buildings and materials.  He was the author of ‘A Manifesto for a Cinematic Architecture’ (2006), and ‘Cinematic Architecture 1993-2008’, both published by AA Publications.

Later in his career, he developed a serious cancer of the jaw. It was entirely characteristic that his friends and colleagues had to bully him to seek medical help. Although he was cured, his health remained frail. The effects of increasing deafness were only mitigated by the fact that, as he said, he never really bothered to listen to people. His continuing liveliness was undoubtedly attributable to a continuous diet of cigarettes. At his retirement he was awarded an honorary AA Diploma. He was hardly able to speak about his feelings; his love for the school and for its students was enacted daily in his teaching.

Mark Cousins, 4 July 2016

(image: Pascal in the AA Cinema, which he inaugurated in 2009, photographed by Valerie Bennett)


 

Dennis Bailey 1931–2016

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It is with great sadness to report on the recent death of the graphic designer and illustrator Dennis Bailey. Dennis was the art director of AA Files for its first 22 issues (later succeeded by his wife Nicola), and in this capacity he developed not just the format but the elegant layout and typography of the journal in its first ten years – models still integral to the design of AA Files today. Dennis was part of the golden generation of English postwar graphic designers – alongside Alan Fletcher, Derek Birdsall and Richard Hollis – and in addition to his work for the AA, he art directed Town magazine, taught at Chelsea School of Art, and produced covers and editorial designs for Penguin, The Listener, The Economist, New Statesman, the British Council and the Arts Council. 


 

Jane Fawcett MBE Hon FRIBA LRAM ARCM Grad Dipl Cons AA 1921 - 2016

The AA is sad to report that architectural historian, and former AA tutor and lecturer, Jane Fawcett has died, aged 95. Fawcett was academic tutor and lecturer to the Building Conservation Graduate Course at the AA during the 1970s, the Secretary and Committee member of the International Council on Monuments and Sites UK, architectural consultant to the Yorkshire Dales National Park and Council member of the CPRE. She re-surveyed the list of Historic Buildings for English Heritage, was consultant to the English Heritage Tourise Board on Cathedrals and Tourism, and was awarded the MBE and Hon FRIBA for services to conservation.

Below is an obituary published in the Guardian. Obituaries and tributes were also published in The Times and Telegraph

Jane Fawcett was still in her teens when she began working at Bletchley Park. After the second world war she became a singer and then a conservationist.

It was typical of Jane Fawcett’s forthright style that after being introduced in 2014 to the Duchess of Cambridge, who was visiting Bletchley Park’s refurbished Hut 6, where Germany’s wartime Enigma ciphers were broken, she refused to let go of the duchess’s hand until she had told her how important the women who worked there had been in winning the second world war.

Fawcett, who has died aged 95, was one of thousands of young women recruited to work at Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire, during the war, carrying out every role from clerical work to codebreaking. It was not who, or what, you were at Bletchley that mattered; it was what you were capable of. Fawcett was proud of having made her own contribution in May 1941 when the Royal Navy was trying to track down the German navy’s most up-to-date battleship, Bismarck, in the north Atlantic.

The Admiralty had not believed the Bletchley Park analysts who told them that the Bismarck was heading for France until shortly after Fawcett came on shift in Hut 6. She was just 20. Working as a decoder, typing what seemed like gibberish into a British Typex cipher machine modified to operate like the German Enigma machine, she realised that the message emerging in German revealed that the Bismarck was heading for the French port of Brest. It was this vital piece of information, confirming what the Bletchley analysts had been saying, which allowed the Royal Navy to track down and sink the Bismarck before she reached French shores.

She was born Janet Caroline Hughes in London, the daughter of George, the clerk of the Goldsmiths’ livery company, and his wife, Margaret (nee Graham), and was educated at Miss Ironside’s school for “young ladies” in South Kensington, which saw no value in young women taking exams or going to university. In an early display of independence, she dropped the last letters of both her given names and thereafter was known only as Jane.

She won a scholarship to Rada, but turned it down to train as a dancer under Ninette de Valois at Sadler’s Wells, where she shared studios with the young Margot Fonteyn. But after landing a part in Swan Lake, Fawcett was told by De Valois: “Your back’s too long and you’re too tall. We can’t use you.”

Her parents sent her and a friend to Switzerland to learn German under the tutelage of a doctor in the Zurich suburb of Rüschlikon, but, deciding that it was too boring, they decamped to St Moritz. Jane was then forced reluctantly to endure “the season” in London, the year when young upper-class women in their late teens attended a series of parties, and events such as Wimbledon and Ascot, and were presented to the Queen.

She was recruited to Bletchley along with a number of other debutantes deemed unlikely, by the nature of their background, to spill the beans. That idiosyncratic approach soon collapsed under the immense pressure of breaking first the German and Italian codes and then those of the Japanese, and by the end of the war two-thirds of the more than 10,000 people working at Bletchley were women drawn from all social backgrounds.

Mavis Batey, one of the leading codebreakers and a close friend of Fawcett, would later point out that it was a place where “a girl of 19 with a bright idea would be encouraged to take it forward, long before any official equality for women”.

In 1947, Jane married Ted Fawcett, a former Royal Navy officer whom she had met during the war. She studied singing at the Royal Academy of Music while having their two children. “I went to my final exam with one of my children inside me and the other one asleep in a carrycot and the examiners kept asking me if I wanted to sit down because I was seven months’ pregnant,” she said.

She sang professionally for 15 years, undertaking operatic and recital work; her most prominent roles were Scylla in Scylla et Glaucus and trouser roles such as Octavian in Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier and Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro. But the strain of touring while bringing up her children led her to quit and become the secretary of the Victorian Society, set up by Nikolaus Pevsner and others to preserve Britain’s historic buildings.

She and Pevsner, backed by John Betjeman and Prince Philip, waged a successful campaign against British Rail’s attempts to demolish London’s great Victorian rail terminuses. BR bosses dubbed her “the furious Mrs Fawcett” and she always regarded saving St Pancras station and its Midland Grand Hotel as being one of her most important achievements.

Fawcett stepped down in 1976. She was appointed MBE for her services to conservation and elected an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. She then set up a groundbreaking building conservation course at the Architectural Association and was pleased to discover that one of her students had recently been commissioned to work on saving the historic buildings at Bletchley Park.

Ted died in 2013. Fawcett is survived by her son, James, and daughter, Caroline.

Andrew Shepherd, former Building Conservation Course Director, represented the AA at the memorial service for Jane Fawcett(1921-2016),longstanding staff member of that Course, in Petersham on 30th July, also attended by a number of her past students 


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