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Henry Thomas Cadbury-Brown (1913 - 2009)

Henry Thomas Cadbury-Brown, architect of the Royal College of Art and pioneer of British modernism, has died aged 96

An elegant and charismatic figure, Cadbury-Brown’s long career saw him import the influence of Le Corbusier and Lutbetkin to Britain, work with his close friend Ernö Goldfinger and design an acclaimed extension to the Royal College of Art; he also enjoyed a long marriage to American architect Elizabeth Cadbury-Brown.

Cadbury-Brown began his career at the forefront of the modernist movement in Britain; he was a member of the Modern Architectural Research Group that organised the influential ‘New Architecture’ exhibition in London in 1938.

His talent was recognised by Sir Hugh Casson, who commissioned Cadbury-Brown to design the ‘People of Britain’ and ‘Land of Britain’ pavilions for the Festival of Britain in 1951.

Later Cadbury-Brown took part in the ‘red brick’ college-building programme with a six-storey hall of residence for Birmingham University and an octagonal lecture theatre complex at Essex University.

Other completed works include two housing commissions with adjoining primary schools for Harlow New Town and, as his last major work in the late 1970s, a library and print room at the Royal Academy, praised for thoughtfully introducing modernist design into a historical setting.

He lectured at the Royal College of Art and the Architectural Association (AA) in the 1950s, served as the Royal Academy’s Professor of Architecture from 1975 until 1988 and was a visiting critic at Harvard University. He was elected President of the AA (1959-60), awarded an OBE (1967), and elected to the Royal Academy (1971).

Known as ‘Jim’, Henry Thomas Cadbury-Brown was born in Sarratt, Hertfordshire, in 1913. He attended Westminster school and studied at the Architectural Association, qualifying in 1935.

He soon joined the office of Hungarian-born modernist Ernö Goldfinger and the two men became close friends. In 1937 Cadbury-Brown won a competition to design offices in two London railway stations. With a further commission for six more, he was able to set up a private practice on Clarges Street, in 1938.

The young architect’s career was interrupted by the outbreak of war. Cadbury-Brown was called up to serve in the Royal Artillery and rose to the rank of major, despite his claim that he made it all the way from Normandy to Germany without firing a single shot.

Henry Thomas’ father, a Royal Horse Artillery officer, had always wanted his son to be a naval officer. Unfortunately Henry Thomas was adamant that he ‘couldn’t tell port from starboard’.

Once demobilised, Cadbury-Brown’s career began to flourish as modernism became the primary architectural language of Britain’s post-war rebuilding.

In 1953 he married Elizabeth Romeyn, an American architect he met at Goldfinger’s practice. Elizabeth Cadbury-Brown was a fine architect in her own right and worked closely with Henry Thomas throughout his career.

In 1959 while working on the Royal College of Art, soon to be his finest piece of work, Cadbury-Brown gave a speech to Architectural Association. He argued in favour of ‘individual variation and self-expression’ to ‘balance the frightening regularity of life’. Much later he would joke that he was a ‘post-modernist before my time’.

Completed in 1961, the Royal College of Art extension was immediately recognised for its refined detailing, careful proportioning and sensitivity to its neighbours, which include the tall Norman Shaw-designed terrace east of the Albert Hall. A keen dancer, Cadbury Brown spoke of ‘placing rhythm at the core of architecture’.

Cadbury-Brown went on to tackle two housing commissions, together with adjoining primary schools, for the Harlow New Town development under Sir Frederick Gibberd. He also designed his own family house in Aldeburgh in Suffolk (1964) and a library and print room at the Royal Academy.

Elegant and handsome, Cadbury-Brown was immaculately groomed and said to rarely be without a comb on his person. Although a quiet man, he was charismatic and enjoyed entertaining throughout his life - and maintained meticulous attention to detail into his old age.

 

TRIBUTES TO HT CADBURY-BROWN (1913 - 2009)


‘The Modern movement was so rich in flamboyant personalities that the talents of an architect as modest and as uninterested in self-promotion as HT (“Jim”) Cadbury-Brown, who has died aged 96, might easily be overlooked. Yet he was not only an excellent architect, but also one who balanced the best of Modern movement ideals - a determination to forge an architecture appropriate to the machine age, with the benefit of its new materials and techniques, and a firm commitment to “the community” - with a wit, warmth and rich humanity.’
Obituary, The Guardian


‘Jim Cadbury Brown was an outstanding architect and a man of great charm and intelligence. He was a friend and supporter of the Twentieth Century Society over many years, and we have campaigned for several of his buildings.   

‘I remember him describing his involvement in the Festival of Britain at our conference at the Festival Hall in 2001 - he had wanted not just the excitement of a bank of fountains, but fountains with gas jets shooting through them, so that they would be topped with flames “like Christmas pudding” as he rather wickedly put it.  But generally Jim’s architecture was a good deal more sober and rather less flashy.’
Catherine Croft, Twentieth Century Society

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