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Bill Allen, expert on defects, lighting and acoustics

Obituaries

Bill Allen, founding partner of Bickerdike Allen and Partners and world- renowned building-defects analyst, died on 14 December 1998 at Welwyn Garden City, aged 84.

Bill was a polymath: architect, landscape artist, scientist manque, educator and, in the true Corbusian sense, un technicien. From an early age Bill showed an instinctive flair for finding meaningful and creative relationships between architecture and science, technology and design, which set him in good stead for a subsequent and varied career. This took him from the Building Research Station (now bre) and practice to the aa to acoustics design, and more recently to a lighting-design guru and author. Over the years he served as chief architect of the brs at Garston, as aa school principal and a founding partner in 1962 of Bickerdike, Allen and Partners, which he rebuilt after Bickerdike's death in 1982.

Bickerdike Allen is, largely due to Bill Allen's initiatives and careful choice of partners, acknowledged as one of the world's leading-edge consultancies in building defects, litigation and repairs. It was, however, in the fields of acoustics, lighting, construction defects and innovative technologies that Bill excelled. He developed the partnership's consultancy services in these areas, carrying out consultancy work long after he was supposed to have retired!

Bill Allen came from a distinguished family of Canadian academics. In 1932, he began training at the University of Manitoba's school of architecture, graduating in 1936 with the university's Gold Medal. That year he moved to England and began work as an architect in Louis de Soissons' office in Welwyn Garden City. Allen lived in the garden city for the rest of his life and it was there he designed a family house.

Bill was a great companion and a totally reliable source of information and good advice. His impish sense of humour and wonderful Canadian accent made him a great raconteur. He would liven up any discussion or even - as I experienced on many an occasion - a boring debate or a dull committee. He was founder president of the Acoustics Society and an riba vice-president. He was widely honoured, receiving an honorary lld from Manitoba, an honorary aia and, in 1980, a cbe.

After his stint in De Soissons' office, Bill moved on to brs as a researcher. There he was to meet R Fitzmaurice who, Bill always claimed, had an immense influence on his own career and thinking. Post-war he became deputy head of physics at brs and led an acoustics team in the design of the Royal Festival Hall. From 1954-61 he was chief architect, brs, before taking up the challenging post of principal of the aa School, London, a post he held until 1966 despite the school's avant-gardists' distrust of his scientific background. For some of them architecture and analytical science did not mix. For Bill Allen they were inextricable.

A few years ago he changed tack again. After his own hearing began to fail, he became a widely acknowledged expert in display lighting, where he virtually reinvented the light bulb and introduced pin-point fibre optics into display cabinets to highlight objects and obviate heat gain and condensation. The lighting of museums, galleries and individual objects was his forte, as can be seen at the National Gallery, Waddesdon Manor, the Frick collection in New York, Oxford's Divinity School and the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon. He was still working on the last of these jobs the week before he died. A date for a memorial event celebrating Bill Allen's life and achievements will be announced shortly.

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