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Catherine Cooke (1942-2004)

The architect and Russian scholar Catherine Cooke has been killed in a car crash in Cambridge, writes Dennis Sharp.She will be remembered as one of the world's leading experts on Soviet and socialist urban planning and avant-garde architecture.

She led an immensely busy life working from a home base in her beloved Cambridge.From there she combined work as a lecturer in design at the Open University with that of an international peripatetic teacher, writer, editor and examiner, as well as personal tutor to generations of degree students.

Catherine had a formidable presence.She could be friendly, feisty, effusive, informative and profound in equal measure; and immensely generous with her time, money and ideas.

At the time of her death she was at the height of a research and writing career that began nearly 30 years ago. In 1975 she gained a PhD for her thesis The Town of Socialism: The Origins and Development of Soviet Town Planning at Cambridge and became fluent in Russian.

Earlier she had studied architecture at the Department of Architecture, Cambridge, 1961-67, before working as an architect and gaining experience in the office of Alvar Aalto in Finland and with Casson Conder and Partners in London.But it was her interest in the Soviet Union that was to provide the springboard for her investigations into aspects of Soviet architecture and socialist town planning, leading to many articles, lectures and books.

In the 1980s, when many Modernist Soviet buildings - particularly in Moscow - were threatened with demolition, she began to record and list them, drawing attention to their state of disrepair.This led to her joining DOCOMOMO, for which she served on the International Education Committee and, more recently, as chair of DOCOMOMO UK (2000-02).

The daughter of a brigadier-general, Catherine Cooke shared her father's passion for sailing. It was reflected in other aspects of her life and many of us who were privileged to visit her house in Cambridge were convinced that she had designed it (or 'them', as it was two connected cottages) like a boat, with a minimal sleeping space and the rest laid out as her unique archival working library, art collection and private gallery - or perhaps it was her English version of a dacha?

After receiving her doctorate, she began work as an editor.

She became an editorial consultant for Academy Books and its Architectural Design magazine, a post that gave her the freedom to publish lavishly illustrated books about Russian artists and architects, including the English translations of lakov Chernikhov's works in 1984 and her now-definitive Russian Avant-garde: Theories of Art, Architecture and the City (1995).

In 2002 Catherine Cooke resigned from her position as chair of DOCOMOMO UK to concentrate on academic work and pursue her interest in Russia after Perestroika.

Her interests took her back many times to the Soviet Union and more recently to countries within the Russian Federation.Her goal was simple: to get the Russian people to acknowledge the enormous contribution their architects and architectural teachers had made to their own cultural life and built environment.

She contributed much to a country that has seen and experienced the most fundamental changes in her own lifetime.

Her untimely death will be mourned there as much as here.

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