Former AA president and practitioner John Smith dies
Self-effacing, gentle, kind and humorous is how several generations of students and colleagues will remember John Smith, who died last week. Those who campaigned with him (the guerrillas who delivered the aa from the Imperial College merger, members of the anti-apartheid league, and those at arcuk with whom he fought to preserve the Education Fund and protect registration) knew also a man of stubborn courage, and relentless determination.
He was both a humanitarian and a radical educationalist - two qualities which guided a highly principled career which included associate partnership at Architects Co-Partnership, being principal of his own practice, and of course presidency of the AA.
Proudly eschewing tempting offers from developers, Smith ensured his projects were socially orientated - school work, a series of youth clubs, student residences, a children's theatre (sadly unbuilt), some industrial work and sundry rehabs.
Born in Beckenham, Smith was evacuated to Shropshire in 1940 where teachers sympathetic to his social motivation, but aware of his weakness in science, steered his ambition away from medicine towards architecture. Enlightened influence at art school, where he devised his own preparatory programme in architecture, made a lasting impression and he entered the aa in 1944, doing well academically and making an early mark in both pantomime and student politics.
A reluctant conscript, he had his studies interrupted by a posting to Italy, where he used off-duty time to visit a wide variety of buildings and towns, returning home with experiences that shaped his progressive ambitions. Once more a student, Smith became active in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, before finally graduating in 1952 and winning a Mars Group scholarship for the ciam Venice summer school.
A successful writer and illustrator - he edited the aa Journal and contributed to many professional journals as well as the Sunday Times and House & Garden - his thoroughly researched articles informed the blistering criticism of schools which preceded the seminal 1958 riba Oxford conference on architectural education.
Founding member of the Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society, Smith helped establish the London Subterranean Survey Association. Once threatened by a senior Bartlett tutor with a horse-whipping, he championed the young and was fearless in debate, his most powerful weapons being humour and a quick wit that was astonishing and disarming in one otherwise somewhat slow and meticulous. Recently retired but still active at the Canterbury School of Architecture, he will be sadly missed by young and old alike.