Lionel Brett (Viscount Esher) 1913-2004
Much-respected architect, planner and writer Lionel Brett, the 4th Viscount Esher, died on 9 July at the age of 90.
Esher was educated at Eton and Oxford and trained as an architect in the office of A S G Butler. He became an associate of the RIBA in 1939, when he also received the RIBA Aspitel Prize as that year's best student.
After military service in the Second World War, he commenced in practice from his family house near Oxford, soon obtaining housing projects for the burgeoning new towns including Hatfield, for which he became architect/planner from 1949-59.
Paradoxically, it was also in Hatfield that he suffered a major career setback in the 1960s when a local hurricane (despite George Bernard Shaw's claim to the contrary) blew off the roofs of a number of mono-pitched houses.The case that followed exposed the need for professional indemnity insurance (PII) for architects.
Esher was the quintessential English gentleman: tall, elegant, urbane, courteous and utterly self-confident - the epitome of the intelligent and capable working professional, unfazed by rhetoric or politics.He held strong and wellformed opinions in any position that he accepted.This included the challenging post of rector of the Royal College of Art (1972-76), which he held with tact and great skill during an unstable period, despite the obvious opposition there was to someone from his titled background.
His RIBA presidency between 1965-67 had also seen him embroiled in student unrest but, according to RIBA past president David Rock, it was during his term that the RIBA moved to regional representation.He also served on the boards of the Royal Fine Art Commission (1951-69), the Arts Council, the V&A and the Architects'Benevolent Society.
In practice he worked with Francis Pollen, Peter Bosanquet and Tiggen and Taylor on a variety of projects including civic buildings in Maidenhead and Portsmouth.He was widely known for his interest in planning and landscape architecture, more recently lecturing on the subjects, and acting as adviser to a number of countries abroad, principally in Latin America. In 1968 his report on the city of York was published as part of a series commissioned by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government on English historic towns.
Esher was a prolific author, producing elegantly written books such as The World of Architecture (1963), an important critique Landscape in Distress (1965), Parameters and Images (1970) and, most significantly, with its telling challenge to the efficacy of post-war idealism, A Broken Wave: The Rebuilding of England 1940-1980 (1981).His last book was The Glory of the English House (1991), a work that brought him full circle to the subject of his first book, Houses (1941), part of the popular 'Things We See' series edited by his lifetime friend Hugh Casson.
His work as an architect, planner and administrator was widely respected and he received honorary doctorates from Edinburgh, York and Strathclyde universities and an honorary fellowship from the American Institute of Architects.