London Zoo Aviary engineer Frank Newby dies, aged 75
In the collaboration between architecture and engineering, the years 1950-75 are noted as being particularly adventurous and creative, writes Robert Thorne. The structural engineer Frank Newby, who died on 10 May, aged 75, was preeminent throughout that period for his contribution to innovative architectural concepts and forms.
Newby was born in Barnsley, Yorkshire, in 1926, studied at Cambridge and joined the consulting engineer FJ Samuely in 1949. Samuely, famous for his work on the Bexhill Pavilion, used post-war shortages as the opportunity to explore new structural techniques, particularly prestressing. Assisted by Newby, his design of the prestressed supports for Powell and Moya's Skylon at the Festival of Britain was a fundamental aspect of its playful elegance.
After Samuely's death in 1959, Newby became senior partner in the practice and successfully consolidated its links with leading young architects. He tutored at Cambridge and the Architectural Association and in 1961 was the first engineer elected to the AA Council. He was made Hon. FRIBA in 1979.
Newby was modest about his role: 'What I really did was give architects confidence that they could design structures, ' he said. His contribution was far more significant than that implies, as is obvious in the structural articulation of Stirling and Gowan's Leicester Engineering Building (1963) and the thrilling transparency of the Aviary at London Zoo (with Lord Snowdon and Cedric Price, 1965). Among other well-known projects on which he worked were Wexham Park Hospital (Powell and Moya, 1960), the Boots Offices, Nottingham (SOM, 1968) and the Burrell Collection, Glasgow (Barry Gasson, 1983).
Thanks to a year in America, Newby knew Eero Saarinen and so Samuely's became the engineer for the US Embassy in London (1956), as well as buildings in the Middle East with Saarinen's one-time assistant, Spero Daltas.
Newby believed passionately in the study of historic structures, but as a way of understanding engineering solutions rather than for conservation purposes. His book, Early Reinforced Concrete, which he was working on at the time of his death, is published next month.
He is survived by his wife Evelyn Hogge, their three children and his partner Julia Elton.