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Acclaimed LCC architect George Finch dies

George Finch, the architect behind Lambeth Towers and the Brixton Recreation Centre, has died aged 83

Born October 1930 in Tottenham, Finch studied at the North London Polytechnic followed by the Architectural Association where his contemporaries were Peter Aldington, Neave Brown, Roy Stout.

Finch – whose father was a milkman – won a county scholarship to study at the prestigious West End school and graduated in 1955.

Will Alsop, who collaborated with Finch and John Lyall in 1981 on a mixed-use proposal to extend Fulham’s Riverside Studios described him as a ‘staunch socialist’.

He said: ‘George Finch was incredibly talented but sadly became ill quite some time ago. He kept his strong sense of social responsibility and was a very nice man.’

Finch’s professional career started at the London County Council Architects Department where his projects included the Whitechapel Road tower block and high-density two-storey courtyard housing at Argrave St. and Manor Grove.

Brixton Recreation Centre by George Finch

Brixton Recreation Centre

Aged 33, he joined the Lambeth Borough Council Architects Department where he completed six tower blocks using a prefabricated panel system designed in collaboration with Wates, the iconic Lambeth Towers near the Imperial War Museum and the Brixton Recreation Centre.

The recreation centre was part of a larger abandoned scheme named Brixton Towers which accompanied the Greater London Council’s plans for an elevated ring road through south London.  

He later worked on theatre projects as a partner at Roderick Ham and was head of architecture for four years at the University of Greenwich.

He was also a partner at Alsop Finch & Lyall, Architects Workshop and a consultant for Hampshire County on several schools.                       

Finch’s hobbies included music, cooking and amateur dramatics. He is survived by his first wife Brenda and their five children, Alison, Emma, Sarah, Adam and Johnny and by his second wife Kate Macintosh and their son Sean.

 

Sean Macintosh on his father George Finch

To understand the special contribution of the architect George Finch, who died last week, we should remember life just after WW2 in London. His profession was dominated by public-school educated, upper-middle class men. While forty per cent of architects worked in the public sector, they were those who tended to be time-servers, without much aspiration; looking for a secure billet.

George, a committed socialist, saw architecture as a branch of the liberal arts, which had the power to transform the lives of the war-battered Londoners.

George’s socialism and modernism were forged in his working class upbringing and the crucible of the Architectural Association.

Determined from an early age to become an architect, after a short spell in an architect’s office, George won the single available County Scholarship to the Architectural Association School.  He graduated in 1955 from a year that included Neave Brown, Patrick Hodgkinson, Ken Frampton and Roy Stout.

Like so many young, left wing architects of his generation he joined the London County Council, where he met the senior housing architect, Kenneth Campbell, a kindred spirit. Ken encouraged George to innovate at a time when standard plan types and bland tower blocks were the norm.  

When the London Boroughs were granted responsibility for housing in 1964, Ted Hollamby, who was appointed chief architect to Lambeth, invited George to join the new Architect’s Department.    

The period produced some of George’s most mature work teaming up with Ted Happold, then of Ove Arup. The absence of large vacant sites, lead Lambeth to adopt a policy of surgical interventions.  Slim point blocks were inserted on tight sites but always with communal provision at the base. These were the days of Government insistence on industrialised building. George’s designs for the heavily articulated Wates towers remain exemplars when many of the much derided tower blocks of the period have since been demolished. George described the craggy blocks as ‘dancing around’.  His designs resisted the purely financially driven agenda of the period to create site-specific designs that were filled with light and air, and a sense of place. In a recent tour with Docomomo(Documentation and Conservation - Modern Movement), residents expressed to George their deep attachments to their homes. The plans reveal clever stacking of maisonettes, allowing saved communal circulation to be included in the generously sized dwellings.

This playful articulation reached its apotheosis in Lambeth Towers. Once again, the ingenious section of stacked maisonettes gives each dwelling dual aspect and its own balcony. With a softer aesthetic than the Wates blocks, the building remains lovely and much loved by its occupants today.

George’s last design for Lambeth was the Brixton Recreation Centre. Its stepped internal atrium connects all of the sporting facilities, achieving a sense of openness and variety, as envisioned by George. This much valued facility was untouched in the riots of ’81 and through recent popular local campaigning saw off plans for its demolition.

Leaving local government, George turned to another of his passions, the Theatre. In practice with the architect Roderick Ham he designed Derby Playhouse and carried out work to the Theatre Royal York and Theatre Royal Lincoln. He was a more than competent actor and musician he performed with the Chesil Theatre in Winchester designing and often painting their sets.

Later, joining Bob Giles’ Architects Workshop he was reunited with Ted Hollamby who by then had been appointed Chief Architect to the London Docklands Development Corporation. Ted commissioned Architects Workshop to produce a development plan for Canary Wharf. Their adopted plan followed a ‘remarkable’ brief that allowed no buildings above 5 stories. It was however short lived and abandoned when the LDDC accepted an America consortium’s offer ‘they couldn’t refuse’, leading to the mega-city of today.

He then became a design consultant to the prestigious Hampshire County Architects Department, led by Sir Colin Stansfield-Smith. He designed a number of schemes for Hampshire including the re-building of Park Community Secondary School.

Still active well into his 70s, George at last realised his dream of working in a professional partnership with his life-partner, Kate Macintosh. Finch Macintosh designed the Weston Adventure Playground, Southampton, a charity lottery project. He delighted in contributing to the community through this popular Centre that won a prestigious RIBA Award.

His work was recently re-assessed in Tom Cordell’s documentary film ‘Utopia London’. The appreciation of his work by colleagues, critics and most of all the occupants of his buildings did a lot to relieve the pain he felt at seeing the commodification of the housing he designed to dignify the lives of everyone.

Following a recent Docomomo tour of his Wates blocks, George wrote, ‘Those I met were all enthusiastic about their homes - eager to show me around and thanking me for what I had done.’

George Finch, 10 October 1930 to 13 February 2013, is survived by his first wife Brenda and their children Alison, Emma, Sarah, Adam and Johnny and by Kate and their son Sean.

 

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