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Park Hill architect Jack Lynn dies, aged 86

Jack Lynn (1926-2013) one of the designers of the largest listed building in Europe, Sheffield’s Park Hill housing development, died on 15 October

Jack Lynn, one of the architects of Sheffield’s Park Hill, who died on 15 October, aged 86, was the youngest of eight children born into a mining family in North Seaton. His childhood was informed both by his family’s strong Methodism and by the relative poverty of his upbringing – his father had to give up work due to a disability before Lynn was born.

During World War II, Lynn studied architecture at King’s College Durham and after a stint with the East Anglia Health Board he was taken on by Donald Gibson, one of his examiners while at university, to work at Coventry City Council. It was there that he began his career in social housing design.

Peter Willis, an architect who met Lynn in 1965, described the ‘social conscience’ which Lynn brought to his work. ‘He was a very modest and humble person, perhaps not given the credit he deserved,’ said Willis. ‘His social commitment came from his very humble mining background. He had a strong social conscience, which he brought to his social housing.’

Park Hill in Sheffield, designed together with Ivor Smith and completed in 1961 will always be considered the architect’s most enduring work. The project remains the largest listed structure in Europe, and the estate’s retrofit by Hawkins\Brown and Studio Egret West won an RIBA award and was shortlisted for the Stirling Prize earlier this year.

Satwinder Samra, a partner at Sauce Architecture and course director at the University of Sheffield, said: ‘Park Hill offered a brave, exciting and enlightened approach to housing. People came from across the world to see the building, which is a testament to Jack’s ambitions to improve the lives of the people of Sheffield. I doubt that we will ever [again] see architecture, let alone housing, delivered in such a confident and optimistic way.’

Elain Harwood, author of England: A Guide to Post-war Listed Buildings, said: ‘Jack will be remembered for one building, Park Hill, but what a building. It’s greatness came in part because its sources were outside the architectural mainstream, in the Greek architecture Lynn began to admire and study [during] a shortage of work in 1952.’

Harwood added: ‘Classicism informed the proportions of the elevations and the brick patterning of the facades developed with the artist John Forrester. Lynn never condoned Urban Splash’s refashioning of Park Hill… Meeting him at his home in Berwick-upon-Tweed in 2007 he was an unlikely Brutalist icon, yet his emphasis on Greek Classicism and musical composition helped to explain the extraordinary depth of Park Hill’s architecture.’

In 1966 Lynn worked on the masterplan for the newly established University of Newcastle, and then joined with fellow architect Donald Kendrick to form Kendrick & Lynn Associates. He converted to Roman Catholicism in 1968 and his knowledge of Christian architecture led him to create several unrealised designs for churches and cathedrals, including competition entries for Coventry Cathedral and Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.

Lynn retired to Berwick-upon-Tweed with his wife Mari Prendergast in 1988, where he returned to his early passion of Greek architecture, publishing two books on the buildings of the Acropolis in Athens. He is survived by two children, Jon and Inez, and a granddaughter, Nicola.

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