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End of an era

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Richard Seifert, whose death prompted major obituaries in the national press this week, was an architectural phenomenon. The most successful commercial architect of his generation, he also had a commitment to the profession which was often underestimated. He served as a RIBA councillor, arguing in the early 1970s for what were then quite high membership fees, but which would sort out those who were interested in the profession and those who weren't. He donated substantial sums to the institute, always anonymously, but was disappointed, he once told Astragal years later, to discover that money he thought would be spent on the library had been diverted to refurbishment of the lifts! He could be refreshingly frank: again, years after the event, he told Astragal about an incident which occurred when he was designing the headquarters for Times Newspapers in Grays Inn Road. He happened to be passing the obituaries room-cum-library, and could not resist going in, even though it was strictly off-limits. He then peeked into the files to see if he himself had been accorded an advance obituary. Indeed he had, and it was rather flattering.

However, while in part pleased at what he read, he confided that he felt like 'a complete shit' for being so vain. He was probably entitled to be. Although responsible for innumerable relatively anonymous commercial buildings, the Colonel was also the spirit behind half a dozen corkers, not least Centre Point, once a symbol of speculative capitalism but now a listed and much-loved London landmark. It was designed for his long-time developer client Harry Hyams; it was said that their respective wives fell out, ending the relationship, but that may have been apocryphal. An acute observer of the construction sector and the planning system, the Colonel famously stated that tall buildings in London should be concentrated in the Square Mile.

Who is to say he was wrong?

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