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'Great educator' Alan Colquhoun dies aged 91

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Architect, teacher and critic Alan Colquhoun has died aged 91

The influential educator passed away in his Primrose Hill home where he was being looked after by his former student, architect Barbara Weiss and her husband Alan Leibowitz.

Colquhoun (1921-2012) was credited with inspiring a generation of architects who he taught at the Architectural Association between 1957 and 64.

He studied at the Edinburgh College of Art and AA before working for the London County Council in the 1950s.

He started Colquhoun & Miller, a partnership with architect John Miller, in 1961.

The practice completed a raft of well-known projects including The Royal Holloway College chemistry building, Forest Gate high school and the refurbishment of Whitechapel Art Gallery.

He later taught at Princeton University with Robert Maxwell and Edward Jones before retiring from practice in 1990.

Edward Jones of Dixon Jones, who studied under Colquhoun at the AA, paid tribute to the ‘incredibly impressive’ architect and ‘inspirational’ educator.

‘He was always the sharp knife in the drawer. He was extremely perceptive. When there was incognizant discussion in the jury at the AA he would slice through it with great wisdom and accuracy.

‘He was the best as a critic and tutor. He was a great educator and had a massive international reputation particularly in Europe and North East America,’ Jones said.

He added: ‘It was my good fortune to teach with him in Princeton in the mid-1980s with Bob Maxwell in something loosely described as “The British School in Exile”.’

Jones helped design the chemistry building for Royal Holloway when working at Colquhoun & Miller in 1965.

Jones distanced Colquhoun from the Brutalist movement which was current when he taught and practised. ‘Brutalism is a rather comfortable title. I would characterise Colquhoun as a rationalist but also Corbusian.

‘He was impatient with English pragmatism and indulged in non-empirical values. He wasn’t a chum of Peter Smithson and was closer to the Stirling connection.’

He added: ‘He introduced a generation of architects to the wider field of architecture in Europe.’

Discussing the loss of a critical voice within architecture, he said: ‘You don’t get an Alan Colquhoun every Monday morning. There was never a school of Colquhoun. He eschewed cloning but was incredibly impressive.

Jones added: ‘He was very inspirational to Jeremy and myself and others who eschewed sensationalism in architecture and tried to be straightforward and logical.’

Thomas Weaver, director at the AA, said: ‘As a key member of that golden postwar generation of British architectural historians Alan Colquhoun had an immeasurable influence on architectural culture.

‘A critic never afraid to criticise, and a teacher who only required the slightest spark in order to engage in illuminating and sustained discussion, Alan was someone whose generosity of spirit and commitment to a world of ideas will be hugely missed.’

Dutch journal OASE published a special issue focussing on Colquhoun’s career earlier this year. A collection of his essays was published in 2009 by Black Dog.



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