It is unusual for the broadsheets to run obituaries of architectural academics, and unheard of that they should pay tribute to a theorist who was young, female and very much removed from the established academic institutions. That both the Times and the Guardian have seen fit to run extensive obituaries of Katherine Vaughan-Williams is testament to her success in challenging the conventions of architectural academia.
Her eclectic brand of architectural criticism was sufficiently popular to enthuse disaffected students, yet sufficiently rigorous intellectually to help put the former South Bank Polytechnic on the academic map.
As a South Bank student, I happened to wander into her office just as she realised that she was unable to attend a RIBA conference which she was due to review for the AJ.
On a whim she called the AJ and briskly informed an extremely sceptical features editor that she had subcontracted the commission. She was subsequently a valued contributor and a watchful and supportive critic.
Her rather disconcerting ability to identify the author of any supposedly anonymous contributions reflected her feel for language and her fascination with human nature - both of which were fuelled by her passionate love of literature. Her conversation was littered with references to characters and buildings both actual and literary, referred to with equal measures of insight, familiarity and affection. I, along with countless others, am indebted to her for the belief that a love of reading can be an aid to, as opposed to a distraction from, the serious business of architecture. (She 'took me on'as a dissertation pupil after my own tutor had dismissed my choice of subject, architecture in the work of Jane Austen, as too dull. ) This ability to channel personal interests and experiences into intellectual endeavour was central both to her teaching and to her life. The fact that she used her long battle with cancer to write the bittersweet work P G Wodehouse's Guide to Surviving Cancer was perhaps the ultimate triumph of her ability to plunder any situation for its humorous and educational potential.Who else, could, without irony, refer to her final illness as her 'big adventure?'.