Sir Peter Shepheard, who died last Thursday aged 88, was one of two architects who worked with Sir Patrick Abercrombie in the 1940s preparing the Greater London Plan. His interest in planning developed from there, particularly the idea of planning based on architectural form, not just general principles.
Sir Peter then moved to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning for three years under Sir William Holford. One of two architects and two engineers designing the original masterplan for Stevenage New Town, he became deputy chief architect at the age of 35 when there was 'great enthusiasm but no money to build anything'.
After a brief return to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, he joined Derek Bridgewater's small practice in 1948 after a meeting at a RIBA conference in Liverpool. Gabriel Epstein became a partner seven years later in 1955, and in 1964 the practice of Shepheard & Epstein - which by that time had some schools experience but nothing larger - won the commission for the new University of Lancaster, to be built on a greenfield site some three minutes from the city centre. The resulting Development Plan - essentially flexible mixed-use buildings along a linear pedestrian spine with circulation and car parking arranged around a perimeter loop-road - was drawn impromptu as a sketch in the selection interview. It has stood Lancaster in good stead ever since, as has its marriage of pragmatic humane Modernism and long-term landscape design.
Essentially one of the leading liberal practices of the 1960s and '70s, Sir Peter described it as 'a kind of school of architecture' working mainly on university and housing projects. The principles evolved then by Shepheard with Epstein are as fresh and relevant today. In a short piece, entitled 'The Spaces In Between', describing the Landscape Development Plan for the University of Pennsylvania, Sir Peter argued that 'if a campus has an image in the mind as a place to be loved and admired it is likely to be formed not so much by the buildings as the spaces in between'.Always primarily concerned with how people would use buildings, how places would grow organically and how materials would last - in preference to the individual 'statements' of what we might now call signature architects - the approach of the practice at that time was equivalent to the concern for sustainability today. Although very successful in public housing, the practice eschewed the contemporary rush towards high-rise solutions in favour of a high-density, low-rise approach. The resulting stripped-down, but durable Modernism, has survived successfully in the London boroughs of Newham, Islington and Camden, recognised by a string of Civic Trust, Housing Design and RIBA awards.
Sir Peter was knighted in 1980, having been president of the Architectural Association from 1954-55, the Institute of Landscape Architects from 1965-66 and the RIBA from 1969-71.A natural teacher, he was Dean at the School of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania from 1971-78, introducing a new undergraduate course of environmental design which taught architecture, planning and landscape as one discipline.
Renowned for his drawing skill, he effortlessly penned exceptionally beautiful and keenly observed sketches of animals and birds while ostensibly engaged in committee or business meetings. He was the epitome of the venerable English gentleman - always polite, never lost for the right words and with many amusing and disarming anecdotes to hand, his vast experience and significant achievements worn lightly.
We will remember him fondly for the part he played in establishing the character of the office as a liberal studio, for establishing architectural principles that continue to endure, for his warmth and sense of humour, and his delightful ability to boil weighty subjects down into plain English - such as 'fun, reputation and money' as the objectives of the practice.
Robert Hughes and Steven Pidwill are directors of Shepheard Epstein Hunter