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ABK co-founder Richard Burton dies


Architect Richard Burton, one of the co-founders of celebrated Modernist practice Ahrends Burton and Koralek (ABK) has died from cancer, aged 83

Born in London in 1933, Burton set up the energetic practice with fellow Architectural Association students Peter Ahrends and Paul Koralek in 1961 after the trio won an international competition to design Trinity College’s Berkeley Library in Dublin.

The three architects had been inspired by a ‘new-found support for modern architecture’ in the 1950s such as the Festival of Britain, the Hertfordshire schools and LCC housing.

Ahrends described this opportunity as a ‘dream ticket, enabling an energy-driven young group to to try to make good buildings’. 

The company went on to win numerous high-profile commissions, including the much-praised Keble College extension (1977) and the original design for the National Gallery extension, which Prince Charles famously labelled a ‘carbuncle’.

The 1984 remark by the The Prince of Wales at the 150th anniversary of the RIBA created a lull in business just when ABK was reaching widespread acclaim.

But the firm went on to design 12 Docklands Light Railway train stations between Poplar and Beckton and the British Embassy in Moscow, which opened in 2000.

Other notable schemes included a 17,400m² low-energy hospital on the Isle of Wight, a John Lewis store in Kingston (1990), Burton’s own house (1988) and work at Hooke Park in Dorset.

In 2011 the practice’s 1971 Redcar Library was controversially flattened despite calls from The Twentieth Century Society for it to be saved.

Burton, who lived in Kentish Town, north London, retired from the business in 2002 and 10 years later ABK wound down its London office, although it still maintains an active Dublin studio.

Burton is survived by his wife Mireille, children and grandchildren.

ABK Berkeley Library  2

ABK Berkeley Library 2

ABK’s Berkeley Library

Simon Allford remembers a life well lived

Richard Burton has always, in one way or another, loomed large and cheerfully in my life. Richard and his wife Mireille Burton were friends of my parents. They lived around the corner and consequently I went to the local primary and secondary school with their children: ‘The Burtons’.

Richard happened to be the judge for our competition-winning design for Great Notley School. The last project I saw with my father shortly before his death was Torilla, the house Richard’s grandmother commissioned for his aunt, from my father’s partner, FRS Yorke. Richard spent much time in the house (he helped save it from demolition and it is now listed Grade II*) and shared a wonderful photo of himself, as a child in bib shorts, living the Modernist dream.

For the last 15 years as a fellow member of the Foreign Architectural Book Society I have dined and holidayed with Richard and Mireille.

Richard was a giant of a man, open, kind, generous yet determined

He was always interested, engaging and happy to share memories of conversations and events; ideas for the future (their extended family home is the classic ongoing research project where he continuously honed his ideas); and drawing. Richard was a giant of a man, open, kind, generous yet determined. He enjoyed and valued people, I suspect ever more so after surviving the same illness that claimed the life of his friend and collaborator, Frank Newby.

I heard of his death on Sunday lunchtime from his grand-daughter Hannah, who has recently joined our office. She said they were spending the day celebrating his life. They have much to celebrate, as do all of us who knew him. 

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Img 1702


Readers' comments (6)

  • JustFacades.com

    JLP kingston is still a fab job that looks fresh and modern. well done Richard. Rest in Peace

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  • If you want to visit an early ABK building in the London area, go and see their library in Maidenhead, Berkshire, just down the M4; or one of the first stops out of Paddington by train.

    One of the partners, it might have been Richard, came to talk to the architectural students society at Oxford Polytechnic when I was there in the early 70's. The talk inspired us with the human scale and quality of their work, and their approachability, warmth and erudition. We were inspired for the rest of the course!

    If you're not in Ireland, go and look at the library in Maidenhead. I don't think it's been demolished?!

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  • I agree

    Richard was a giant of a man, open, kind, generous yet determined

    I remember those early days on PFI hospital designs, Richards most valuable shared insight to all on how best to engage a contractor and their accountants into the value of light + space + air quality healing qualities in visionary hospital design
    Richard is another great Architect who makes engineering a worthy and valued profession
    Our thoughts are with his family and great practice
    Christopher et al

    Battle McCarthy

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  • Very sad. All students of architecture should be directed ( forcibly) toward the work of ABK for the extraordinary clarity of plan and section through drawing and the legibility of their completed work. Buildings indeed clear enough to read.

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  • chris Dyson

    A great man and immensely talented Architect, the firm produced some stunning projects that still inspire me today the sunken cloister of Keble College, where my dad studied, was one of those buildings alongside Jim Stirling's that inspired me to become an architect.
    Later on after qualifying I visited Dublin and Trinity College library I could have sat in those spaces for hours enjoying the pleasurable detailing of the concrete and glass.
    Architecture inextricably integrated with its structure... a joy!

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  • Ben Derbyshire

    Such sad news. I well remember Richard's contributions to the RIBA's Community Architecture Group and the Faith in Estates project at The Prince's Trust on which I worked and from which I learned much. He was a towering intellect, kind and generous with a deep understanding of the human condition.
    Ben Derbyshire, Chair - HTA Design LLP
    President Elect - RIBA

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