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Obituary: Francis Golding (1944 – 2013)

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Admired former secretary of the Royal Fine Art Commission Francis Golding has died aged 69 following  a cycling collision, writes Paul Finch

The awful and unnecessary death of Francis Golding, another victim of London’s inadequate rules, conventions and infrastructure in respect of cycling, made last Sunday’s military memorial particularly poignant, a reminder of what we face when confronted by premature death.

Francis was not young, but was still working and contributing to improve the architecture and public realm aspects of many varying developments across London at the time of his fatal collision with a coach in Southampton Row. His acerbic wit, powers of analysis and fundamental honesty will be much missed, diminishing the small band of administrator gurus who ran the Royal Fine Art Commission (RFAC) in its heyday under the chairmanship of Lord St John of Fawsley.

I got to know Francis after CABE took over from the RFAC in 1999. For a brief period he was chief executive, but his main interest was in our design review activities, where he provided background and moral support. Quite fearless in the face of big-name architects, he would speak his mind – and be listened to. On one occasion I recall him saying to Norman Foster, in respect of a City of London office scheme in need of improvement: ‘Norman, you wouldn’t want to put one of your worst next to one of Wren’s best, would you?’ The design was duly amended.

He was independent-minded and, having decided that a design had merits, he would back it whatever popular opinion might be, which is how he ended up supporting Rafael Viñoly’s ‘Walkie-Talkie’ tower in the City of London, a building which I myself also supported at the inquiry on behalf of CABE.

The point was that Francis did not support designs where he happened to be the consultant; he supported designs which he felt were good enough to justify him becoming a consultant in the first place. The attitude which Francis upheld was a refusal to think about architecture simply as object-making, but to think about the contribution a building might have in the round; that is to say not simply in its own terms as a piece of functional design, but as part of the wider city. Does the proposal add to, or take from its environs, its city quarter, the city itself?

You might have thought that such an analysis would be commonplace in the world of architecture and planning, but it is often the case that thinking within the confines of the red line of site ownership or planning control puts paid to designs of high quality in favour of the single-minded and the cynical. Smart clients use people like Francis Golding not simply because it might help expedite the planning process, but because of what an independent and knowledgeable critics can bring to the design process. He will be much missed.

A tribute from Ken Shuttleworth of Make Architects

‘Francis Golding was unique. I’d known him for about 25 years from his days as Secretary at the Royal Fine Art Commission (RFAC). When CABE was established to replace the RFAC he became a townscape consultant. He worked with Make as a critical friend and confidant on 15 of our high-profile, most difficult and sensitive projects.  He was a friend to the studio and was widely known and respected by many of the architects here and became a key member of many of our design teams.  I spent many long, enjoyable hours with Francis debating the architectural approach of such schemes as 5 Broadgate, 10 Hanover square and more recently our office Scheme at 40 Leadenhall Street.

‘He would often say that we have two design modes at Make; restrained and unrestrained. He would always encourage us to simplify and reduce the number of ideas giving us many ‘less is more’ moments in design debates. Francis, despite appearances to the contrary, would always like to do things that were new. He became excited when we presented him with an idea that hadn’t been done before. The younger architects were always surprised that he was so forward looking even though he would refer to many historical examples. He was a great listener and would always be constructive when critical.

‘His last email to us was on the day he was run over. We were setting up a review for him on the art wall at Broadgate and the response was typical of him; ‘Rob, nothing fixed yet; I’ve been waiting for the call. Can’t wait.’ Best Wishes, Francis.

‘He was knocked off his bike a few hours later and died on Friday. We will all miss him terribly and I have no doubt that at design reviews for years to come we will still ask ourselves, ‘what would Francis say?’
His trade mark was his metal box brief case that had been ‘crafted’ by tin bashers in India. We used to joke that his brief case was the design inspiration for 5 Broadgate. Unbeknown to him we had plans to make him a new one out of the stainless steel panels from 5 Broadgate. Sadly he never saw the first cladding panel arrive last week and even sadder the photograph in the Evening Standard shows his brief case intact. His trademark briefcase survived him.’

A tribute from Keith Williams

 ‘I was deeply saddened to learn of Francis Golding’s untimely death. Francis was one of the “Big Three” expert townscape and architectural advisers at large in the London. Like Richard Coleman, he honed his skills at the Royal Fine Art Commission, and along with Richard, and Robert Tavernor, helped establish the principle of independent expert townscape and architectural consultancy as a stand alone objective discipline. Our city is better because of their efforts, and I have been fortunate to have worked on projects with all three.

‘Francis was erudite, witty, and extremely knowledgeable on matters of architecture, architectural history and urban design. He was always clear in his advice and he didn’t care one jot if his view didn’t entirely accord with his developer client’s wishes. But in such eventuality he was always able with considerable skill, to point to a better direction for the scheme to follow and take people with him. As he was invariably right, he became sought after as an advisor on major developments.

‘I worked with Francis on the Unicorn Theatre within the More London estate. He did much with Fosters + Partners to develop the principles of the masterplan, and advised several of us who were working on individual plots, to help make a cohesive piece of appropriately scaled townscape and high quality public realm within this huge development.

‘He was a passionate advocate of the introduction of excellent contemporary architecture alongside the historic, provided that it made better sense of the context in which it was to be placed.

‘As it turns out, Francis was killed in a cycling accident just a few hundred metres from my studio. He still had much to offer this city and our profession, and it is with great regret that his life and career have been suddenly ended in such tragic fashion.’





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