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David Dunster (1945-2019)

David dunster colour at home
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Paul Finch remembers the life of David Dunster, a ‘witty, acerbic and loyal’ teacher of architecture, who has died aged 73

David Dunster was a leading light in architectural education, helping to forge the characteristics of a new generation of architects in the UK, and ultimately steering architecture away from what many regard as the lost years of Neo-vernacular and Postmodernism. Among the many of today’s architects taught and influenced by David are David Chipperfield, Farshid Moussavi and the founders of AHMM.

He attended Gillingham Grammar School, studied at the Bartlett and, after spending time in Chicago in the momentous year of 1968, returned to the Bartlett for his diploma. After working for Dex Harrison Pollard in Basildon, he began his teaching career at Canterbury, then moved to Kingston Polytechnic in 1978. David schooled students in an approach to architecture that was firmly rooted in sociology, and which applied a sophisticated understanding of the city as a whole to the generation of individual buildings.

David spent almost a decade teaching at London’s influential Bartlett School from 1983, where he replaced Bob Maxwell after his move to Princeton. He is credited by many with re-animating the school after a period of torpor. Crits were enlivened by the guest commentators invited by David, who included Arup Associates founder partner Derek Sugden, Labour politician Frances Morrell and architectural media editors.

Widely regarded within the profession as the source of a new rigour and intellectual approach in UK architectural education, David shook up a blinkered and comfortable architectural establishment, forging links with practitioners and thinkers beyond the bubble of Europe, and introducing to architectural education some of the discipline of US academia.

Asked by the Daily Mail to comment on the BBC’s 1988 HRH The Prince of Wales: A Vision of Britain (a programme dedicated to Prince Charles’s views on architecture and the environment) David’s characteristically brusque response, which likened the level of debate to that of a more naive second-year architecture student, resulted in hate mail.

David chaired the RIBA’s events programme and introduced a wide range of international contributors to Portland Place, having extended his range of international contacts through working with Andreas Papadakis at Architectural Design magazine.

His educational net extended beyond the UK with numerous visiting professor roles across the US and in Australia. After his Bartlett years, he became head of school at South Bank. His final teaching role was at the University of Liverpool, where he held the position of Roscoe Professor of Architecture from 1995–2010. In recent years he acted as an external examiner to numerous universities across the UK, and the National University of Singapore.

He will be fondly remembered by generations of students whose own critical faculties will have been informed by a witty, acerbic, loyal teacher and colleague.

Dunster died on 11 January at The Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel. 

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Readers' comments (3)

  • Such sad news! Have wonderful memories of sharing a bottle of rose in his office at the School of Architecture. Sincerest condolences to Charlotte and Arthur.

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  • azhar

    A huge loss.
    My first encounters were with David were in the 1980s as an undergraduate at the Bartlett. David was bright, quick minded and introduced intellectual work with ease. Now looking back his influences were great, incredibly well read and generous with his insights! Ahead of his time.
    Last time I saw him was in Amsterdam and Berlin, the spark and incisveness was all there! A delightful insight into his early career as a practitioner!
    Another shining light goes out.
    Sorely missed.
    Deepest condolences to his family and many friends.

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  • The architectural world has lost its leading light, bar none.

    Having undertaken two undergraduate degrees - Cultural Studies and Architecture - I had been exposed to the teachings of many academics. Few could come remotely close to David and it has been an absolute privilege in the years after graduation to call him my friend.

    I cannot fully express the profound impact that David has had on me, both academically and personally. His absolute and utter irreverence towards rules, hierarchies and anything else that puts things in their places will never be forgotten and I can assure you David that I will keep that torch alight for you.

    My thoughts are with David's beloved Charlotte and Arthur at this time.

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