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Former AR and AJ editor Peter Davey dies aged 78

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Peter Davey, the former editor of The Architectural Review and one-time features editor of The Architects’ Journal has died, aged 78

Born in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire, Davey began his career in journalism as the AJ’s assistant technical editor in 1968, qualifying as an architect a year later.

Davey spent the next 38 years writing about architecture, becoming the AJ’s features and news editor in 1972, before being appointed executive editor of both the AJ and AR in 1978. As well as inventing and editing the AJ’s Legal Handbook (first published 1970), he wrote numerous books including Architecture of the Arts and Craft Movement (1980).

In 1982 he became the 11th editor of the AR, a role he held at the international architecture magazine for more than 20 years until 2005 and for which he will be most remembered.

During his career Davey received numerous awards and honours from around the globe, including the Order of the White Rose of Finland for services to architecture in 1991 and an OBE in 1998.

Australian critic and author Elizabeth Farrelly described Davey as ‘passionate, stern, smart, kind and thoughtful … an old-school socialist [and] a true seeker of authenticity and justice’.

According to Danish author Kim Dirckinck-Holmfeld, Davey was a  ’wonderful person, complex, extremely intelligent, always open-minded and with a conviction of the importance of architecture’.

AJ columnist Ian Martin recalls: ’I can still see him down in the Bride of Denmark, holding forth. Massive magnificent sideboards he had. Looked like Schubert in his pomp. And, weirdly, the bloke who was on every Neighbourhood Watch plaque. The King of Queen Anne’s Gate.’

Davey leaves a wife and two children.

Tributes

Louis Hellman

I was shocked to learn of the death of Peter Davey who I knew for over 45 years. Who would have thought we would lose him and my wife, who Peter knew, within a month of each other? 

I always admired his journalistic prowess and his extensive knowledge of the Arts and Crafts movement as well as his books on the subject. In turn he supported my contributions to the AJ as news editor and published the first Archi-tetes in the 1980s when he took over the AR. I remember having to ring him from a phone box by a beach on holiday in Devon in 1976 to argue that my cartoon of Foster was not libellous. Needless to say Peter won and censored the drawing on the advice of the lawyers. It all looks very tame today.

Peter was a great radical campaigner and a fierce opponent of Prince Charles’ views, Robert Maxwell, who bought the Architectural Press, and Mrs Thatcher’s governments. His promotion of Finnish art and architecture won him an award from that country. He was good to caricature, bearing a remarkable resemblance to Schubert crossed with Beethoven. 

Elizabeth Farrelly, Sydney-based author and architecture 

Peter Davey, or PD as we knew him, was one of the great romantic idealists. Passionate, stern, smart, kind and thoughtful he was an old-school socialist, a true seeker of authenticity and justice. A believer in particularity, he was deeply committed to Modernism’s fair and decent side while suspicious of those aspects that lent it to corporate capture. Even now I think of him, with his booming voice and cantilevered sideburns, as Dickens’ Mr Creakle. I owe him much.

Thatcherism was in full flight when, on the basis of one published critique and PD’s view that I ‘had a voice’, he offered me a job as the AR’s assistant editor. These days, it’d be a process. Then, it was really that simple. I almost refused, but am forever grateful that I did not. The three years I worked with Peter made him, for me, a kind of pivot between modernist belief and post-modern relativism. PD lived that change.

The AR, part of a century-old family-owned publishing house, occupied a collection of six-storey Georgian terraces in Queen Anne’s Gate. I’d cycle in from Camden Town in my pink suede stilettos and long diamante earrings and chain my Muddy Fox to the Queen Anne’s Gate railings, which I think tested Peter’s commitment as much as my failure to drink beer at lunchtimes.

The Bride of Denmark was the basement pub, rescued (as legend had it) by Nikolaus Pevsner at the same time as, in doing the job I l was now doing, he was busy leading the world into modernism. It sported an ancient flagged floor, a stuffed lion – mid-roar – and the famous mirrors signed by Frank Lloyd Wright, John Summerson, James Stirling and the rest. Upstairs, there was the modernist reception area and the ancient interconnected interiors, where the ghosts of other former staff members such as John Betjeman and Reyner Banham walked the creaking, book-piled stairs.

Peter was endlessly curious. My enduring image of him is returning from one of his many overseas trips, to Finland, Germany or the USA, smoking frantically and wearing his fur hat. But the AR’s world, and Peter’s, shifted when the company was floated and bought by corporate raider Robert Maxwell. The day it was revealed that Maxwell had thieved every pension in the place Peter went, literally, green. This is my second image of him; on the gloomy stair where Betjeman used to hide from both his wife and mistress, and appear in the morning with pyjamas visible beneath his suit; on that stair, Peter looked like a lime green ghost (with sideburns).

In writing as well as architecture, PD pursued both quality and decency, being ceaselessly determined to prove that good design could also be morally good. We argued about this, and much else, long and often but, without him, I would still be handcuffed to the drawing board. So vale, PD, and from my heart, thank you.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • As editor of Building magazine in the early nineties I had an undeserved seat on an RIBA events committee. Erudite discussions about why this architect, or that, deserved a speaking invitation, or not, floated well over the head of this former QS. None more so than Peter’s contributions. But what did smack me in the face was his passion, knowledge and commitment to haute modernism in AR. And those sideboards? Phew.

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