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Obituary: James Gowan (1923 – 2015)

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Post-war architect James Gowan has died, aged 92

Gowan is best known for his collaboration with James Stirling on the University of Leicester’s Engineering Building.

Completed in 1963, the grade II*-listed building was the pair’s first major project and followed on from their earlier flats at Ham Common in London. It was this red-tiled project which projected both Stirling and Gowan into the public’s consciousness.

Gowan co-founded Stirling and Gowan with Stirling in 1956, after they met while working as assistants at Lyons, Israel and Ellis.

Many of Stirling’s most famous works, including the Leicester Engineering Building, were completed alongside Gowan, yet Stirling was largely unwilling to acknowledge his role in the process.

The two architects, who had a tumultuous relationship, separated in 1963 after disagreements on the Cambridge History Faculty Building, and Gowan left the practice to work on his own projects.

After parting from Stirling, Gowan went on to complete a number of projects under his own name including the Schreiber House in Hampstead, London.

Completed a year after the Leicester Engineering Building, the house for furniture designer Chaim Schreiber, is thought to be one of the most significant houses to be built in Britain in the past century.

Gowan who was born in Pollokshields, Glasgow and trained at the Glasgow School of Art, had a break from his architectural education when he was enlisted as an RAF radar mechanic during the Second World War.

He later completed his studies at Kingston School of Architecture where he was taught by Philip Powell of Powell and Moya. Powell later employed Gowan at this practice, where he worked on the competition-winning scheme for the Skylon.

He also taught at the Architectural Association alongside Peter Smithson and John Killick.  

Tributes to James Gowan

Alex de Rijke, director, dRMM Architects
‘At the RCA Gowan was a perceptive, shrewd and tough critic. He spoke little, and with ‘exactitude’; not to offer advice, but to make you think. As rebellious students we feared or loved his observations on our work, which were generally the last word. 

‘As an educationalist and distinguished practicing architect Gowan was strong on the relation between conception and construction. A seminar where he pinned up the original Leicester Engineering workshop production drawings, and a lecture on how castles carry all the lessons of architecture still stick in the mind, thirty years later. 

‘In a dour way Gowan was truly inspirational. I feel lucky we crossed paths.’ 

Previous story (AJ 15.06.15)

Obituary: James Gowan (1923 – 2015)


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Readers' comments (1)

  • James was a testing architect and thought provoking mentor for student architect who have progressed to do inspiring work world wide at the royal college

    a special period in my life as fellow tutor and Engineering lecturer at the rca with memories of James of his sharp wit and repeated reawakening
    Chris McCarthy
    Battle McCarthy

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