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Obituary: Richard Gilbert Scott (1923-2017)

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Gavin Stamp remembers his friend Richard Gilbert Scott, the underrated but hard-to-categorise son of Giles Gilbert Scott, who died earlier this month aged 93  

Richard Gilbert Scott represented the fourth generation of England’s greatest architectural dynasty. His great-grandfather was Gilbert Scott and his father was Giles Gilbert Scott, the immensely versatile designer of Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, the rebuilt House of Commons, Battersea and Bankside power stations and the GPO telephone kiosk.

It can never be easy being the son of a famous artist, and Scott both owed much to his father and was yet anxious to strike out on his own, to experiment with the Modernism that Giles respected but could not embrace. In consequence, Scott designed buildings that have never been easy to categorise – not pure Modernist, nor High-Tech, but not Classical or conventionally traditional either, although often imbued with a Gothic spirit – and they have not received the critical acclaim they deserve.

Scott studied architecture not in his father’s office but at the Bartlett when evacuated to Cambridge during the Second World War. In 1945, having enlisted with the 1st Airborne Squadron of the Royal Engineers, Scott was posted to Norway to supervise the clearing of minefields by the surrendered Germans, and there in Oslo he met his wife Eline Brodin, herself returned from exile in Sweden after working for the Norwegian resistance. Scott then completed his education at the Regent Street Polytechnic before joining his father’s practice, which became Sir Giles Scott, Son and Partner.

His first independent work was St Mark’s (Anglican) Church, Biggin Hill, consecrated in 1959, where the roof and building materials from a bombed Victorian church in Peckham were reused in conjunction with a campanile in his father’s abstracted Gothic.

Biggin hill st mark 18 3 2014 dsc 00930087

Biggin hill st mark 18 3 2014 dsc 00930087

St Mark’s, Biggin Hill, Kent

Sir Giles died in 1960, and his son and heir completed some of his buildings and added two more bays to Liverpool Cathedral, but Scott resigned from the project when it was proposed radically to change and cheapen his father’s conception. However, Scott’s opportunity to be his own man was inherited not from his father but his uncle, Adrian Gilbert Scott. He designed two new Roman Catholic churches in the suburbs of Birmingham for which he was given a free hand by the archbishop – providing they were cheap. Responding to the new liturgical demands set by the Second Vatican Council, the Church of Our Lady Help of Christians at Tile Cross (1966-67) has a centralised plan below dramatic copper-clad sweeping concrete ribs, while the Church of St Thomas More at Sheldon (1968-69) is fan-shaped.

Birmingham tile cross our lady help of christians

Birmingham tile cross our lady help of christians

Church of Our Lady Help of Christians at Tile Cross, Birmingham (1966-67). Grade II* listed

Scott was proud of the large complex of offices, superbly integrated into parkland, which he designed for Blue Circle Cement at Aldermaston Court, Berkshire, in which the influence of late Frank Lloyd Wright is perhaps evident. He also designed fine new boarding houses for Charterhouse School. His principal works, however, were carried out for the Corporation of London, a commission inherited from his father. This began with the witty little building in Basinghall Street with flying pre-cast concrete arches containing a magistrates’ court and exhibition space. Scott then enlarged and replanned Guildhall Yard as Sir Giles had first suggested back in 1935. To the west, he designed the L-shaped block containing the Guildhall Library, an unfashionably decorative modern design, possibly influenced by contemporary American work, with sculptural, facetted vaguely Gothic forms and a cloister which harmonise with George Dance junior’s Saracenic-Gothic Guildhall façade. This was completed in 1974. 

The Guildhall Art Gallery followed on the east side of the cleared space, though after a lengthy interval caused by the inconvenient discovery of the remains of the Roman amphitheatre underneath Guildhall Yard. The new building (carried out in partnership with DY Davies Associates) still has an intriguing and appropriate Gothic character, but is much more monumental than the library opposite. In this even more unfashionable design (stupidly opposed by the Royal Fine Art Commission), Scott showed a mastery of massing achieved by consistent wall and roof planes; the inspiration, perhaps, was more Lutyens than his father’s style.

Guildhall art gallery 23 10 2016 dsc 0088

Guildhall art gallery 23 10 2016 dsc 0088

Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London

 The Guildhall Art Gallery was completed in 1999. By then Dickie Scott had moved to Norfolk where he designed a new home for himself: Meg’s Cottage, the rebuilding and enlargement of an existing structure. This minor masterpiece, ostensibly traditional but cleverly practical, was again the product of a sophisticated architectural mind and it makes an interesting contrast with the barn conversion carried out next door by, and for, Nicholas Grimshaw. One advantage of Burham Norton was the proximity of the Royal West Norfolk Golf Club at Brancaster, for this modest, clubbable and delightful man – just like his father – had a great passion for golf as well as for architecture. 

Gavin Stamp is an architectural historian

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