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Obituary: Wendy Potts (1947-2019)

Wendy potts with colin stansfield smith and jay potts

Architect John Pardey remembers academic Wendy Potts, one of the first female heads of architecture school in the UK, who led the Portsmouth School to success in the 1990s

There is a whole generation of architects who will remember Wendy Potts as an inspirational head of school at Portsmouth University during the 1990s, where she taught until 2006.

Wendy was one of the first female heads of school in the UK and, with her willowy, flower-child image, attendant cigarette and wild, curly red hair, the students identified with her and they worked for her.

And she worked for them, creating the ‘Portsmouth Model’ of teaching, founded on the idea of a collaboration as a means of nuturing students, which saw autonomous studios combining students from all five years, cross-fertilising fruitful relationships. She believed in change, writing, saying: ‘To continue to change and evolve (in education) is healthy.’ And it worked.

I joined the Portsmouth School in 1992 and Colin Stansfield Smith arrived as professor at the same time. Along with a great team of lecturers that included her husband, Jay, Wendy [head between 1992 and 2002] took Portsmouth into the top five of UK architecture schools. She managed to get a new building commissioned from Colin and the school became a real success, attracting some of Britain’s top architects to lecture and Europe’s finest to come over as external examiners.

Wendy was elected to be the first president of the Standing Conference of Heads of Schools of Architecture (SCHOSA), serving from 2001 to 2003.

As a member of the team, she would sit in on a few seminars, crits and lectures and then you had her trust and she would just let you get on with it.

In the 10 years I taught at Portsmouth (part-time while trying to get the practice off the ground) there was a real buzz, a commitment from all the lecturers that Wendy made happen. When Jay and Wendy moved from their waterside house in Poole to Portsmouth, their new house always had open doors for students and was the venue for many parties.

Wendy had met Canadian-born architect Jay Potts at the Architecture Association when he was her tutor and they married in 1970. They ran their own practice for some 40 years, winning several architectural awards, including for their self-built house near Wimbourne in Dorset. Following Jay’s death from cancer in 2009, Wendy eventually moved to the seaside in West Sussex, where she delighted in her two young grandchildren.

Wendy is survived by her son, Jasper, and daughter, Justine.


Readers' comments (2)

  • Nice write up John. Such great memories of Wendy, jay and Colin at the school. Special time.

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  • At Uni it was the tutors and their support that got me through a very difficult period of time. It was more than a place of education for me it was the place where i got the emotional support to continue. Wendy was my head of school and very supportive. It saddens me when I hear these incredible people have now left us. Dori, Nigel, Sir Colin, Jay, Martin and now Wendy. because when i sit in my house with my two children, i trace it all back to the School of Architecture at Portsmouth.

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