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Tributes flood in for ‘irreplaceable’ tutor and architectural historian Peter Blundell Jones

Architects, academics and journalists have paid tribute to Peter Blundell Jones, who died on Friday (19 August) following a short battle with cancer

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Jones, who was a contributor to both the AJ and The Architectural Review, was a prominent writer on architectural history and authored a number of monographs on architects including Erik Gunnar Asplund, Hans Scharoun, Hugo Haring and Erich Mendelsohn.

He trained as an architect at the Architectural Association before holding academic positions at the University of Cambridge and London South Bank University.

A supervisor of many dissertation projects and PhDs, he chaired the judging panel for the RIBA President’s Medal for student dissertations between 2006 and 2011. 

At the time of his death Jones was professor of architecture at the University of Sheffield, where he had worked since 1994. 

His lecture on Hans Scharoun was simply electrifying

Tributes

Fionn Stevenson, head of Sheffield School of Architecture

‘I first encountered Peter when he was a young lecturer at Cambridge and I an eager first-year architecture student. His lecture on Hans Scharoun was passionate and simply electrifying. One of Peter’s key insights was that Scharoun ensured that everyone had an equally good view in the famous Berliner Philharmonie concert hall and that all were treated equally well. I believe Peter was passionate about equality in all he did, and often supported those who were marginalised or newly emerging. It was a privilege to work alongside him at Sheffield and an absolutely pleasure to re-encounter such a breadth of knowledge and passion for justice. Peter was truly the ”father of the house” in our school of architecture – all went to him to discuss their situations and all felt the hand of his humanity reach out to them. He spoke his mind honestly and fairly and everyone appreciated his wisdom. He is irreplaceable and will be sorely missed.’

Ben Derbyshire, partner, HTA

’Peter Blundell Jones taught me in my diploma years at Cambridge School of Architecture. I remember him as a scholarly contributor to our studio work and a deeply knowledgeable and insightful historian, especially of 20th-century architecture. He was patient and kind, for me a model of how best to encourage students. And I shall always be grateful to him for introducing me to the work of Hans Scharoun. Thank you, Peter, I am sure there are many others like me who are forever in your debt.’

Robert Evans, co-founder, Evans Vettori

’We are so sad to hear that Peter has suddenly passed away. I first met him when we started teaching at Sheffield together in ’94, and was rather in awe of this famous writer and professor. It soon became apparent, however, that Peter was the most generous, approachable and honest of men, and I learnt so much from him while teaching together in the department. 

’In recent years he has kindly lent his time and huge intellect to our project work, as a ‘guest critic’. His unique ability to immediately see through the blather and get straight to the heart of the matter has been invaluable. 

’He was truly a professor who professed, as well as wonderful mentor and friend.’

John Sergeant, emeritus Fellow, Robinson College, University of Cambridge

’It seems unreal that Peter is no longer with us. The outstanding architectural historian of his generation, a generous colleague and teacher, and a steadfast friend. Let’s all learn from his approach to design: a patient search for appropriate means.’

David Lea, author of An Architect of Principle

For Peter architecture was a practical art based on use, and subject to rational analysis; the organization of the plan must arise from clear intentions visible at all scales throughout the building. I remember his delight at the spatial hierarchy offered to the bull and the cows at Haering’s Gut Garkau farm, and, at the level of detail, his frequent return to the idea of the ‘well-scrubbed table’, not as a minimalist aesthetic, but a record of daily human care. In later years his investigations into use led him to anthropological studies which in his view provided the basis for a critique of Alexander’s Pattern Language. He said that preferred forms and arrangements are not universal, but depend on the social structures in which they are found. Different spaces have different meanings in different cultures.

In his many books Peter showed us how the general issues of function, movement, symbolism and, meaning are the foundation of the works of the architects of ‘the other tradition’ whom he so much admired, Asplund, Aalto, Haering, Scharoun and Behnisch. With great clarity he made this architecture available to us.

If he had not pursued an academic career we would surely have enjoyed more Blundell Jones buildings. I remember the Scharoun inspired house he built for his parents where the spiralling movement of the plan throws off the little bedrooms expanding outwards to their small enclosed gardens. And at a more detailed level the beautifully judged doors in his mill house, their wide ash boards banded with fine stainless steel, and the amazingly dramatic kitchen sink/mill leat invention: the mill pond fills up against the kitchen window until the surface is level with the glass worktop containing the sink. A huge valve below the sink controls a mighty rush of water as the pond empties away below the kitchen floor.

His political stance was firmly socialist. I first saw this in his AJ article about the Pembroke College Oxford competition for the Grandpont site where Peter took the College to task for insisting on a single controllable entrance, castigating them for setting up what we would now call a gated community, a sign of privatization, based I suppose, on fear.

He was a tremendous help to me personally, not only in his many articles about my work, but also in his perceptive crits during the design process. This was an invaluable support, a buttress against the isolation of daily work in a small practice.

With Leslie Martin, Sandy Wilson, Richard MacCormac passing away, and now Peter, I feel that the threads of life connecting me to a bright and optimistic view of the world in which architecture as the outward form of a well-ordered society could make a profound and positive difference to peoples’ lives, are being cut, one by one. Of course there are many younger architects drawn to this tradition but, as we confront global warming, mass extinction of wildlife, and the mass movement of people, it is clear that the empty architecture of global big money which knows no boundaries and destroys local cultures has no answers. Peter’s clarity of vision is needed more than ever.

Readers' comments (2)

  • Very sad to hear this. Peter's work reached out to all quarters, an exemplar academic.

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  • very sorry to hear this indeed. Humane. Quietly courageous. Always true to his beliefs.

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